The EC community

By Roberta Maggi, Committee Member

On my first day at the Graduate Institute, back in September 2017, I distinctly remember being in the Auditorium Pictet, and seeing the then-President of the Environmental Committee Marc Weilenmann come on stage to talk about the EC’s relevance and impact at the Institute. My immediate thought was, “Wow, it’s so nice to see people getting involved and making the institute more sustainable”. And then, I moved on to what seemed like the more important task at the time: navigating the crowd for the perfect drinking partners for the months to come.

Little did I know that by joining the EC, I’d become part of a phenomenal group of people (and, let’s face it, some excellent drinking partners for the months that came). It therefore only makes sense that I’d share with everyone the little quirks I’ve come to enjoy about my EC Community. It is in this spirit that, over the spring semester, I’ve bothered every single one of them with the sole intent of bringing this piece to life.

Thus, I found myself on a rainy January afternoon at Café du Lys, in Plainpalais. I was late, so Gianluca, current President of the EC, was already inside, treating himself to a beer. After exchanging the usual new-year pleasantries, we got down to my very (not) subtle attempt at profiling (the good kind). When asked about what he’s grateful for, as an EC member, he replied that the EC has brought him closer to people who, he feels, truly share his love for nature and its beauty. He told me about his love for hiking; this summer, he spent 3 weeks, with 3 peeps, in 1 tent, and has reached summits as high as 6500 meters. Gianluca is also one of the few people at the Institute committed to biking to class every time the sun is out, and has a way of making all EC members want to better themselves and achieve more at our level. He told me that he is a member of the Magician’s Circle of Switzerland and does about two to three shows a month. He subsequently proceeded to “wow” me for about half an hour straight with magic tricks that I still have not figured out, and somehow managed to “wow” me again at the Institute’s famous Cabaret night in May. I also discovered that, like me, he’s a fierce advocate of Chess & Beer & Latin American music (let’s face it, it’s the perfect warm-summer-day-on-the-patio combo). It is on the joyful note of a potential outdoors summer beer-packed party that we parted (see what I did there).

“The perfect picture exists.” – Combining Gianluca’s two passions: Magic and nature.

My second winter break encounter was Konstantin, a man of few words (unless you ask his flatmate Joachim). The first time we met (after more than one drink at the IR/PS departmental reception), his first words to me were “You should join the EC, go find Marc, he’ll tell you more about it”. The second time we met, he became my designated EC drinking partner. Now, a few months down the line, having just gotten back from Kazakhstan, he told me all sorts of stories about the beauty of Astana, before diving into the questions for this article. Per his instructions, I’m hereby channeling my inner poet to tell his tale. The key to Konstantin is balance: he loves studying Central Asia and Chinese politics and balances it out with his love for music (which really boils down to his love for playing guitar and listening to Oasis) as well as his need to exercise. He truly believes that caring for our planet influences everything we do, from the way we think about our health when we each and exercise, to the actions we undertake every day. When asked what being part of the EC brought to him, his answer was simply: chickpeas. Who can blame him, Scoop chickpeas are just that good.

“I live my life for the stars that shine, people say it’s just a waste of time… In my mind my dreams are real/Tonight I’m a rock’n’roll star.” ~ Oasis

Another lover of Scoop chickpeas is former EC President Marc Weilenmann, whom I had the pleasure of meeting during Mr Pickwick’s iconic happy hour after a long and cold end-of-January-day at work. Not only is Marc the one who got me to properly join the EC, we share our mutual appreciation for skiing and efficiency (two very Swiss things over which we abnormally bonded when we first met). A fully certified happy hour partner (10/10 would recommend), Marc’s interview focused mostly on his time in San Diego, California, which he refers to as “The best months of his life”. I could see his eyes sparkle when he spoke of his cosy apartment five blocks away from the beach, and his sunset surfing sessions throughout his time abroad. Marc accomplished a lot during his time as EC President, and has earned my respect and gratitude. I’m mostly grateful for the impact he’s had on our community, and the role he played in bringing us all together, through lovely dinners on his delightful rooftop. In a completely objective manner, Marc reciprocated my sentiments and stated that he’s grateful to have met people like me during his time in the EC (although I’m pretty sure he just wanted to make me blush).

When he’s not scuba diving, playing chess, or snowboarding, Marc surfs.

