A welcome word from Sarah Schoentjes, Belgian participant in the 2012 IPO in Oslo.
Dear IPO’ers of 2016,
I participated in the International Philosophy Olympiad in 2012. In all honesty, I got in through a stroke of sheer luck – I barely knew who Kant was, hadn’t had a single philosophy lesson in my entire life. But I wasn’t going to complain. I was seventeen; I was going to be out of high school in less than a month; and now I had gotten the chance to spend four days in Oslo with people from all over the world, learning about things I’d only had the slightest inkling about before. “Excited” would be a rather understated way of describing how I felt.
I was not disappointed. The IPO was – and I say this with complete sincerity – one of the best experiences of my life. I learned so much in just four days, and not just about philosophy (I already made it clear I had a lot to learn). Possibly even more importantly, I was introduced to philosophy’s practical applications, notably national and international politics and activism. My new education derived from the lectures, during which guest speakers who were at the very top of their field came to talk to us about their favoured subject, but also from conversations over dinner with the other students, which gave me more of an insight into the topics that rouse people from different countries and different cultures.
If I’m honest, the people were the greatest part. There were about 80 of us, students from all over the world, ranging from 14 to 20 years old. This guaranteed a varied range of backgrounds, personalities, and interests, which made every single conversation fun and interesting. I met lots of people at the IPO, and every single one of them taught me something new. We slept in the same rooms; we ate together; we visited Oslo together; we danced together at the farewell party; we applauded each other at the ceremony to reward the essays. Mostly we talked, a lot. Some of us went on to become activists, writers, journalists, academics; some of us, like me, are “simply” students. We keep in touch, some more actively than others, but the simple fact of, for example, having stayed friends on Facebook, means we stay informed about current events and people’s reactions to them all over the world, which I find invaluable.
I am incredibly grateful for having had the chance to participate in the IPO; it was one of the most educative and enjoyable experiences of my life. I hope, and expect, that it will be the same for you. Talk to as many people as possible, make friends, go to the lectures, write as good an essay as you can, have fun exploring Ghent (it really is a very beautiful city), listen a lot, but don’t be afraid to speak. In short: enjoy. I know I did.