The 100: Sphaera Genesis

By Ayşe Mısırlıoğlu, Anneli Groen, Alon Küster, Chira Tudoran, Jacco van der Veen and Zuzanna Mietlińska

First, a cloud of smoke. A loud bang follows, and as the scene clears, the HOPweek logo comes into focus. 

This is probably how we could best visualize the birth of our platform for you, dear reader. Having been steadily growing for the last 3 years, our expanding tight-knit community has hit a benchmark in its history today: our 100th article! The very words you are reading now are made possible by some amazing people’s labour. As we want to remember and celebrate the hard work of our past, present and future teams, we invite you along to discover the humble beginnings of an outlet created entirely by and for the students of Leiden University Campus The Hague. Though our reader base and team now reign in from places far wider than Wijnhaven (and indeed, the Netherlands); it all started here…

Ayşe Mısırlıoğlu:

When I participated in the HOPweek towards the slow and warm end of summer 2018, everything was obviously much more…well, physical. Barbeques in the park, parties on the beach, a real-life info-market where each student association and club known to men had promotional stands with great snacks. The point being; it was much easier to see all the opportunities presented to the student body, clearly, in front of us. One thing I could not see, however, was a student magazine in English. There were about two magazines functioning in the Hague and they either felt a bit exclusive (language or location-wise) or did not incorporate IRO. So when the people at the CIROS stand informed me that they were a new association looking to grow and thus allowed the creation of any new club in their name, I was pretty quickly sold on the idea of starting a student magazine for the whole Wijnhaven community. That was the very first building block of what Sphaera is today. 

Of course, I never could have made anything out of this idea without the help and dedication of certain people, some of whom continue to work with Sphaera and/or are among my closest friends to this day. When I posted a call for team members, writers, editors and creators on the IRO Facebook group, a small ad hoc group was formed. With this group we had countless ad hoc meetings on the Wijnhaven Spanish steps, CIROS borrels, some lunches in Plein and eventually, some (very chill) Writer’s Sessions. These meetings established the rudimentary structure of Sphaera magazine right down to the extent of our relationship with CIROS (not very extensive back then, in fact), our first domain name and website, our main vision, our name…Indeed, a fun fact to mention here could be that the final vote for the name of our magazine was between Sphaera (Latin for ‘globe’) and Magnet (I had voted for this one but oh well)!

Over the years this original group has somewhat dwindled, but it has gained countless precious members. And as myself, Anneli Groen, Alon Küster and Zuzanna Mietlińska (who have been there since the very first sit-down on the Spanish steps) will tell you, Sphaera has changed and flourished amazingly throughout these last 3 years. All thanks to these incredible humans along with everyone reading and following us. Thank you, with all my heart, and I am more than convinced that the new Board will go on to do great things for the future of this magazine. 

Anneli Groen:

For me, this adventure started with a message by Ayşe in a big IRO group chat. She was looking for people to join her initiative. Me being the not so social person I am, I took this as the perfect opportunity to make some new friends. I immediately told Ayşe I’d like to be involved in organisational stuff, but not in actual writing, as my writing is okay at best. Quite soon after we really got started, I became the person who organised the articles, who connected the writers and editors, and who appointed illustrators. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two and a half years. Sphaera has certainly been an adventure. It has allowed me to develop my organisational skills, and to work with many people. I’ve had the opportunity to read about many stories from different perspectives, which I would otherwise have missed. To see the platform and the community grow, especially in corona times, when we did not have the opportunity to meet each other, is heartwarming. Friends were definitely made here. My best wishes to the next board, and hopefully many boards to follow. 

Alon Küster:

The first time I heard Ayşe’s proposal for a student magazine was at the first year’s CIROS borrel. I was interested to join because it sounded exciting. Back then I was eager to write articles about a variety of topics. Criticism by other writers on how the board was run led to the creation of a writer’s representative role. Despite this criticism by previous writers, not many people turned up to discuss what this role should do or even to vote for who the representative should be. I got the role of the writer’s representative and initially shared this role with someone else. Another challenge that emerged for me was how to motivate writers to write articles. Frequently, this meant writers sessions with the promise of free snacks.