Camille, “straight outta Picardie”, never disappoints. In the true spirit of our Institute, this section will be as bilingual as our conversations. Camille is the kind of person that you will meet for an interview over a glass of wine at Pickwick’s, and with whom you will find yourself shopping for kilograms of french cheese two hours later, with the hope of reinventing Mac and Cheese while watching the most cliché romantic comedy. Yes, this is a true story, and would make for a great sitcom episode. But when asked “qu’est ce qui te fait vibrer?”, Camille truly shows her colours: a trip, a bottle of wine shared with friends, conversations about the meaning of life, some good food, and memories that will last a lifetime. We bonded over our mutual love for these simple, yet marvellous things, and I am so thankful to the EC for bringing us closer together. Very much in line with her love for traveling, Camille will be spending next semester in Mexico, and I couldn’t be prouder!

Camille (right) and Zhanara (left) in Kazakhstan, the summer before coming to the Institute.

Anna, alongside Konstantin, was the first person to indulge my first-semester desire to take some time, socialise, and have a drink. Our bond in fact goes beyond the mere EC encounters, as we have been partners in crime for the entire year through the Graduation Committee (yes, we’re both the Institute’s party planners, and environmentalists. Talk about multitaskers!) Anna loves traveling and moving from once city to the next; what she likes to do depends on where she lives, and she has lived in five different cities in the past four years. She loves art and literature, so she tries to absorb culture as much as she can while moving around. She went to a number of emerging artists’ gallery openings while in Spain, and is a devoted fan of Russian, Italian and French novelists. When asked about her perfect day, she immediately laughed and said, “my perfect day doesn’t start early, is in a city, and is actually quite bourgeois”, Let me explain: she has breakfast, reads a newspaper, and has a social event — ideally meeting up with friends, having a nice meal, and going dancing. She joined the EC because she saw it as a space within the institute where she would have the room to explore these topics and talk about her interests from a different perspective, in a space where she is allowed to have different values, and yet share many of them with others.

Anna in her natural habitat: central London.

Joachim is a man of few words (unless you ask his flatmate Konstantin). Opening the interview with a sarcastic tone, he smiled at me and claimed that he wasn’t sure we would have enough time to go through everything he likes about himself. This paragraph is the living proof that I can indeed sum it up in a concise way. He eats like an Italian, drinks like a Brit (it’s important not to do it the other way around), and his Italian roots translate into his love for cooking carbonara. In his own words, Joachim is a chill guy, who doesn’t feel too strongly about anything — which actually makes his involvement in the EC strange at first sight. However, he believes that it’s important for everybody to understand what it means to live more sustainably, because living sustainably doesn’t equate a radical overnight lifestyle change. Besides drinking with me, and finding ways to prank Konstantin, he enjoys playing basketball and rugby (but he’s not a ‘lad’, though, which makes his company actually enjoyable), and shares his flatmate’s love of Oasis. When asked about his perfect day, he claims it would definitely end with a few pints with his two favourite people, Konstantin and myself. Despite what he might claim after the publishing of this article, it is the truth, The only truth.

Joachim and Roberta, drunk, celebrating the end of the first semester.

I met Hannes for this interview over an 8am coffee before going to work; I was actually surprised he agreed to meet me that early, for no student should be forced to talk about themselves in a positive light at such an inhumane time. Nevertheless, had you seen that conversation from an outside perspective, you would have observed one of the most active people I’ve ever met, sitting across the table from the person whose conceptualisation of sports is limited to going down snowy mountainsides seasonally. At the time of the interview, Hannes was practicing for the Geneva Marathon with the EC’s running group. His love for hiking motivated him to move to Switzerland, and he often spends time in Lugano with the swimming team from his hometown, Stuttgart.  He joined the EC because he wanted to act upon his personal beliefs and sustainable values. Marc, the EC’s former president, motivated him greatly, and Hannes claims that working with him and Anna on career events and panel discussions throughout the year helped him gain a lot of skills while being surrounded by like-minded people.

Clearly, Hannes doesn’t have a fear of heights.

When I walked into my first EC meeting, I was thrilled to see a friendly face in Anna, one of the first people I met at the Institute, fellow IRPS comrade, and methodology guru. But beyond that, Anna is one of the most creative people I have encountered at the Institute; from her beautiful logos and flyers, to her phenomenal performances in ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, she never ceases to amaze me. During her interview, I learned that she tried sewing, knitting, playing the harmonica, painting, and also attempted some fancy photography, choir singing, blogging, and more! In essence, if it’s doable (and requires minimum physical effort), she’s tried it. When she’s not being her hyperactive random self, Anna reads compulsively. And when she’s not reading compulsively, she’s napping — which is a legitimate hobby. Her perfect day is sunny, warm and completely free. And if she can sneak in some good food and great company, there’s nothing more she could ask for. She joined the EC mostly because she thought it would be a good chance to meet people and get into the thick of student life at the Institute. Being part of the EC brought her a lot, and she can honestly say that it’s been a constant source of interesting and fun activities, that has given her a sense of purpose and of belonging that feels quite nice.

