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  • Writer's pictureYasmin Cadogan

An extensive look: Peace and Conflict Studies at the VU

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Many of us have to start thinking about how we want to spend our elective space in the third year: minor, exchange, electives? Even when narrowing down and choosing how you want to spend that time, the possibilities seem endless. To give you some guidance through this choice, we want to shine some light on a VU-minor and give you some in-depth, first-hand information about it. For this article, we spoke with two students (Eva and Emma) and two teachers (Nour Gjaltema and Lenneke Sprik) of the minor Peace and Conflict Studies at the VU.

What does this minor entail?

This minor consists of five courses, with a single overarching course throughout both periods of the minor. The other four courses are very thematic. All courses approach conflict-aspects from different angles, such as psychological factors behind conflicts, or legal factors involved such as the United Nations Charters. All courses provide students with insights into the concepts of political violence and war, viewed from different disciplines, as students from many different backgrounds can sign up for this minor. At the end of the minor, usually a presentation had to be given. However, due to corona, a new and digital end-project had been established: the making of a film about a specific humanitarian intervention for the course Peace & Conflict: from theory to practice. Since this went very well and showed interesting results, the teachers have decided to keep this end-project even after corona.

Why at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam?

One of the teachers, Nour, happened to follow this minor three years ago as a student, and now teaches the same minor. Three years ago was the first year this minor was taught at the VU, and now again, Nour experiences this minor under peculiar circumstances due to corona. She points out that the minor has rapidly grown in student number and is not really comparable anymore with the first batch, but that the experience she has gained as a student during this minor has really contributed to share enthusiasm with the students she teaches.

Eva states that the overarching course with an end project was what made the minor interesting for her at the VU. Both Eva and Emma also follow a major at the VU, so their choice was easily and naturally made as they have already been very pleased by the interdisciplinary character of the VU and feel familiar with it. According to the students, the interdisciplinary characteristics were also experienced during the minor and make it an interesting choice as opposed to similar minors at other universities.

Did this minor give you any new insights?

Both students agree that this minor has given them new insights. Eva points out that she has learned to think about the psychology behind political violence, and that this minor gave her deeper insights in such violence than she hoped to reach in her major Political Science. Therefore, she calls it a good broadening of her knowledge. Another plus of the minor, according to Eva, is the actuality of the topics and how this made her more involved in daily news. Both Emma and Eva point out that this minor has really given them some guidance in what they want to do (or do not want to do) in the future, for example which master to follow or the possibility of taking a gap year.

Lenneke also points out that this is also what a minor can contribute to, because a minor is a good way to experience what your real interests are and whether you want to continue in that field or not. Furthermore, the genuine shared interest in a topic (as a driving force to choose a minor) brings a nice dynamic of many students working toward a shared goal.

Nour additionally points out that the interdisciplinary character of the minor is what really contributed to the educational aspect for teachers, as teachers at their turn continuously learn from their students. As an example, Nour refers to a medicine student who pointed out additional factors of the Ebola-crisis from a medicinal point of view, which brought new insights to interventions that are otherwise not looked at. This also brought forward interesting interdisciplinary discussions, which was also highly motivated and stimulated in this minor; for example, by asking critical questions to keep discussions going and to get to know more about the personal opinions of students.

Can you tell us more about the films that were made?

A specific humanitarian intervention had to be picked, for which the students had to give recommendations on how to handle it better. The students were divided into groups of five to six students, and all groups focussed on a specific intervention. Emma points out that especially the in-depth research for a specific intervention proved to be very interesting. Her group tried to make a documentary in the style of the MTV program Catfish, and even called Doctors without Borders on screen, asking for more transparency. Their film was about the refugee-camp in Moria, and how the situation there can be structurally improved, besides financial and political matters.

The film of Eva’s group focussed on the intervention of Oxfam Novib after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the sex scandals that followed. Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions, the films have not been made public (yet).

The teachers pointed out that the level of the films was incredibly high and that they were also pleasantly surprised by the editorial work of students. Both students confirm that the teachers gave them a lot of freedom in the development of the films. This gave the opportunity to be creative and original, and therefore brought forward a diverse set of films.

How did you decide to do a minor in your free space?

For both students, it appeared to be that their initial plans for their free space had been cancelled due to corona. Eva was supposed to go on exchange to Washington, and Emma was supposed to go to South-Korea. Even though this minor was a plan B, both Eva and Emma call it a blessing in disguise, as they have learned a lot from this minor and are very enthusiastic about the minor overall. When I ask them in conclusion if they would re-choose the minor with their current knowledge about it, even if exchanges were possible again, both Emma and Eva convincingly nod in agreement and express the joy they found in this minor.

Are you also having a hard time figuring out what to do during your free space? Or do you already know you want to follow a minor, but not which one? Sign up for the minor market on April 6th! The event occurs from 12pm-2pm and will tell you much more about this minor and more than 80 other minors. You can immediately tune in by clicking the zoom-link in the desired minor-program session via

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