Aspiring MHC Peacebuilder Gets Front Row Seats to History


In her pursuit of peace studies, Julia (Juli) Kellerbauer has thrown herself into nearly every global learning opportunity Mount Holyoke College has to offer. With no less than four international internships and one semester abroad under her belt, Juli is preparing for a career at the nexus of peace, development and security.

Arriving in the thick of controversy

A Berlin native (Germany), Juli started at MHC in Spring 2015. Her first-year seminar “What in the world is going on?”, taught by Professor Penny Gill, inspired Juli to declare a double major in international relations and economics. The class prepared Juli for critical engagement with world affairs and set the stage for how she would personally aim to make a difference.

In summer 2015, Juli catapulted herself into the heart of Europe’s refugee crisis, returning to Berlin and interning with the peace and security team of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a prominent German think tank. The team supported activities to foster dialogue and tolerance among Germans and nearly one million new refugees and immigrants, including the "Muslimisches Forum Deutschland" to give voice to Muslims against extremism.

Juli interned twice more in Europe, researching for experts at the Global Policy Institute in Berlin for a forthcoming book on conflict and crisis prevention tools, and then in Brussels, with the European Parliament, where she again had a front row seat to history in the making. Juli primarily supported the work of European Parliament Member Joachim Keller in the development, human rights and budget committees, where debates raged over Europe’s response to the refugee crisis while the Brexit referendum stirred up the European Union (EU) from within.

As Juli investigated these pressing global issues, she was struck by the reactive approach of the European states. “Rather than working towards mitigating the symptoms of conflicts, international actors should focus on addressing the root causes,” Juli said.

Next stop, Russia

In 2017, Juli studied for a semester at the Moscow Institute of International Relations, the state school for foreign affairs where she sought to understand Russia’s foreign policy motives and its involvement as a major global actor in the Syrian civil war. While most of her professors displayed an open mind, one pointedly did not. After Juli gave a presentation in a Master class on the EU’s role in transforming the Ukrainian state, a professor challenged Juli’s conclusion and changed her prior announced grade from an A- to B-. “It was my first and only experience of national politics clashing with my academic performance,” Juli said, “Yet it was another valuable lesson in understanding the Russian identity.”

The Arctic: Made in Russia International Youth Forum

The snow was high and fluffy and the temps below 26oF when Juli arrived in the Arctic as part of a team of180 young representatives of Russian science brought together by the Russian Ministry of Economic Development. Few spoke English and most were male. Sponsored by the oil giant Gazprom, the forum sought to extract fresh ideas from young minds for expanding trade in the Arctic.

For a week, participants shared giant heated tents, roused early for group exercise and shared the same plain breakfast down to the portion size. Once, they headed into the frigid forests puffy marshmallow-like snowsuits for two hours of physical team building challenges. Faced with a strong language barrier, they encouraged one another with “thumbs up” gestures up ropes, over hurdles and through hoops.

While her teammates focused their final project on Russia’s Arctic development of gas and oil extraction, Juli and another US student instead proposed a concept to recycle old windmills miles away in Vladivostok to generate clean energy. The Gazprom execs were taken with the idea and presented Juli’s team with an award, a charm-sized silver barrel of oil.

Towards the end of the conference, the students became emotional. “They were so thankful that we as foreigners showed sincere interest in their country and stories, even when we hammered them with questions!” Juli said. “The experience taught me that—despite major differences--we can connect to one another. We are all products of our experiences and listening is key to mutual understanding.”

After Graduation: Africa

Juli is bent on understanding why conflicts break out and reoccur, and most importantly, which conditions lead to peaceful behavior. After graduation from Mount Holyoke in May 2018, she aims to get more real-world experience before heading off to grad school. She has set her sights on nongovernmental organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa or with a larger institution, perhaps the African Union, to work alongside conflict-torn countries to change the international approach to conflicts from reaction to prevention.

“Juli has combined her academic study with the unique challenges and opportunities for understanding other cultures and societies offered through the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives,” said Center director Eva Paus, “She has become a true global thinker poised to create a more just and peaceful world.”