The following blog is a transcript of a Birkbeck Inspires: Conversations with Alumni Podcast. You can listen to the full podcast here
Hello, and welcome to the Birkbeck Inspires conversations with alumni podcast series, where we hear from former students and find out more about their time at Birkbeck. Birkbeck Inspires is the college’s free online events, activities and resources programme – which has been designed to inspire learning, provoke thought, and entertain and excite curious minds.
In this episode, Victoria Hurwood interviews Birkbeck alumnus, Prince Louis of Luxembourg, who studied psychosocial studies at the college back in 2017.
Victoria: Thank you so much Louis, for speaking to me today and for being part of our kind of Birkbeck Inspires conversation with alumni series. What I’d really like to speak to you about today is your time at Birkbeck. So, I know that you’ve studied psychosocial studies in 2017-
Prince Louis: That’s right.
Victoria: And just hear more about your experience and your career since, of where that’s taken you. But first of all before we jump into any questions, could you just tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Prince Louis: Louis from Luxembourg, I’m 33 at the moment, (I did) my Masters degree, my MA in Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck University. Before that, I was doing something completely different I was in aeronautics, I was in environmental management, I was in communications and within the humanitarian field. When I did the Psychosocial Studies degree, I did the degree within 2 years – night classes in order to be able also to work for a start-up that did impact investing, so you could say that my background is quite diverse! Birkbeck was incredibly helpful in my development, Psychosocial Studies was a lot of things it was a massive headache-
Prince Louis: – from all the information that was given to us and then contradicted and then not looking at coherence think of other subject, compare and contrast, dismantle theories. I mean its incredibly interesting, its incredibly interesting to see how we can use these theories in many ways, to use these theories in professional coaching. What I do is a mixture, it’s a mixture of professional coaching which I started with (?), he took me on the train, he taught me the job, taught me how to act as a professional coach, what it meant, what it entailed. The other angle that I took is with a woman that’s called Beatrice Sauvageot, she has been studying this lecture for 30 years and more, and finding new understanding to what this lecture is. And, so how to evolve with it, how to help it, how to use it. And so what I did was to being 2 theories: the professional coaching on one side with anything that entails and all the different elements where psychoanalysis is used as basis for everything that is done. Then on the other side, Beatrice Sauvageot’s understanding of dyslexia, and I created and tailor made a service for dyslexics in order to help them – in order to professionally coach them. I can do that with anybody, I do that with anybody but my focus and speciality is within dyslexia because I am dyslexic; because I have been through it; because I have gained a lot of knowledge on it, my children are dyslexic. But most of all because the partnership I did with Beatrice Sauvageot which brought me a huge amount of understanding that I had never really put a finger on, or an understanding that I knew to a certain extent but never acknowledged. And so that’s what I tried to help dyslexics do, is try to help them understand and acknowledge what is part of the dyslexia, what is part of their personality, what is part of their strengths, what is part of their weaknesses. And I do that especially for dyslexics because they have been hounded on with what they cannot do, where their weaknesses lie without ever putting any effort or strengths or knowledge of what they are GOOD at. So I tried to shift that a bit, make them understand what they have been through, for being confronted by their weaknesses on a constant state and trying to make them understand that dyslexia is not only a weakness but more than that, it is mostly not a weakness. It can be and should be considered a strength.
Victoria: That’s fantastic. You’ve kind of touched on so many elements that Birkbeck also works on, and its part of our mission to make sure that we’re, you know, got diversity in our student population and got diversity of thoughts. We are making sure that people with dyslexia but also people with other neuro-diversity related conditions, that they are able to first of all recognise it and recognise what they can excel at. So it’s exactly as you’re speaking, its turning the conditions into strengths and figuring out what people’s strengths are. It sounds like you, yourself, you have such a diverse background and you were doing so many different things before you came to Birkbeck – can you tell us a little bit more about your experience of education before Birkbeck? How did you find it, where did you go?
Prince Louis: I’ve been all over the place, I went to (well, I don’t know how far you want to go but,) once I finished at the American School of Luxembourg, I went to Switzerland and got my college education there. As a dyslexic, nothing was easy at all but I managed, and I managed not alone but with a lot of help. That’s a quality I have which I take and put a lot of emphasis on, I take it very seriously and that’s the quality of asking for help when I need it. There is no shame in that and it really is an intelligence in itself to know where your limits lie. And my limits do not lie in understanding, understanding is perfect that’s my strength, my it lies within details and within writing – the comprehension of small details if that makes sense. But it is all about always asking why, I need to know why and that is my strength, afterwards always understanding exactly how I got to that understanding with every single detail which is less interesting than the knowledge required itself. And the knowledge that I acquire, I can continue to the next knowledge and to the next knowledge and to the next. Those knowledges will justify the knowledge I had to begin with.
