Grateful 41

Malawi and Namibia

One of the best things about working in Diplomacy (however, tangentially) is that delegates get to wear their national dress for formal dinners. We had one such dinner (actually, a simulated dinner in honour of a departing ambassador) as part of the workshop on Modern Diplomacy for Small States this week in Malta and it was simply amazing to see how people turned out.

St Lucia and Montserra

It was a far cry from the usual Black Tie events that see slinkly spangled numbers and pant suits. This was a blaze of colour and feminity and made me truly envious of those who take such pride in their countries and their heritage. I couldn’t help but wonder what Irish diplomats turn up in when they have the opportunity to wear their national dress – or is this a phenomen restricting to the African, Caribbean and Pacific region? Surely not. But then, I did say I was only involved tangentially in Diplomacy, so I can’t say for sure. Is there a practicing diplomat out there who could answer the question for me?



This week, I am grateful for my work and for the fact  that it exposes me to people I would otherwise never meet; to cultures I would otherwise never experience; and to perspectives that I would otherwise never share. It was a pleasure to spend ten days at this workshop and to meet such fascinating, fun-loving, fine people, each of whom shares a pride in their country and a willingness to share this with the rest of the world. Who would have thought that good humour and smiles could be so infectious.

Where has the joy gone?

I never liked school much. I still have nightmares about my Leaving Cert Irish exam. It’s two days before the exam and I’ve only just gotten hold of the poetry book. I am in a blind panic knowing that I’m going to fail the honours paper. I wake up in a cold sweat. Now, considering I did my Leaving Cert in 1983, that’s a long time for a nightmare to last.

I didn’t like University either. I was doing a BA in Accounting and Finance and couldn’t even balance my chequebook on the best of days. Talk about a mismatch! I never did pass my Cost Accountancy exam so it was just as well that I got a paid pensionable permanent position with the Bank. I was later drawn back to school to take a Certificate in Public Relations and then another in Counselling and Communications. Clear career paths have always evaded me.

For want of something better to do one winter in Valdez, Alaska, I signed up for an Associate’s Degree in Office Management Technology – a piece of paper that says, in an nutshell, that I, too, can type. Going to school in the evening became such a part of my life that I signed up to do a Certificate in Safety Management. Fast forward a couple of years and yet another career change and you’d have found me at Oxford Brookes doing an MA in International Publishing. And that still wasn’t enough. I’m now getting ready to start my dissertation for an MA in Contemporary Diplomacy.

Over the years, I’ve occasionally lectured (in Safety Management and in CSR) and have found that the best and most engaged students are mature students – those students who are in the classroom by choice and not because their parents sent them there. Education is addictive. Study is addictive. Homework and assignments are also addictive. But only perhaps when you choose them.

As I write, I’m on break from a workshop in Malta on Modern Diplomacy for Small States. Today, the 21 course participants from Commonwealth Countries are giving short introductory presentations about their countries and the challenges they face. And it’s fascinating. They’re all here for 10 days and each one of them is eager to learn, actively sharing their experiences, and ready to benefit from the best practices of others. They’re here out of choice.

I wonder, as I’ve wondered before, if students had to work for a year before going to University, would it make a difference? If they had to work for three years before taking a post-graduate degree, would it make a difference? It seems as if the litany of degress is moving with the tide. Back when I did my Leaving Cert, that was all you needed to get a job. Then you needed a BA. Then you needed an MA. Prettymuch now, you need a PHD or an MBA. Has the joy gone out of education? Has it become a means to an end?