Katharine BrooksFast Stream, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

How the ESU changed my life

Friday 19 May 2017

My experience as a mentor for the ESU inspired me to make a difference, both at home and abroad

During the six years of my undergraduate, master’s and doctorate degrees I worked for the ESU as a mentor. I was lucky enough to be selected for some of its most exciting international tours and this has been enormously beneficial for me on both a professional and personal level.

There are not many 20-somethings who can talk about the time they watched an am-dram musical about the life of Beethoven in Amarillo, Texas (see picture), or the time they went to a giant adult adventure playground in Missouri, or ate at the best dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong. More importantly, these tours presented me with some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that I would face as a young professional. The memory of a morning in Wuhan spent training 80 children to be ready for a television commercial stands out particularly in my mind, but there were countless other, slightly less stress-inducing but equally rewarding, experiences. I became a better debater, a better teacher, and a better global citizen as a result.

It wasn’t all about jet-setting. In fact, some of the most formative experiences I had were in classrooms in the UK – seeing first-hand the enormous divides in educational opportunity here and being given the chance to make a difference, however small. A few years ago I taught for 10 weeks at a struggling primary school in Birmingham where several of the children in my Year 6 class still could not read or write as a result of late-diagnosed dyslexia. Seeing those children stand up and give a five-minute speech to their school assembly at the end of my time there was phenomenally rewarding, and a testament to the massive journey they had taken in that short time. I also dare to hope that it had some lasting positive impact on their confidence in their own ability to learn and their aspirations for the future.

However, I think the most important skill that debating teaches children (and adults too) is the ability to question what they are told – by their parents, the media, their teachers – and to start thinking for themselves. In a post-truth world, teaching debating is all the more important, but we need to start as early as possible and to embed critical thinking within the curriculum of every school.

I now work at the Foreign Office, on the diplomatic fast stream, and I believe I owe much of that to the ESU. My experiences not only provided me with nearly all my answers to the competency questions at interview, but they gave me the confidence to be all that I can, in a professional and in a personal sense. They also inspired in me a desire to make a positive difference, both at home and abroad.

Feeling inspired? There are lots of opportunities to get involved with our work. You can find out more here.

Has the ESU had a positive impact on your life? We’d love to hear about it! Please drop us a line at alex.orpin@esu.org