Yelyzaveta Glybchenko (’18) On Studying Peace, Learning Languages and Global Volunteering

September 12, 2020 Dimana Doneva
Yelyzaveta Glybchenko (’18) On Studying Peace, Learning Languages and Global Volunteering

In addition to studying Political Science and International Relations and completing a minor in French, Yelyzaveta Glybchenko (’18) is one of the first AUBG students to pursue a Self-Designed major. With the support of her professors, she devised a major in Identity and Peacebuilding and as part of her graduation project launched Color Up Peace – an art-for-peace platform that aims to “employ visual art-making for peace work and conflict transformation.” Glybchenko continued her studies at Tampere University in Finland, where she further pursued her interest in peace studies and went on to complete an internship in South Africa and an exchange at Uppsala University in Sweden. Read our interview with the Ukrainian alumna to learn more about her work and study experience, her profound interest in languages and her determination to help advance peace through her work and research.  

Life after AUBG

After graduation, I started the Master’s Degree Program in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research at Tampere University in Tampere, Finland. I wanted to explore my new home country, city and university, so I tried to be involved in the local initiatives as well as in international ones. For example, I volunteered in the organizing team of TEDxTampereUniversity as a graphic designer and in the organizing team of the Peace Perspectives, a conference organized for master’s students to share their research experience. One of the most positively surprising experiences for me was participating in Demola.  It is an innovation program allowing leading companies to invite student talent for collaboration in designing solutions to pressing issues and development plans of the companies. I worked with a company specializing on high-speed laser imaging technologies – they allow for seeing those processes around us, which are normally invisible to the eye (super exciting!). Even though it is not what the Demola case focused on, I wanted to explore the potential connections between peace and technology through my participation.

As part of my master’s degree I did an internship at the Southern African – Nordic Centre SANORD in Cape Town, South Africa. The organization connects universities in the Southern African and Nordic region for collaboration in many exciting ways. I learned a lot, had the time of my life, and even got to go to the annual SANORD Conference bringing together all partner institutions – that year in Gaborone, Botswana. In the last semester of my master’s, I did an exchange at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden. Through that experience, I managed to learn more about the Nordic approaches to peace research, although I was mostly busy with thesis writing.

Volunteering aspirations

I learned the importance of volunteering in high school. I took part in the Future Leaders Exchange program which brings high school students from Ukraine (and a number of other countries) to the United States to live in a host family and study at an American high school. One of the program’s focuses is also volunteering. I find volunteering to be an incredible avenue for creating the things I always wanted to create, see them change my communities for the better and hopefully share valuable skills with others. For me, volunteering is also a source of non-formal education – an opportunity to learn the things we are never taught in schools or universities. Lately, I have been volunteering in the sphere of non-formal education in more explicit ways. For example, I engaged in the peace education initiatives of the Youth Peace Ambassadors Network: we created a series of webinars to teach practical skills of peacebuilding. I shared some insights from Color Up Peace.

Color Up Peace project

I started Color Up Peace back in 2016, when I was a junior at AUBG. Initially, Color Up Peace was part of my junior capstone project for the Self-Designed Major in Identity and Peacebuilding. As part of the program, I was exploring the ways graphic design can relate to politics, and through that also to discussions and actions around peace and conflict. So Color Up Peace is a non-profit, non-governmental, non-political, informal art-for-peace project. It invites people from all over the world to submit photos of what peace represents to them – and I turn the photos into coloring pages (I draw all the outlines myself). Subsequently, the participants of the project color in those coloring pages. The idea behind the project is to create opportunities for the participants to develop their visions of peace, share them, engage in inter-cultural dialogue on peace and peace values through collective visual art-making, challenge the abundance of images of violence in the media and popular culture, and to employ visual art-making for peace work and conflict transformation. Since the start of the project, I have developed a series of trainings and workshops to teach those interested about the connections between peace and visual art, three coloring books and some other educational tools. I also participated with Color Up Peace in a series of international events (for example, In Switzerland, Italy, Kenya) and courses (for example, ‘Storytelling for Civil Society’ by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Facility). The project is definitely a dream-plan-vision come true. It is so in practical ways: I had always wanted to become a trainer in non-formal education and peace education and create original educational materials. And it is so in theoretical/conceptual ways: I have used the things I learned from Color Up Peace and its participants in my thesis at AUBG and in my master’s dissertation at Tampere University as well. For the master’s dissertation, I was exploring the conceptual potential of visual art-making for peace mediation. Another recent initiative that I / Color Up Peace (sometimes I struggle to differentiate myself from my own project) are involved in is developing an Art-for-Peace Handbook to work with conflict-affected communities in Ukraine. I am working on the handbook together with two peace enthusiasts and writers/researchers.

Master’s degree

I did not always realize why I chose the field of peace, mediation and conflict research, but now I think this choice was greatly influenced by the acts of external aggression against my home country, Ukraine, and the following years of war. I always cared, in practical and academic ways, about people’s well-being and their ability to work with conflicts constructively to overcome disagreement in peaceful ways. So I decided to create a self-designed major in Identity and Peacebuilding at AUBG, and explore peace through that program. I wanted more insight and a variety of perspectives, so decided to do a related master’s degree. I have been very happy with the master’s program in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research at Tampere University. My favorite experience from the program was writing the thesis. The program lasts for two years, and the whole second year is dedicated to research and thesis-writing. In my thesis, I explored the conceptual potential of visual art-making for peace mediation. Employing the grounded theory methodology, I developed a visual arts-based approach to peace mediation based on empirical experiences in the fields of mediation, graphic recording and art therapy as well as related previous research. All in all, the experience of combining the insights from my life interest and work in art with my academic aspirations has been quite incredible. I submitted the thesis recently – in June this year. The exchange at Uppsala University also went amazing. I took a very interesting class with one of the scholars whose work I cited a lot in my thesis. In that class, we explored non-violence as a strategic choice and analyzed cases of non-violent movements around the world. The class turned a few ideas upside-down for me.

