Brussels School of International Studies

Kent in Europe Alumni Profiles: Juan Diaz-Prinz

As part of Kent's celebrations of 20 years in Europe we talk to alumni from our European centres to hear about the work they have done since graduating. Juan Diaz-Prinz works for the United States Institute of Peace having studied in Brussels School of International Studies (BSIS). He studied in the very first semester run at the Brussels center and was the first PhD to graduate.

What attracted you to study your course in Brussels?

When I started studying at Kent there was no Brussels centre. There was the idea of starting a small place in Brussels closer to the European institutions. While London offered great opportunities to meet with international people and to attend very exciting events, the idea of being in the heart of Europe with all of the international and regional implications, opened up a wealth of opportunities. Not only was I able to attend conferences and events, I also got different perspectives beyond the traditional Anglo-Saxon understanding.

What was the course like/what did you do?

While it is not always obvious, what attracted me the most was the emphasis on theory. In our modern global society we often react to current events without understanding their implications, the norms at work, and the possible consequences of our actions. The ability to study conflict and international relations from a theoretical perspective helped me to have a solid foundation for interpreting modern events. The theoretical emphasis, while often less headline-grabbing, has served me well in being able to advise international actors based more on structured reflection and less on what was done the last time or what others are doing.

What do you do in your current career?

I work for the United States Institute of Peace as Senior Advisor for Mediation and Dialogue. My job involves looking at conflicts and what different actors are doing and then advising the Institute on the best course of action. I also developed training material to help future generations build their skills in conflict management, mediation, and dialogue.

How did the course help with your career?

One of the most challenging aspects of my job is that everyone has an opinion on what should be done in a given conflict. Often those opinions do not have the benefit of understanding the consequences involved. For example, a spontaneous decision to pull out of a conflict may gain popular support from an electorate weary of years of being involved in the conflict. However, in the long run, it may have the catastrophic unintended consequences of creating more conflict and increasing global insecurity.

Such decisions need careful consideration of different possible scenarios, collaboration with other international actors and planning. The well-rounded course at Kent helped me to see conflicts from different angles, e.g. migration, politics, negotiation, mediation, economics, and even regime theory. It taught me the benefit of a holistic approach.

What were some highlights from studying/living in Brussels?

I was most excited by watching Europe at work. I think many people do not understand the great contribution that the EU makes to European and global peace. The idea of waking up and having a world without an EU is frightening because it would leave a massive vacuum in international peace and security. Being in Brussels helped me appreciate the work of the EU and to see first-hand how international peace and security work at different levels and how complex decisions can be made by many states with common interests.

What advice would you give to other students thinking of studying in Brussels?

The time in Brussels can go very quickly; and before you know it, other priorities, such as career and family, take over. Use the time and soak up as much as you can.  More importantly ‘Carpe Diem!’. Use this opportunity to experience things outside of your comfort zone, use the time to try out novel approaches in your thinking. The answers to today’s global problems lie in the future generations and that includes you. Prepare to be part of history.