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The ILLP as a garden in which to grow

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in May, twenty-five bright international students gathered in the Old Observatory to celebrate their graduation of the International Leiden Leadership Programme. A tour of the Sterrewacht and the ‘borrel’ made for a nice completion of the Honours programme.

The International Leiden Leadership Programme is the international Masters’ Honours Programme of Leiden University, although students from the universities in Delft and Rotterdam are also welcome to participate. The programme has always been characterised by a great variety in nationalities and students from different programmes. This year’s group is no exception: programmes from European Law to Aerospace Engineering and students from Finland to India are represented.


Manuela Coldesina, who moved from Switzerland to Leiden to study History, Arts & Culture of Asia, appreciated the pleasant and relaxed international atmosphere. 'The programme felt like a garden where it was nice to grow. The team made sure that everyone felt comfortable, and there was a lot of room for interesting exchanges.'

'I think it is interesting that you naturally gravitate towards certain people, usually from your own background. I was actually surprised to find that I was one of the only Humanities students in the programme. Getting to know the different mind-set from students from other programmes and cultures is something that I really enjoyed.'

'I would describe the programme to be very much about personal leadership, about your own style. This never entirely sunk in for me until the end of the programme. The programme gave us lots of building blocks and possibilities for reflection. These mainly fleshed out what I already knew: that I have an inclination for collaborative leadership and that I would not like to work in a business environment.'

Own perspective

Safwan Shurieh, who is from India and studies Engineering and Policy Analysis at the TU Delft, thought the ILLP was a very nice addition to his masters. 'In my master’s degree, we learn to deal with complex problems that involve multiple actors. This is exactly what the ILLP does too. I learned that dealing with multifaceted international issues requires a great deal of leadership, where you need to be able to view the problem from different perspectives.'

Safwan (left) in the Old Observatory

'But in order to do this well, you first need to learn about what your own perspective is. The self-evaluation that the programme offers is very helpful in that regard. It also helps you with other skills that I can put to use in my studies, such as interviewing, conflict negotiation, paraphrasing, and active listening.'

'In addition, it is great that you learn so much about your own style of doing things and how important it is to know these things about yourself. That’s why, in my final assignment, I used Rumi’s quote: ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’ This quote hit me because it emphasises that you can change the discussion by knowing – and possibly changing – yourself.'

Way into the world

Like most of the group of ILLP graduates, Manuela and Safwan will spread out across the world to study somewhere else or start working. Safwan will be participating in an international summer school; Manuela will be searching for a job where she can apply her knowledge of Japanese arts and culture. What the students do share, however, is that all of them will have the Sterrewacht as a place to look back to. They will remember it as being a place where they gained lots of knowledge about themselves and their personal leadership to further make their way into the world.

Text & photography: Rosa van der Velde
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