The program at Tampere University is connected to the Tampere Peace Research Institute, and the students benefit from courses taught by experienced researchers. It has been very insightful for me to also learn from the research experiences of my lecturers and be able to ask for advice and guidance regarding my own thesis. That environment made me understand that I want to complete a Ph.D. program and become a full-time researcher. Teaching undergraduate and graduate students one day would be amazing! In the nearest future, I would also like to turn Color Up Peace into a formal NGO and create a peace education program for schools.

AUBG impact

I could not emphasize enough the scale and depth of the impact my AUBG education has had on my further life. Especially so with regards to the Self-Designed Major. Within this secondary major program, the student writes a proposal to the faculty explaining the goals of the major they want to create and why exploring what they want to explore is not possible through the already existing majors. And the student compiles a curriculum of courses to meet the goals and objectives of their created major, possibly including courses done on exchange. Of course, you have to make up your mind about the Self-Designed Major early on in your AUBG journey – to have the time and find the opportunities to accomplish what you set out to do. I had just turned 20 when I thought of Identity and Peacebuilding. At that age, becoming fully responsible for your own education for years ahead is a very empowering experience. And I have carried on thinking for myself and making my own choices as regards to education ever since. To illustrate, a lot of what I mentioned in the answer to the first question of the interview would not have been possible fully or at all if I had not had that experience at AUBG. Through the Self-Designed Major program, I realized that I can collect those educational experiences and that knowledge which will help me create the things I envision in the future. And I have a LOT of ideas!

AUBG extracurriculars

I thoroughly enjoyed doing my primary major program – Political Science and International Relations. I especially appreciated such classes as “Conflict and Conflict Resolution”, “The Social Brain” and “Culture and Power” with Professor Sardamov. Looking back, I think what changed the course of my academic development and career aspirations is that conflict resolution course and the Anthropology classes with Professor Stefanovich. I am not sure if these classes are still offered, but I took several out of the Anthropology minor. It was with Professor Stefanovich that I thought of the Self-Designed Major. And he supported me all the way – with curriculum development and independent studies!

As for the extracurriculars, TEDxAUBG! As I am an enthusiast of and an advocate for non-formal education, I saw TEDxAUBG as a perfect opportunity to bring ground-breaking ideas from all over the world to the student community. I was not involved in the organization of the conference throughout all four years – just for one – due to exchanges and other commitments. But I applied to be a student speaker when I was a senior! That was an absolutely amazing experience. I went on to help organize a TEDx conference at Tampere University. Also, I like participating in TEDx events as an audience, especially in the different countries where I have worked and studied. I find these events to be a great chance to get to know communities from an inside perspective: you get to learn what people are passionate about and what their drive for innovation is dedicated to. In this sense, I really enjoyed taking part in TEDxCapeTown.

Foreign languages

Actually, during my first semester at AUBG I took three language classes – French, Spanish and Bulgarian! And I went on to complete the Modern Languages and Cultures minor in French. I had been a fan of languages since childhood. In addition to my first two languages – Ukrainian and Russian, I studied German at school and at Tampere University. During my last semester at AUBG, we had an opportunity to study Chinese as well! I had studied it in high school. And then I went to the Confucius Center at the South West University in Blagoevgrad to learn more Chinese. In addition to Chinese, I am now intensively studying Arabic. And at Tampere University, I did continue with French!

Studying languages has helped me enormously – finding learning opportunities, making friends and understanding the things I would probably not be able to understand without the cultural insights that studying languages provides. I think that while studying at AUBG it is easy to get this idea that everyone around the world speaks English fluently – because you see students from many countries studying in English and mostly living their life in that language. But as far as I have travelled, I saw a different situation. So knowing some languages other than English is definitely an asset in life!

Having opportunities to learn languages is a privilege we often do not recognize and therefore miss those opportunities. When I was a child and still studied at school, the school would often not have enough teachers of English. So our lessons of English would very often get cancelled. Because I really liked the language, I would ask the librarian to let me take out for the summer holidays some old English textbooks or textbooks from upper classes. She let me have the books! So I was spending most of my summer days learning dozens or hundreds of words per day. I had more opportunities to learn English and other languages since then. But it is mind-blowing to think that most of my life development would not have happened the way it did without the help of that kind librarian. Then at that high school exchange I had the opportunity to be trained to teach English to other people (this also helped me to teach myself other languages). Last year I became a mentor in a similar training for young people from several countries!

And I have needed my knowledge of languages a LOT in life. For instance, I have participated in quite a number of educational events, where knowledge of French was a requirement. I occasionally even helped translate from French to English in some of the informal conversations we had with other participants. I think knowledge of languages has helped me receive some of the working opportunities I have had so far. And it is requirement for most of the jobs I am considering now!