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See You on the Dark Side – Alumni Roleplay at the Native Challenge in Summer 2014

Hannah Kuske, Alumni Roleplay Coordinator

We’ve done it again. Counting the EURAD exercise of summer 2013, this past summer term was the sixth consecutive occasion where an Alumni Component was part of the cooperation between the Austrian Armed Forces and the MA Peace Studies program. Growing in complexity and scope, the team of nine alumni was also the biggest to ever have been involved.

Nine alumni to dedicate two solid weeks of their time for doing their share of contemplating, planning and ultimately helping in the execution ofan operation, in many cases travelling from wide and far flung places to join in and learn – from each other, themselves and those around them. Under the wings of the program and the Austrian Armed Forces, together towards a type of civilmilitary cooperation that again has proven to work for and train those involved.

And yes – cookies, craziness and caffeine remain to be the miracle fuel of our ventures. (As well as pure talent and brilliance, naturally – but don’t mention that, modesty and a humble demeanour are the key assets to our success.) Read below how another two virgins to the dark side, Gigio and Veronika, managed their turn.

Egidio De Bustamente – Dear all, if there is something to say about the Alumni Component of the Native Challenge it is that there is a lot of hard work, thorough and meticulous planning, tough acting, little sleeping, crazy working hours and above all deeply addressing our shadow aspects, which might not be an easy task. And it would sound as if only a masochist would take part in such a thing but, truthfully, what the alumni roleplay meant for me was reconnecting with the program, seeing old friends, working with them, meeting fellow alumni from other years, translating what we have come to learn in our dear MA in Peace into practice and thenbeing able to reflect upon it and learning all over again.

What I am trying to say in here is that, as a PhD student, taking part in the NC meant for me preparing myself for contexts of negative peace, learning how I tend to behave and act upon specific contexts and how to transform it in order to do the kind of peace work I believe in. All this while sharing the space with ongoing MA students and having the amazing opportunity of learning together.

And if it ain’t enough to convince you, well, let’s just say there’s quite a sweet side to the dark side, and I am not talking about dextro, but Miss Kuske’s amazing cookies to boost our stamina for this amazing challenge!

Veronika Lex – Before deciding to study in the MA Program I had doubts whether I really was up for it. Rather than doubting the program itself, my doubts were really only circling around one specific week of every term…the one of the Native Challenges, the week with the Armed Forces. I then decided to take the risk, thinking that I will more or less survive these three weeks of my life anyway. I did! Even more so, these weeks turned out to be the ones that I learned the most in; about things I never wanted to know, about myself, about the Armed Forces, about the people and the faces behind it.

You may now ask yourself: Why is she starting from so far aback? Well, because these are the reasons for me to have been roleplaying last term. My biggest doubts from the beginning in my three terms had transformed into one of the most impressive learning experiences I have ever been exposed to. Not only because of the scenario that was created for us students by alumni and military role players, by military personnel and recruits. But even more so because of the people I met there and the person I met inside myself through being confronted with the roleplay situations.

I therefore decided that I wanted to give something back; to give the opportunity to share to others and have that opportunity again myself, to learn even more, to look behind the working structure of the scenario and again, to learn and to work with people that I found I can learn quite a lot from.
Indeed, in order for the whole thing to work, these two weeks do require a lack of sleep, chaotic phases, working nights, a lot of coffee and the best cookies in the world! But even though I was more or less in the same hurry that I was in during my time of being a student, this time I at least had a glimpse of an idea what the time schedule will bring. Henrietta – probably the most important member of the Alumni Roleplaying Team – is, at least in theory, the one who always knows what comes next and when I will get a bit of sleep, where and when there is a break for coffee and food –Henrietta, in case you didn’t know is our time schedule.And it still holds: I don’t regret having taken the risk to study in the MA Program despite my doubts – I more than survived, and gladly so.