Meet CEU’s CIVICA Ambassadors: Alphonse Ndayisaba and Lena Ibishi

CIVICA Ambassadors range from undergraduate students to postdoctoral researchers and represent each university in the alliance. Their role is to promote interaction and exchange within the alliance's communities, and to be a first point of contact to CIVICA for their peers. The CIVICA Ambassadors network actively shapes CIVICA by linking each university's events and programs. 

CIVICA Ambassadors are selected through an application process open to students enrolled at one of the ten CIVICA universities. They must demonstrate that they are active in the community, are passionate about the value of collaboration across borders and excited about the CIVICA alliance and its opportunities.

We spoke with CEU’s new CIVICA Ambassadors, Lena Ibishi (BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and Alphonse Ndayisaba (MA in Sociology and Social Anthropology), about their upcoming student engagement work with the alliance. Having met their cohort of Ambassadors for the first time in November, they are at the start of their tenure in the role, which runs through September, 2023.

Alphonse Ndayisaba 

Why did you become involved as a CIVICA Ambassador? 

I think CIVICA Ambassadors fits with my ambition and how I operate. Whenever I see many working together, I see power. Power not just being powerful, but rather the strong collaboration that can bring something that is better together. This alliance is ten social science institutions from different European countries. In this role I feel like I am joining a strong team and I can contribute to what is going to be happening and learn from others involved. The main reason I ended up applying is to contribute to students coming together for the exchange of ideas. 

As an MA student in the social sciences, I'm always thinking about what society needs and what can we do. It's essential that we address social issues as young people. I believe that we can work together to think about these challenges, and what is amazing is that CIVICA is not just at the national level, but at a bigger scale so we can make a bigger difference. 

I understand you met virtually with the other CIVICA Ambassadors earlier this month. What are your first impressions of this role? 

We had our first virtual meeting with a lot of young people like me - very motivated and with many different ideas. We also had some CIVICA organizers and staff who are helping us, so this is really great. In the coming weeks I will better understand the channels of communication and how we start to introduce project ideas. 

What was your route to CEU? 

I have been at CEU in Vienna since January 2022. I started at CEU with the OLIve Program and I was then admitted with a scholarship to the Sociology and Social Anthropology 2-year MA program. I am from Burundi, but I mostly identify myself as African, and it was long road to CEU. Personally, I like politics and was also interested in International Relations at CEU, but Sociology and Social Anthropology fits with what I am aiming to do as a career path as someone who is interested in people, diversity and believes in power of collectivity and serving people. 

What does student engagement mean to you? 

This alliance for me is more about students and what students can do, and also to see what we collectively have in terms of thoughts and how our ideas can complement each other. Then we can work with the entire alliance to figure out how our ideas can be supported and coordinate activities so that we can take the initiative and work together to move toward resolving the many social issues of today. 

There are a lot of different initiatives at CIVICA and frankly I'm really eager to learn more about what is going on and share these opportunities and projects with an external audience. Student engagement is about serving others and this is very important to have a such space which enables us to propose something to address issues together with staff and partners. I think this group can come to powerful outcomes and has a huge opportunity.

Yes, history shows that responsible people made inventions and worked hard to have what our generation has and enjoy in our period. However, some topics like climate change, migration, racism, social inequalities, wars, colonial legacy and its persistent effects, human rights violation, domestic violence, etc. remain on our table. As young people of this generation of internet and other technological tools, we need to be respond collectively and responsibly if we want to survive. We can accuse the previous generation of not being responsible enough, however, this is not the time for accusations but rather, time to collectively address our current issues for a better world.

It is possible, but it requires seriousness, borderless and long-term thinking and collaboration. We need to think globally and act collectively. The current interconnectedness of the world has changed the conversation that we should have. A good example is the consequence of insecurity in Middle East or Africa, which is shaped partly by Europe and the refugees crisis as Western media like to portray it. This insecurity is still happening at European borders. Greece, Italy, Spain and the Balkan countries have a story to tell. 

How do you think student engagement can be better integrated in university curricula? 

I think this is a complex question since I think student engagement deals with current issues and for logistical reasons it can be difficult to keep changing to incorporate the topics of today. I’m not sure curricula can change at the pace that the current issues change, but broadly I think it's very important to try. Otherwise, there will be a gap between what the curriculum looks like and what the field looks like and, if so, I think the university will be failing in some ways. These things need to be updated and student engagement should be a part of the curriculum to be suited to what students are experiencing in today’s world.

My concern is much about giving and taking responsibilities as young people because we shape the world and this has to be done by long term thinking. These days it I would be failing my children if I taught them to not talk to strangers as global citizens of this 21st century world. It is a failure to still have some books in our schools or libraries that reinforce the message to underestimate some people and praise others based on certain criteria. The world is global and this has be considered in designing contemporary curricula to teach and prepare 21st century citizens.

What else would you like to share? 

So far regarding CEU, I have had a good experience. It's an amazing university and for those who don't speak German, CEU feels like a country within a country since we're speaking and learning in English and then you go out and there is German.  

