Choosing Conflict Studies: Students’ Perspectives on a Dynamic Specialization

Nancy Apraez
Neha Singh
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The Master of Public Policy at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy of the University of Erfurt has four specializations and allows its students to specialize in two. Depending on the background and the interests of the students, they can combine conflict, economics, social entrepreneurship, or global policy. In this blog, we gather the perspectives of students who have chosen the specialization of Conflict Studies and Management, led by Dr. Alejandra Ortiz Ayala, exploring their motivations, experiences, and the skills gained through this program.

For these students, embarking on a journey in conflict studies is part of a commitment to understanding and actively contributing to sustainable conflict solutions but beyond that, to have an interdisciplinary approach between conflict, development, and current global issues. 

The experiences of first and second-year students emphasize the program's interdisciplinary approach, and academic rigor, making it an inspiring choice for those considering their second specialization and future applicants in 2024.

(WBS students, from left to right: Nat Isaza, Ziafatullah Saeedi, Neha Singh, Lara Schüth, Ruqia Hazrati, Zeest Bilal, Maha Aslam, Nancy Apraez)
(WBS students, from left to right: Nat Isaza, Ziafatullah Saeedi, Neha Singh, Lara Schüth, Ruqia Hazrati, Zeest Bilal, Maha Aslam, Nancy Apraez)

Nat Isaza is from Colombia with a background in Law: “When I read the MPP program back when I was in my home country, I never thought I would be taking the specialization of peace and conflict studies, especially coming from a conflict-ridden country and wishing to distance myself from the context. But then I heard Dr Ortiz Ayala presenting the specialization, I changed my mind. She was the only one who mentioned diversity and women’s issues as a part of the specialization and she has delivered on her promise. She is very dedicated to the class, and I consider the lecture, not only an amazing opportunity to understand more about conflict and peace but to focus as well on post-conflict and peace management”.

Ziafatullah Saeedi is from Afghanistan with a background in Public Administration: “I find the conflict studies and management specialization at the Brandt School attractive for two reasons. First, students can enroll for conflict studies along with other specialization such as development to get an integrated interdisciplinary education. The problems in the real world often go beyond the merits of only one major and require interdisciplinary approaches. Conflict studies is one such area and since much of the conflict-related problems are also problems of development, this interdisciplinary combination is for problem solving. The second reason is the faculty’s work and research experience in conflict zones. Some of the faculty come from such zones while others have researched such zones for years. This means that discussions are not abstract and presented only from the viewpoint of this or that theory, but real-world problems and experiences are the centerpiece of students’ research and study”.

Neha Singh is from Thailand with a background in International Relations: “The peace and conflict specialization offers perspectives on looking at how conflicts begin and logical and psychological aspects of perpetrators and victims. The classes made me understand colonization, gender, and post-colonization concepts and their implications in a way I didn’t have the chance to explore in my life. Furthermore, the specialization made me more aware of the current societal structure and how to assess different stakeholders, as well as understanding the news in the world of conflict with an academic lens”.

Lara Schüth is from the United States with a background in History: “The conflict specialization has broadened my understanding of conflict and post-conflict situations and has taught me about various peace processes around the globe. The specialization is recommendable to anyone who wishes to work with or in areas affected by conflict, as it will help shape your conceptions of how conflict situations can be handled”.

Ruqia Hazrati is from Afghanistan with a background in Law: “The specialization in conflict studies and management is essential for those aiming to contribute to sustainable conflict solutions. Acquiring practical skills such as conflict analysis and resolution strategies goes beyond enhancing decision-making and critical thinking; it also cultivates other leadership qualities. The interdisciplinary nature of this specialization offers a comprehensive perspective, and the networking opportunities and expert insights significantly impact one's professional journey. Beyond leadership skills, this specialization empowers individuals to actively contribute to conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and social justice initiatives, paving the way for success in various professional settings”.

Zeest Bilal is from Pakistan with a background in Economics: “In today’s deeply polarized world, the importance of understanding conflict resolution and peace-building cannot be emphasized enough. Within this context, I saw the specialization as an opportunity to formally delve into topics of deep interest such as fostering reconciliation and building sustainable peace”.

Maha Aslam is from India with a background in Sociology, Economics and Industrial Relations:  “I initially hesitated to enroll in a course on peace and conflict studies. I questioned how studying conflict could truly make a difference in resolving real-life conflicts. However, my perspective shifted profoundly after attending the sessions led by Dr. Ortiz Ayala. Her approach compelled us to step beyond our comfort zones, engaging in reflective dialogues with peers—an aspect often overlooked in traditional academic settings. This immersive method allowed us to grasp conflicts and peacebuilding in real-time, fostering critical thinking and attention to nuanced details, particularly regarding negotiations and peace talks on contemporary issues. Exploring themes of identity, gender dynamics, and psycho-social dimensions further enriched our understanding—a dimension frequently neglected in conventional academic curricula. As a policy student, I would strongly recommend taking this course because, methods and theoretical framework left aside, this class gives us a fresh, multi-dimensional lens through which we can address policy issues and solutions”.

Nancy Apraez is from Colombia with a background in Law: “The specialization in conflict studies is transversal to any professional field. Besides everything already said, regarding its interdisciplinarity and its contribution to a better understanding of the world -not just in a conflict setting-, specializing in conflict studies significantly improved my research skills and how I approach complex issues. After being away from academia for several years, the guidance provided during the program was especially helpful. It gave me essential research tools, and insights into tackling diverse questions, and enhanced my critical thinking.”

As we conclude our exploration of the perspectives, it is evident that the Conflict Studies and Management specialization serves as a foundation for diverse academic and professional trajectories. In essence, the testimonies of these students highlight academic rigor, practical approaches, relevance for any professional field, and critical thinking. So, to the first years contemplating their second specialization and the 2024 applicants, consider this your invitation to a stimulating journey in Conflict Studies and Management at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.

About the Author

Nancy Apraez

Nancy Apraez is a student at the Willy Brandt School. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and has worked in the legislative branch in Colombia. She is interested in Conflict Studies and Development.

~ The views represented in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Brandt School. ~