Brussels has been my new home since the past few years when I moved here for work at the Council of the European Union, and ever since I have also remained as an YPFP-member. Since I also live within the EU-headquarters and often passed by ISPD’s building on my way to meetings, then I had often seen their offices and it had caught my attention a number of times. I had even into their website a few times, realising that the field of Protocol Diplomacy was very exciting and interesting, but for me time had not yet not been ripe to attend their trainings.
But, just for two weeks ago there was an announcement from YPFP - an email dropped down into my mailbox inviting us YPFP-members to apply for an amazing opportunity to attend an intensive training at ISPD. Suddenly time was both ripe and perfect, but mostly very tight, because the deadline was just around the corner. I grabbed my laptop and started to write on the lines of motivation.
By the end of that week; I checked my emails in the morning and YPFP’s Programme Director, Tom Van Rooy, had contacted me explaining that among a pool of highly qualified YPFP-members and applications; YPFP had selected me as the ultimate recipient of the first training scholarship to ISPD – and without any doubts I was very excited and grateful.
After the weekend, on that Monday morning, when the summer heat wave of 30 ̊ C hit Brussels, then the training at ISPD’s premises commenced. A group of seven participants from seven different countries/ three continents but with very diverse backgrounds, gathered (out of four were actually already highly involved in ISPD’s Master programmes and therefore well-acquainted with ISPD’s atmosphere and learning environment).
The atmosphere at ISPD is friendly and welcoming, and already after the introductory session with ISPD’s Founder and CEO, Ms. Ines Pires, and, Academic Director Ms. Sandra Schott; I felt that the learning experience would be exciting and awarding.
The method of teaching at ISPD was very different from any other training programmes or academic environment I had attended before. Each day we had two sub-sessions of 3 hours with two main lines of learning, one of each every day, inter twined on: 1) cultural insights from a continent and/or country with soft diplomacy lessons from the Arab region, Sub-Saharan Africa, China, and India; and, 2) theoretical sub-sections with in-depth learning on Conflict Resolution and Negotiation Skills, Cross-Cultural Communication and Awareness, and last but not least: Relations with the media.
From my perspective, I saw that there was a strategic learning approach behind the workshop agenda: because every sub-section was essential in order to build up our knowledge and understanding in protocol- and soft diplomacy. Every session was held by one well-experienced teacher in the field, whom guided us through a PPP-presentation full of maps, historical backgrounds and theoretical frameworks. Each sub-section included many interactive discussions and we had an opportunity to exchange our own personal experiences, understanding, and observations with the teachers and participants. We also had many group exercises and assignments to work with within tight time-frames, and watched several Youtube-videos which supported our learning experience and the teacher’s presentation and discussion. Thus, in the same speed of light that you were receiving plenty of knowledge and information from the teacher, one was also giving back to the group one’s own thoughts and comments.
In general, the participants of the group were not directly familiar with the EU-institution environment or had much experience in EU affairs, except from me (but this probably varies from group to group). However, the participants of our group had highly qualified experiences from their own careers in protocol and on-going working places which included the Dutch Government, the Luxembourgish Parliament, NATO, and Expo2020 in Dubai. Thus, in my opinion, the group’s level of maturity was outstanding and we had a continuous and open approach to learn and give. In fact, we had all many own experiences and insights to share, which also sometimes brought us into some very entertaining situations with a lot of laughing and smiles.
This intensive training with ISPD has opened up a world in both knowledge and understanding of how culture, differences vs. similarities in culture and tradition still plays an important role in modern times when e.g. high-level official visits take place in small and/or big countries, but also how the EU and the UN might be perceived and received in other countries. Protocol diplomacy is definitely an art and discipline in itself – beautiful, powerful and complex: everything at the same time - and therefore never boring at all. So, if you thought that you knew everything about for instance the order and symbolism of flags in official events and ceremonies, then you might want reconsider your knowledge after a training like this…
Finally, I would like to deeply thank both YPFP and ISPD for this great scholarship opportunity and learning experience. For me, this training means that I will bring along many more insights in diplomacy and international relations. Since I am in the final preparations for admission to the Swedish MFA to become a diplomat, and an EU-official, then I will definitely bring along many new insights from this training. In addition, I have gained many more friends and we have promised to stay in touch and attend some of the ISPD’s master student’s graduation ceremonies in the near future.
Remember: Knowledge is power and YPFP fosters the future leaders in foreign policy!
Carolina Parada Hernández
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.