Alumni Profile: Mirjam Hasselhorn
Educational Consultant at ijgd, Director at Mirjamkay Foundation
Mirjam Hasselhorn holds a Master's Degree in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research. Her studies gave her a solid foundation for promoting peace education in her work as well as the knowledge to start her own NGO in Ghana.
In a world where war is ever present, it is important to gain a deep understanding of the nature of conflicts.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you?
My name is Mirjam Hasselhorn, I was born and raised in Germany. After some time abroad in Great Britain, Finland and Ghana I am currently living in Hildesheim, Germany.
What subjects did you study? And when?
I studied twice at Åbo Akademi University. In 2010, I came to Åbo Akademi in Vaasa for an Erasmus exchange programme. At that time I studied a Bachelor’s degree in Educational Science with a specialization in non-formal youth and adult education and a minor in peace studies. During my time as an exchange student, I had the opportunity to take a few courses including demography, school psychology and language courses and conflict resolution at the Faculty of Education and Welfare Studies.
To further my career aspiration to work in peace education, I studied peace, mediation and conflict research (PEACE for short) as an extra student in 2012–2013. In 2013, I then started my degree in PEACE and I graduated in 2015.
What made you choose Finland and Åbo Akademi University when there are so many other great countries and universities in the world?
Finland is known all over the world for its excellent education system. I studied General Education in Marburg and when I had the opportunity to apply for an ERASMUS exchange programme, Finland was a natural choice. And also because I wanted to experience a country unknown to me and be able to study in English.
The courses at the Vaasa campus caught my interest and changed my perspectives on the human potential for peace. I enjoyed the small groups instead of the mass teachings I was used to. To be able to relate with my lecturers based on my own research interests was a new way of learning for me and increased my interest in the field. The outstanding facility on the seaside was another reason why I decided to pursue my Master’s degree at Åbo Akademi.
Where have your studies taken you? What are you working with now and how did you get there?
After my studies I went abroad to work for a local NGO in Accra, Ghana, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. During that time, one of my classmates from my time at Åbo Akademi recommended me as a mentor for the programme “Reinventing Democracy in the Digital Era”. It was a two-year-project coordinated by the Future Worlds Center and funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF). Seeing the need for development and youth empowerment in Ghana we then founded our own NGO.
In 2016, I went back to Germany and started to work as an Educational Consultant in international youth education for ijgd. ijgd is an independent, non-profit association for international youth work, a recognized independent youth welfare organization, and one of the largest and oldest workcamp organizations in Germany. Our programmes are funded by the National Youth Office of our region as well as the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ).
I am training youth leaders for international youth work and providing opportunities for intercultural learning and peace education. I am involved in conducting, leading and evaluating non-formal learning activities for teenagers during youth camps in Germany, other European countries and beyond. In addition to that, I am still the Director of the Ghanaian based NGO “Mirjamkay Foundation”, focusing on the areas of youth empowerment, education and rural development.
Do you feel that your studies have been relevant for your career? In what respect?
Yes, my studies were very relevant, firstly to further my aspiration, and secondly to reach my desired goals. The courses in Vaasa taught me that in a world where war seems ever present, it is important to gain a deep understanding of the nature of conflicts on a small scale and in larger contexts. In some of the courses, I learned friendly peacemaking strategies and mediation as well as realizing that it is vital to discover the roots of intercultural and inter-group conflicts and violence. With that knowledge we may be able to move beyond war towards a positive peace system.
My degree in PEACE gave me a solid foundation to work with promoting peace education for ijgd as well as the knowledge I needed to start my own NGO in Ghana. We studied PEACE in a small and very diverse group of lovely people from all kinds of backgrounds, nationalities, religions and language groups. Until this day I value the exposure to different mindsets and cultures as well as the many friendships that studying at Åbo Akademi brought into my life.
Is there any special memory you would like to share with us from your time at Åbo Akademi?
As I mentioned before,the PEACE programme is relatively small and that gave me a great opportunity to get to know my classmates really well. I remember sitting for hours at Ann-Mari’s (the cafeteria downstairs) after our lectures.
The nature surrounding the faculty close to the sea is just amazing and I will never forget exploring the Kvarken Archipelago (UNESCO natural world heritage close by) by canoe in summer and walking on the frozen sea in winter times.
There are many international students in Vaasa and the city has with a vibrant student culture. We spent many hours in our student homes in Lärkan and Olympia discussing our future plans and issues of life. I also remember a very inspiring conference on the topic of “nonkilling” that was hosted by the faculty and an unforgettable Master’s thesis writing retreat at Kalle’s Inn.
I am thankful to all of my lecturers for the time that I spent at Åbo Akademi. I always felt encouraged to pursue my career in PEACE and do research according to my own interests.
Do you have a message for today’s students, or perhaps for someone planning to study abroad?
I encourage you to study PEACE at Åbo Akademi. It will bring you joy, friendships, knowledge and an unforgettable experience at an excellent research facility. Be open to learn more about different people and cultures and soak in every moment. Studying abroad can open doors for you and you will learn a lot about yourself and others in very a short time. It is worth it.