When we participate in new experiences that are outside of our comfort zone or our routine, there is always a lot of learning that takes place, especially from people. This was the case for the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy Seminar, one of the first components of the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholarships and Leadership Programme. I arrived at Oxford three days before the start of the Seminar, stressed and anxious, with four large suitcases. Being a lawyer by background, I was not stressed about the upcoming discussions of Machiavelli’s and Weber’s works, as I had to argue a lot about the issues these philosophers raised when I was a law student. What made me anxious was the upcoming meeting with 30 amazing people from all over the world.
The atmosphere of tolerance and openness gave us a chance to explore the answers using examples from our own lives and provide insights into the differences between our countries.
On our first day, we settled in the beautiful Harris Manchester College where we were about to spend almost 5 days together, knowing only as much as two paragraphs about each other. Coming from a mostly homogenous society, I had never been exposed to so many different cultures in one place before (Mexico, Colombia, Congo DRC, India, Nepal, Kenya, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Poland, Lesotho, Uruguay, Eritrea, Maldives, South Africa, Argentina, Afghanistan, China, Myanmar, Peru, Namibia).
Every day, we had discussions to reflect on the readings that had been sent to us in advance. It was extremely enriching to seek the answers to complex questions about the relationship between ethics and politics, equality and rights, with a doctor from the Maldives, a journalist from India and the first female Director in the Macroeconomic Research Department at the Ministry of Finance of Mexico.
Being challenged by each other’s unique perspectives, we had to answer questions about the qualities of a good leader, the nature of liberty, the unequal distribution of wealth, and many more. The atmosphere of tolerance and openness gave us a chance to explore the answers using examples from our own lives and provide insights into the differences between our countries. I have learned how much strength lies in the diversity of opinions. This would have been impossible without the help of our Seminar facilitators who were very knowledgeable about the moral philosophy subject matter.
What I liked about the Seminar, even more, was how much time we had to spend with each other, either discussing the moral philosophy readings or enjoying breakfast at the Harris Manchester ‘Harry Potter-like’ dining hall. Thanks to changes in seating plan during the dinners, every evening we were able to share our thoughts and emotions with new people, getting to know our WHT family better. We also got to know some of the donors and organizers whose generosity and support made our life-changing journey to Oxford possible. Sharing meals together, discussing moral dilemmas, walking through the University Parks, enjoying the Oxford tour, and exploring living history in the Ashmolean Museum made the WHT Moral Philosophy Seminar a truly bonding experience.
Sharing meals together, discussing moral dilemmas, walking through the University Parks, enjoying the Oxford tour, and exploring living history in the Ashmolean Museum made the WHT Moral Philosophy Seminar a truly bonding experience.
Having been raised in a single culture, I came to Oxford with entrenched presuppositions, values, and beliefs. I considered them true because I had always been told they were true. I had assumed these ideas to be universal, but during the WHT Moral Philosophy Seminar, my thinking and my worldview was challenged and permanently changed. The exercise forced me to re-think some of my most basic assumptions about the current state of the world, and in turn, helped me understand myself, my beliefs and my values so much better. Finally, it enabled me to decide on the type of leadership I want to pursue.