Victoria: I think that it shows that you’re curious and that’s so important when you’re coming into new, well trying out different things and trying out different topics and things to study and it sounds like yeah, I wonder actually the flexibility you said about working in a start-up before you were at Birkbeck, and actually while you where at Birkbeck, did the flexibility of evening study help you in that way? And if so, how did it help you, was it good with time management, things like that? What were your difficulties?
Prince Louis: So, yes the flexibility is incredibly important for me, that’s why I couldn’t work in a business structure, no problem at all, but I find a lot more pleasure in being an entrepreneur and being completely flexible with what I do, how I do it and my time management. To be able to manage my time and be consistent within the work I do, with how I manage that work and time, sot that there is no issue whatsoever. And yes, for Birkbeck to do it in 2 years, to have night classes, yes it was hugely beneficial.
Victoria: So, what were some of the highlights when you were studying? Do you have a particular class that you really enjoyed, a lecture, a really good grade that you got, does anything stand out to you when you think of Birkbeck?
Prince Louis: When I think of Birkbeck, it was my final dissertation, it was my final paper which was on mentalities and relations to food. So, I had a lot of confidence because I took the extreme and I did it in relation to insects: to what degree can there be a flexibility within the food we eat. What I love to do is bring a lot of notions together into one subject, that’s exactly what I did, I brought the knowledge of gentleness in order to counter disgust and many others. And so yes that’s the pinnacle of my studies because that’s when I could really use what I learnt and really understand it more deeply. So yes, that’s what I enjoyed the most but the teachers also absolutely wonderful, the entire experience I had was fascinating.
Victoria: I’m so glad that you enjoyed it and I suppose that is a really challenging time trying to take all of that theory and putting it together, but I’m really glad that you enjoyed it and it sounds like an incredible, well a really interesting topic and I think that is exactly what Birkbeck is about. Its about questioning norms, its about thinking about different or approaching things in different ways and I’m glad to hear you had that experience. So, once you graduated from Birkbeck, you have touched on this before and you got into kind of coaching individuals with dyslexia – you mentioned this before about your own personal experience and thinking about / understanding your strengths and how to excel in the workplace. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you hope to make an impact, and just a bit more about work in this area?
Prince Louis: Of course. So, well I hope to make an impact for dyslexics but more broadly in self-knowledge, in self-understanding at a point here in life because we change constantly, but at one point in life when we are looking for something or we are just looking for understanding and yeah its constant. There are a lot of confrontations between a person where they are incoherent or inconsistent in many ways and one of the main elements of that is the will to be, and the fear of being, the fear of disappointing others, the fear of being a disappointment to ourselves. But Shakespeare said ‘to be or not to be’ and that is the question, and hopefully to be and not to be because of the fear of being or the fear of being a disappointment. And so, I try to give to a certain extent, self-confidence and prove to people why they have the right to be self-confident enough in order to choose to be and to be themselves and to act within their interests and their evolution and we never perfect, I’m sure, in what we do and who we are, we can to certain degree understand, and with understanding, there is a certain ability to let go. And on the other side, I do also mediation and mediation is a wonderful tool also in order to try and decrease conflict and to not reduce but resolve conflicts in applicable ways. That is also a passion of mine, in fact its more on the day-to-day thing, its not one day hope to change a huge thing but its changing one thing at a time, being able to help in a certain at a certain point in time, a certain person or conflict. It’s that which fascinates me, which gives me drive and gives me passion because at the end of the day, we have the present moment to work with and the future, I always look into it because I love imagining things. And not only looking into the future with the knowledge that I know but the only thing I have in order to a certain degree, is control.
Victoria: That’s wonderful. This is a really lovely conversation to have on a Friday, I think it’s very uplifting, it’s a very wonderful way to look at the world and kind of reflect your actions and what you’re doing in that kind of view of the world. You talk a lot about confidence building and at Birkbeck that’s something we try to do a lot of. Sometimes people have not come through traditional routes of education, and once they get to Birkbeck, there is the fear of the unknown I suppose and no knowing how they’ll get on. It is a hard thing now in education. Do you find that when you’re coaching people, that once you’ve bridged that barrier of confidence building, you start to kind of see people flourish and thrive?