Camille (left) and Anna (right) before their performance in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

I’ve always pictured Zhanara as the unifying figure that keeps the EC sustainable. Possibly the best vegan cake-maker in the world (these cakes being her form of meditation), she defines herself as a foodie and an environmentalist. She loves too cook with zero waste, and believes in maximising each ingredient’s potential when making a dish. I will never forget the smile on her face when I took her to my small town’s Sunday market in the fall. What strikes me most about her is her ability to talk to people and connect with them instantly. She told me a lovely story of her meeting a few people at a pizzeria in Naples, and them visiting her in Kazakhstan a year later. This ability of hers is why she loves Scoop and decided to take over the weekly food sales at the Institute. Zhanara claims to be energised by the EC’s team spirit, and enjoys spending time with this group of like-minded people who care about sustainability as well as our student community. In her mind, everyone benefits from the EC’s work, and her role as ‘Scoop Master’ allows her to share her passion for good food. If you ever run into Zhanara, you should absolutely ask her about the story of the three banana peels.

Zhanara and her beloved Scoop food.

When Malvika became the EC’s new Vice President, I was thrilled to see someone so kind and fun taking the lead in a community like ours. Her interview was absolutely delightful, and could easily be summed up in: two women gushing over pictures of the cutest puppies on earth, and reiterating that puppy therapy should be a mandatory component of our graduate school curriculum. Malvika has four dogs, and generally speaking loves to pet any and all dogs at any time of the day. She loves walking, emailing is her favourite thing to do — weird, but true, and actually really useful. She joined the EC because she wanted to be active besides her academic life, and she doesn’t regret it at all. Her favourite EC memory is — you guess it — the dog shelter visit. Her perfect day involves getting up early with dogs all around her, getting her emails done, cleaning everything, and having a nice lunch outside in the sun… unless she’s in India.

Malvika embracing the world’s greatest source of happiness.

Everyone in the EC has realised over the course of the year that Alex spends most of his time socialising. Living at Cité provides him with the opportunity to go many different things with the people he has met there, from walking around the city, to hiking up the Salève. He really — really — loves mountain biking and is confident that he has found the perfect terrain for it in Geneva. Alex is an Aussie at heart, but he has lived in Hong Kong, Shanghai, the UK, and here. During his interview, I actually discovered that he works for a agricutural magazine based in Gloucestershire (I dare any of the non-British readers to pronounce that correctly). When asked about his perfect day, he fondly remembered his days in Australia, where he would just take his kayak and go anywhere. Alex joined the EC because of his prior interest in water security, which led him to Brazil this semester for the World Water Forum. He has embraced the very sense of community this article is all about and enjoys being part of a group of people with shared goals and beliefs.

Alex enjoying the rare Geneva sunshine atop Mount Salève.

Last, but certainly not least, is Elodie, Geneva local, the EC’s treasurer and liaison with UNIGE, without whom no activity could have been successfully carried out. Elodie is like a fish in the water: she loves swimming in the lake in the winter, for the Christmas competition at Bain des Pâquis (which always will be her personal headquarters). She loves hiking and traveling — her favourite trip to date being her Latin American experience in Cuba, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina — and parties a lot as a way to evacuate the stress and anxiety built-up over the week.  Her perfect day begins with a muesli-based brunch, and includes a conference on water politics, coffee with friends, and a rap concert in the evening (we both saw Orelsan live in Geneva in February, #basique) followed by drinks with friends. She joined the EC because she believes that there are ways in which we can have an impact at our level and make a difference. She is thrilled to have met fun-loving people who share her same interests through the EC.

Comme un poisson dans l’eau.

I wish someone had told me from the first day of the year that by joining the EC, I would meet the most incredible group of people I’ve worked with at the Institute. I was convinced that I didn’t fit the environmentalist stereotype: I’m not a vegan, I don’t particularly enjoy hiking or camping, and didn’t know much about sustainability beyond what I learned through various documentaries I’d watched. I was scared I wouldn’t enjoy it. All of my assumptions were shattered. This article’s ultimate message is the following: don’t let assumptions get in the way of making a difference. Speak to an EC member, find out more about what we do, and how we impact the lives of students like you at the Institute. We are always looking for new kind and unique people to join our community.

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