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A good mix of personalities, disciplines and cultures

Agnes participated in a project on Truth & Politics, commissioned by the Rathenau Institute. Seven students delved into the concepts of fake news, populism and truth. The team was both intercultural and interdisciplinary. “We had different perspectives, due to our different academic fields but also due to our distinct cultural backgrounds.”

Agnes2

“I am originally from Brazil, and I came to the Netherlands to do a Master’s in International and European Business Law. My original goal was to try a PhD straight after my Master’s. Therefore, when I received the emails about the Honours Programmes I realized that this could open doors. I actually love extracurricular activities. During my Bachelor’s in Brazil I was involved in many associations for my university. For example, I was the president of the Law Society for a year. Furthermore, I hoped that the Honours Programme would be a great opportunity to meet new people from different fields of study.”

This interdisciplinarity turned out to be a very valuable aspect of the Honours Programme. “During my Bachelor’s, I dedicated most of my time to study Law. This creates a sort of bubble around you. Your friends are all from Law, your LinkedIn contacts are all from Law. So this is the only source of information you receive. In this Honours Programme, you hear the perspectives from various different fields. This gave me the chance to receive information from other fields and have my legal bubble popped, but also to challenge and pop these other field’s bubbles. For example, from a legal perspective, truth and untruth are very pragmatic and factual. Truth is what I can prove and untruth is what I cannot prove. Period. One fellow student who studied Philosophy had a very different perspective. He made us think about many other possible definitions of truth and untruth and go beyond our pre-conceived definitions.”

Agnes emphasized that the intercultural perspective was also very interesting, especially with this political topic. “When I started in this think tank, fake news was a hot topic in Brazil. The presidential elections were coming up, and there was much attention for fake news. I shared these examples with my teammates, and they did the same. In this way, we got inside information from various countries.”

Being part of a team is not always easy. Agnes explained that they faced various obstacles. “Luckily, we had supervisors who stepped in when they were needed. They helped us to overcome these issues. Furthermore, we had a very good mix of personalities. At the start we did a test to see what role each of us play in a team. We had creative types who came up with new ideas, we had diplomats who made sure everyone was heard and we had leader types, like me, who brought some structure. Being aware of these different personalities helped us to keep moving forward.”

“I also got the chance to work on my personal learning goals. The most valuable thing I gained is the teamwork skills. I had worked in teams before, especially when I was the president of the Law Society in Brazil. But then I was the president, so there was a clear hierarchy. I always had the final say. It was new for me to work in a horizontal structure. I set a clear goal for myself in the think tank: being a leader without being the hierarchical boss. I sometimes took the leadership role when nothing was progressing, but sometimes I took a step aside and other colleague assumed the leadership. The supervisors also helped me with this. I shared my fears and talked with them. I grew a lot in this aspect, how to work in a horizontal team.”

Looking back, Agnes is very satisfied with the final product. “We managed to do a really nice work. Everyone wanted our final paper to become something very concrete. We made a policy paper advocating that universities should incorporate a media literacy course in their curriculum as a means to fight fake news.”

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