When a university student looks you in the eye and says they’d like to change the world, it’s very easy to be pessimistic. When BU's Douglas Tham says it, people are left under no illusions that he is serious.
“I know it sounds cheesy and corny,” says Hawaiian-born Douglas, “but it’s something I really want to do – and my time studying at BU has given me the confidence to pursue my aspirations, however difficult they may appear to be at first.”
A final-year student on our BA (Hons) Politics & Media degree, Douglas has achieved more than most in the course of his studies. He’s served as President of our Politics Society (twice) and the RAG committee, been an elected Student Rep, worked as one of our Student Ambassadors, mentored children at a local school to combat truancy and raise aspirations, spent time on work placement with Bob Ainsworth MP, secured funding for a trip to the European Parliament for 35 students, and still found time to work as part of the Salzburg Academy on a campaign to end educational corruption in Serbia.
“I suppose you could say it’s been an eventful few years,” says Douglas, looking back on his achievements. “Especially when you consider that I chose the wrong course to start with!”
Initially, Douglas had wanted to become a barrister. “I thought it would be a great career and I’d earn lots of money,” he says. “But I soon learned that I wasn’t enjoying the course, or life at the university I was at. After two years, I made the decision to leave and start again, otherwise I knew I’d end up in a career that I wouldn’t be enjoying.”
Douglas’ next step was to enroll on the then-brand-new BA (Hons) Politics & Media degree at BU. “I had friends already at BU, and liked the feel of the Talbot Campus,” recalls Douglas. “I even went as far as attending a tourism lecture with one of them, and was impressed by how professional it was – so I decided to apply for a course here that suited me.”
It’s the spirit of collaboration that Douglas likes most about BU. “At older universities, you sometimes feel you have to conform and do things the way they always have been,” he says. “BU is different. We’re encouraged to challenge things and make changes.”
One such change Douglas and his cohort made was to found the Politics Society at BU, with the aim of educating fellow students about how politics changes lives – “not just the arguing and nonsense you see in the media,” as Douglas puts it.
During his time as President of the Politics Society , Douglas arranged a trip to the European Parliament in Brussels. “I secured funding for it,” he says, “and we took a group of 35 students over from different backgrounds and courses – media, law, tourism and politics students all together. It was a great experience, and a great cultural opportunity too.”
In his second year, Douglas added to his political experience by undertaking a work placement with Bob Ainsworth MP, the former Defence Minister and currently Labour MP for Coventry. “You only get out of a work placement what you put in, so I worked hard and was able to spend a lot of time learning about Mr Ainsworth’s career and how he got started,” says Douglas. “I think that the time I spent with him has given me an even better understanding of politics, and that’s something I am really keen to build on.”
Douglas’ most impressive achievement to date, however, remains his involvement in the Salzburg Academy in the summer of 2014. “Eight of us went from BU, and we were put into groups dealing with issues that are affecting people in different parts of the world,” says Douglas. “My group was looking at ways of combatting fraud in the Serbian education system. Bribery for grades is commonplace there, meaning that the standard of teaching is generally poor and those who have talent but no money don’t get the grades or education they deserve. We devised a campaign to challenge that, and it is due to be implemented shortly. Making such an important change is something I’m really proud of doing, and it has whetted my appetite for more!”
Douglas’ next step is a Master’s degree, and he already has a plan for where he wants to study. “I’m applying to do a joint course in international relations with Sciences Po in Paris and LSE in London,” he says. They are two of the world’s leading institutions for politics and social sciences and the ideal next step for me. If I’m accepted, I also want to undertake an internship at the UN in New York or Geneva, working in public policy or human rights.”
Douglas believes that his time at BU has helped prepare him for a future career as a diplomat, where he hopes to prevent conflicts across the world escalating into war. “Political systems don’t cause war,” he says. “Misunderstanding other cultures does. I want to promote cultural understanding so that people can work together more closely and understand each other. It’s the change the world needs.”