Oliver Hegglin ’13 is a man of many identities. He has been the Cardinal of Spain, Pedro Gonzales de Mendoza, during the Spanish Reconquista in the Middle Ages. He’s been the Grand General Malcor Brashin of the Empire—the Star Wars Empire, that is. And, in developing his senior thesis, he was chairman of the Arctic Council, overseeing debates among nearly two-dozen countries and groups representing indigenous peoples of the Arctic as they wrestled with vexing questions about their countries’ and cultures’ futures.
Drama student? Not exactly. Hegglin has played these roles in Model U.N. simulations while pursuing his passion for international studies. A Swiss citizen in passport and mind set, Hegglin came to Washington College for its international studies program—but he’s also added anthropology to his major, and for the love of linguistics has taken French and is continuing to improve his German (he already speaks Spanish, Swiss-German and English). When you’ve lived in five countries and visited 29, Chestertown might feel kind of small. But Washington College’s rural nature hasn’t deterred Hegglin from furthering his global perspective.
“I wrote a paper for Professor Tahir Shad in sophomore year about the contingency of conflict in the Arctic, and that became the basis for subsequent study,” Hegglin says. Fascinated by the Arctic countries, their indigenous populations, and the issues those people and governments face with climate change challenging their economies, environments, cultures and even boundaries, Hegglin spent his entire junior year abroad studying in Finland and Denmark. “I just really fell in love with the countries. Northern Lights, reindeer, snow everywhere, beautiful light everywhere. It’s not as dark as people think, it’s always light somehow.”
For his senior thesis, he wanted to study problems and possible solutions for the Arctic countries, and especially he wanted to examine the complex relationships between indigenous people like the Inuit and their home countries, like Canada, when dealing with the environment, economics, politics, social issues and the military. “All of these countries want to take resources from the Arctic now that the ice is melting and areas are becoming more accessible,” Hegglin says. “At the same time, indigenous cultures are being threatened—whales they rely on for survival are being driven away, the ice is melting and they can’t travel anymore to the water … the environment is changing at a rate faster than they can adapt to it.”
He called on the International Studies Council—of which he is former treasurer and a member since freshman year—to help him carry out a simulation based on a Model UN format. Eight students represented the eight countries on the Arctic Council, six represented indigenous peoples’ organizations, and several more served as representatives of “observer” states—countries that have an interest in the Arctic. Hegglin wrote guides for and chaired each simulation. “I wrote up topics that were related to my thesis and then said, ‘Here’s the issue I would like you to focus on. Go.’ And I basically saw my thesis work itself out in a simulation.”
Research for his studies has put him in touch with indigenous groups and even governments; Greenland, for instance, has requested a copy of his thesis once it’s completed. “That, to me, is really special, it gives me good encouragement,” he says. “If the government of Greenland wants my thesis, I think that’s really something.”
Hegglin intends to pursue a masters in international affairs, but in the meantime, he’s gearing up for his next adventure, this one without any ice. Starting in January 2014, he’ll be an intern at the Swiss Embassy in country No. 30 on his passport, Nigeria.