Project Manager, Nika, sits down with SciCulture Ambassador, Aroa, to talk about life post the Intensive Course in Athens
By Nika Levikov
We sat down awkwardly in a large, plain room with windows overlooking the valley below. Aroa, an Ambassador from the first Course, marvelled at how professional our team was trying to be. Microphones were tested several times as the heat of overbearing lights shone down on our faces. We joked about being blinded by the time this was over. As the cameras finally rolled, I asked Aroa to talk about her recently completed Masters in Environmental Management of Natural Resources. I was eager to know if anything she experienced in the Course fed into her research.
She sat politely, legs crossed, speaking eloquently about her experience as I smiled in torn, baggy jeans and shoes that had long ago passed their expiry date. I clung to every genuine word. The first day participants were tasked with observing the environment around the hotel, where the Course took place. It was admittedly a strange activity, and not everyone understood it. Yet Aroa embraced the exercise and applied it to her fieldwork, in which she was able to silently observe her surroundings and incorporate that knowledge into her dissertation.
There are many projects like SciCulture, seeking to explore ways in which disciplines can be combined to address societal challenges. Yet what makes this project unique is that, and as our tutors have come to learn, it is not an emerging skillset that serves as the primary takeaway, rather participants are leaving with an understanding of how to work in diverse teams.
This may seem insignificant at first glance, but as a species we are not very good at communication. Conversely, we are quite good at staying within our comfortable academic and professional bubbles. Pre-assigned teams during the Course break through by allowing participants to collaborate, innovate and experiment throughout the week with people from completely different backgrounds. The critical scientist may butt heads with the abstract artist, but in the end, participants learn to come together to develop a project that is then presented (or performed) at the end of the week.
As we shared laughs, Aroa, still sitting with crossed legs and obvious awareness of being recorded, and myself, shifting positions every few minutes, the talk transitioned to the trials and tribulations of intensive teamwork. Having come into SciCulture believing arts and science should mix, Aroa served as a moderate figure during several ensuing arguments. Conflicts arose over ethical considerations, was it really our place to envision futures that we will not be alive to see?
In the end, her team produced an installation, allowing the rest of the tutors and participants to draw their own interpretations of the Future School of 2050 (the theme of the first Course). I spoke excitedly about our plans to incorporate the installation into a final art exhibition at the end of the project.
My colleague, Chris, wisely left the camera rolling as the interview came to a close. Aroa and I stood up, continuing to talk about SciCulture’s progression and what was changed in the second Course in Norway. I spoke candidly about challenges faced along the way, and how happy I was that she had reached out, keen to keep in touch with the project team. We hugged, the lighting still intense and hot, but no longer shooting directly at our faces. I felt jubilant. There are so many ways for this Course to happen and end without continuity, such that aspirations for a global network are left behind. Yet there we were, both having clearly taken away meaningful experiences and desire to keep the connection going.