Prince Louis: Yes, I mean, yes of course. One thing also is that the fear when you enter a new path in your life, there’s a certain fear, a certain excitement, fear of the unknown as you said, but that’s very good also. Don’t want to destroy that! It’s a very exciting and its what brings change and its part of life and it is an exciting part of life, change itself. Now it is the fear of change that would be the issue but not the excitement of fear when there is change. We say that it is the fear that’s the issue not the fear itself. We are the fear, we can accept it we go for it, the fear of being afraid or the fear of that feeling of fear and we never want to feel it. We block or we run away from it, the feelings and everything that we go through and everything that’s new, we should never think that we are going to go into something new without a certain level of doubt or fear of the unknown as you said. That’s very entirely normal. But, without it paralysing somebody if we are too afraid of feeling fear or too afraid of being afraid, it’s the fear of fear, not fear itself.
Victoria: That’s a really good point actually, I guess its that anticipation and you make really good points about when there’s that moment of change there’s that excitement and that new things can happen and flourish. I hope that’s what we can bring to lots of Birkbeck students when they are starting and also when you’re graduating these are all different times you are experiencing massive change and I hope that Birkbeck really supports student alumni in that area. You talk a lot about change, I suppose right now we are going through a grat period of change. Is there anything you do to take yourself into the present, is there anything you really enjoy whether that be a hobby or music? What’s helped you to stay in the present right now?
Prince Louis: Well, to stay in the present, most of the time is to take myself lightly. I don’t take myself seriously and that has helped to have a great grasp on the present moment and what’s concrete and what’s not. So, if I am able to take myself lightly, I take less care about what other peoples view is on me and what it could be. [Unintelligible] Moving forward, a certain sense of the notion of others is important, but in order to be able to take oneself lightly, not take oneself too seriously, one needs to have something that one takes seriously otherwise it’s just going crazy-
Prince Louis: – and the centre of reality yet again. And so, its that choice as to what is it that I will take seriously in order to be free not to take myself seriously which is the question.
Victoria: Yes, definitely. And I guess there is that surrendering to what you can control and what you can’t control and making sure that you what you can do in the present is serving you and also some of the people around you. And everything else, you know, you have to… Yeah. It’s a very strange time but you make some very, very good points. Bringing it back to Birkbeck, what do you think, I know that you’ve had lot of different experiences and different forms of education but what do you think makes Birkbeck particularly special or stand out?
Prince Louis: Diversity. The diversity, not only the people that are there, which is a great strength, but within the education itself. Its great diversity, there’s great hope and there’s openness of the mind which must stay to accept everything and every theory and everything new. We can only move forward if we are allowed to debate about everything, and the day we are not allowed to debate about something is the day we get stuck into something. So, this openness of mind and this ability to debate in order to truly understand. As not to stay in the ‘politically correct’ but the optically correct that we understand. Where there’s understanding attached to it is 0incredibly important, its like legal structures and any law – if it is not understood and we follow it blindly its stupidity. We have to understand, bring logic to everything and continue being curious about things! Not saying no it’s a law and that’s it. Not saying oh no it’s a theory we can’t say that. No. Why? Continue asking why.
Victoria: That’s so lovely and I definitely do feel that reflects diversity as well and you need to be able to debate these things and also when you’re studying to be able to speak to people about different theories that we are all going through it together so that’s really lovely. I guess when you’re thinking more about students today, what advice would you give to Birkbeck students now?
Prince Louis: Now, to stay open minded. Stay flexible. To study like crazy of course as everyone should! As I should have done a bit more also. But it’s a fun experience. Also, to have fun with it! We are there because we chose what we are interested in and let’s be interested in it. Stay passionate about that subject even though there are ups and downs and that’s normal. But the subject interests are enough in order to study it or know why we study it, that’s fine as well. If the subject sometime is not the greatest interest that we have but we know why we do it and that is the most interesting part and stay passionate about it also. Stay focused on it and yeah! But again, search for freedom within it.
Victoria: That’s so lovely and I think it’s a really positive message to give to students right now and I love the way that you’ve spoken about Birkbeck and tired to make sure to stay open minded and take advantage of the flexibility, build your confidence and have fun. I think that’s great. Thank you, Louis!
Well that’s the end of todays podcast. We hope you enjoyed listening. Make sure you check out what else Birkbeck Inspires has in store by visiting our website: bbk.ac.uk/birkbeck-inspires.