At the beginning of the second semester in the first year both Chira and Jacco joined, reinvigorating energy in Sphaera. We started posting articles regularly which was amazing to see. I enjoyed reading the wide variety of articles. I was overjoyed as new first years joined the magazine at the beginning of my second year at university. In March 2020 the coronavirus changed many aspects of my life and affected Sphaera in a number of ways. Everything happened digitally which limited the extent and could do things as writers’ representative. It was difficult to organise events online since everyone’s schedule was different. Eventually I took over new responsibilities to become Head of Administration. Even during a pandemic, it is amazing to see how Sphaera has grown into a thriving platform for students.

Chira Tudoran: 

Personally, I have to thank Zuzanna for introducing me to Sphaera. At the time I was doing IRO and looking to switch to a different study. Drawing was the hobby that helped me during that time. So when Zuzanna told me I can become an illustrator for a new student magazine I said to myself “Why not?”.

My first illustration was a combination of the Dutch parliament and the Dutch flag, where the blue on the flag was the water, the red was the sunset, and the parliament was in the center. Little did I know this would be the first among many illustrations for Sphaera. During this time I created the logo of Sphaera, constantly read nuanced articles written by fellow editors, and enjoyed communicating with them to create the perfect cover art for their articles. Inspired by them, I also began writing and editing articles. Seeing my colleagues and friends pushing themselves and excelling in their craft of writing had a huge impact on me. This sort of environment is what makes me happy to be part of Sphaera. Regardless if we met in person or communicate online.

Now, three years later and in my second year of Security Studies, I see how much we have achieved. Sphaera Magazine is not only one of the most visually unique student magazines in the Hague, but also one of the most rich in diversity of thought. Working with Anneli, Jacco, Ayse and Alon has been an honour. As Head Illustrator I am extremely proud of how Sphaera Magazine grew. I wish the new board members, and the new Head Illustrator, the best of luck!

Jacco van der Veen: 

I joined Sphaera as a writer shortly after the lift-off of the magazine, and got to know Ayse, Alon, Anneli and some other editors who were there from the start, such as Zuzanna, Amelie and Sasha. It didn’t take long before I wrote my first article for Sphaera, which was published after the Christmas holidays. In the next semester, I also joined some of the board meetings. I saw that Sphaera had a lot of potential and people who had the drive to make something new: a platform for everyone on the Campus the Hague. I really connected with the idea of Sphaera being an open and free magazine, that would stand for the free expression of many of the different ideas that are out there in our diverse community. 

Because of this, I was really honoured that I got to be Editor-in-Chief the next year, and joined the board together with Anneli, Alon and Ayse. We were able to bring many of the great ideas from the first year together, and move forward in a focused and structured way. Things like the redesign of our website, actively promoting Sphaera among our peers and in lectures, extending our outreach on social media, and – most importantly – expanding our magazine with a lot of enthusiastic new editors and writers. 

When I look back at my time at Sphaera (two years, of which one and a half as Editor-in-Chief…!) I am very proud of the things that we have accomplished together. When important events happened in the world, Sphaera was there, and fast. Issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, the conflict in Ethiopia, the protests in Belarus and recently the coup in Myanmar were covered by our writers and editors in no time. Of course, always accompanied by beautiful illustrations from our creative team. It is great to see that, even after two years, we are still growing and improving. I have a lot of faith in the great community that has developed over the years, and there is no doubt that Sphaera will only continue to grow and thrive.

Zuzanna Mietlińska: 

Ever since I’ve heard about the idea of creating an IRO e-mag, I knew it was the beginning of something special. I became a member of the initial board, and that was the time I started to realize that our project needs a name. I wanted to come up with an inclusive phrase that would somehow correspond with a diverse community, here in The Hague. That was how the name Sphaera was born – latin for “globe” – not easy to spell but definitely easy to remember!

With so much work and effort of many individuals, Sphaera has bloomed like a beautiful flower. The group of writers, editors and illustrators has grown distinctly, and the new board is making sure the project is thriving! 

I’m very happy to be an editor for Sphaera – it gives me the opportunity to read pieces that are both insightful and interesting. With every piece of writing I’m getting to know new facts from such topics as International Politics and Art. I’m also contributing by writing my own stuff – and I know that this experience will come handy in the future! 

I’m also convinced that new generations of Sphaera members will continue to make things work, with startling article ideas, detailed edition and breath-taking illustrations!

Artwork by Chira Tudoran