What I would like to point out about CIVICA is my wish for it to expand even beyond the current region. I understand that it might be exclusively for the European universities and philosophy but still I believe it can be expanded to a more global scale. I am new to the alliance and learning, but my belief is that even if societies are different, I think it would be greatly enhanced if we expand to include even more diverse perspectives. Being from Africa means having different background and ways of viewing the world. It’s an enriching environment when we embrace different perspectives in discussions to see what can emerge as solution to our  global issues.


Lena Ibishi 

Why did you become involved as a CIVICA Ambassador? 

CIVICA is a network that not only enables but actively promotes the production and dispersion of academic breakthroughs. The alliance has a particular focus on environmental issues, the support of growing economies, and serves as a multicultural political convergence for democratic ideals. This cooperation is an invaluable effort toward a safer, greener and more democratic Europe. Involvement in such processes is more than a pleasure, it's rather a personal duty to me.  

Beyond that, CIVICA is a channel to interconnect students all across Europe and rise above the preconceived notion that students should be limited to the academic output of their own university. As the world becomes more and more interconnected, so should its ideas. Such ideas that tour from London, get synthesized in Paris, or refurbished in Vienna will inevitably have a higher quality of significance that transcend academic borders. This is a place for a unified but diverse and multicultural body of driven people. It is a force that can inspire changes that go beyond the building or country or even a region.  

So, it's the intertwining of these capable individuals that really inspired me to become a part of CIVICA. It's the key to a future that operates as part of emerging goals while remaining connected. 

What do you hope to do at CEU over the next year as a CIVICA Ambassador? 

Ever since I arrived at CEU, one of the things that stands out is that everyday I'm surrounded by brilliant students. There's such a substantial amount of intellect and grit that simply awaits an interconnecting bridge that will advance projects to materialization. CIVICA is this bridge. CIVICA is a bridge whose construction surpasses borders and institutional doors and creates the space where student passions can become lifelong engagements.  

Therefore, some of the student-led initiatives that I'd like to develop are ones that highlight the pool of potential that exists in the various CIVICA institutions. I would like to familiarize students with the European organizations that govern our efforts from the EU to the UN, UNICEF, NATO etcetera. I think students should be able to experience the democratic breadth of these institutions. Perhaps we arrange visits to these sources of democracy and unity in Europe, which would be a phenomenal opportunity to enrich the perspectives of students. 

Beyond that I would like to mention that as a former regional oratory champion, it was impactful and life-changing to feel that people were listening. I'd like to organize speech contests surrounding particular issues. We have seen a popularization of speeches in media and it's evident that this is a medium that would enable students to bring their perspectives forth. I'd love to train students and give them the opportunity to bring forward their perspectives and give them a stage where they can voice potential approaches toward challenges.  

I'd also love to coordinate cultural festivals with an interesting spin – through which we can hear what topics are relevant to one’s home country. For example, how people there are experiencing climate change, or what historical event forever altered that nation. By showcasing these types of ideas at fairs where like-minded students who yearn to change the world for the better are gathered, participants may be inspired to undertake initiatives that center diversity that transcends universities all together. We can create this atmosphere where students can get together find out about new issues in a creative and inviting way and make new friends in the process. These are just a few of my ideas. 

What does student engagement mean to you? 

From the standpoint of a CIVICA Ambassador, it is a duty to fortify a bridge of cooperation and multilateral research between students in the alliance. That can be through communal engagements or planned initiatives. Student engagement is a unifying factor in a transcontinental effort for a better future. CIVICA is a gateway for bringing together these minds and unlocking solutions to the issues that we face as a generation. The key to this entire initiative is to enable students to feel engaged and safe enough to bring forth their perspectives.

How do you think student engagement can be better integrated in university curricula? 

I've been very fortunate to attend schools where open-minded discussions between students were very much part of the practice. I've drawn some inspiration for my development, which happened in a space where I had to face another person with a different view and constructively bring forth my ideas. This type of discourse should be a practice in the curriculum and can happen through interactive discussions and seminars.  

Student-led presentations are a favorite of mine because you not only get to see the student ideas but also their artistic side and their ability to express ideas through their oratory side. Active study groups also bring students closer together teaching each other. Open ended essays are another way to integrate engagement. This means there's not a concrete goal that the professors are trying to elicit from students. It really helps us develop and is different than memorizing 80 pages or studying for the exam. In this way we can transcend and incorporate the material and show that you're learning and integrating your passions and what you want to do with your life.  

Therefore, I believe transcending the classroom should be the goal of the classroom, which is somewhat paradoxical, but is really what I believe is at the heart of education. The resources and inspirations from the curricula are our wings and it is our duty to learn how to fly.  

What else would you like to share? 

As someone with intentions to study diplomacy in the future, CIVICA Ambassadors is one of the most motivational opportunities. I hope to learn, work hard and enjoy connecting student minds. To be part of an organization as amazing as CIVICA as a Kosovo Albanian is an honor, and this is a special forum where I can offer a distinct perspective from someone with my background while simultaneously learning from all of those who surround me.  

I'd like to leave off with an Albanian proverb that “Trimi i mirë me shokë shumë” which means “the brave one with many friends”. Courage and cooperation are the two virtues that lead to breakthroughs in development so it is beyond a pleasure to find myself in a position where I can be brave, support the brave, and be supported by the brave. Looking forward to everything that CIVICA entails!  

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