Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Food for Thought: "We bring the bread..."

Today we turn over the journal to SAIS Bologna students who have launched a discussion group called Food for Thought. The founders, Hanns Koenig, Elizabeth Alonso-Hallifax and John Cheng, tell us about the origins of the group. In the video, Talha Jalal delivers a presentation on "Silence as the Perfect Language."

Towards the end of last semester, we had an idea. Since the Bologna Center has such an impressive and diverse student body, there should be a forum where students can talk to each other about the topics they are most interested in and passionate about.

John Cheng, Hanns Koenig and
Elizabeth Alonso-Hallifax
This is how Food for Thought was born: a weekly lunchtime discussion group that is entirely student-led. Each session starts with a 10-15 minute presentation by a student, who then leads a discussion for another 45 minutes or so. It's over lunch, pot-luck style. As our tag line goes, “We bring the bread, you bring the toppings!”

After receiving positive comments from students and funding from the Student Government, and allaying some lingering concerns over excessive bread crumbs, we were off.

Our first discussions were about the euro zone crisis, chess as a means of analyzing risk and, as you can see below in the video clip, “silence as the perfect language”. The diversity of topics makes the discussions interesting and reflects the students' many areas of expertise. Sometimes the subject is completely unrelated to foreign policy. As Talha Jalal says in the video, "This has nothing to do with international relations". In the next few weeks we will continue the mix with talks on U.S. cultural diplomacy in Afghanistan and Iraq, the "genius" of Richard Nixon and Rawlsian justice.

Feedback from the BC community has been terrific. Members of staff have started "crashing" the events. One of the best things about grad school is learning from fellow students: this series has allowed us to do that in a gratifying way.

We plan to export the concept to DC next year and would of course be delighted if some of next year’s bolognesi chose to continue it on this side of the Atlantic as well. After all, almost every international relations graduate school student should be a strong supporter of the principle of free food ... and free speech.

Hanns, Elizabeth and John

If you are reading this on email, you can view the video here.