Monday, May 5, 2014

Study Abroad Sneak Peek: England

The way I like to describe England is "similar enough to be comfortable but different enough to be exciting." It's funny, little things like calling a parking lot a 'car park' or wearing 'trousers' instead of pants never cease to make me giggle. Proof (as if I needed any more, being from the West Coast) that a common language doesn't mean a common culture. Taking a course on British government and politics, I've realized (or, perhaps, realised) that for all our countries' similarities, we have plenty to learn from each other.

I think my favorite (favourite...?) part of my time in England has been the fact that I've stayed out of London. To be sure, I'll be spending a couple weeks there in a month or so, but until then, I've simply been exploring the England that we never talk about in the US. Towns like Salisbury, Exeter, and Plymouth are full of amazing stories and sights but until I visited, I was only vaguely aware of something about a steak and the Mayflower (for the record, I did not see any Salisbury steaks in Salisbury). And don't get me started on Cornwall, whose residents have just received an ethnic minority option on the census! 

My semester here has been a lesson in layered identities, proving that there's always more to people than meets the eye (especially when it comes to Americans stereotyping some Londoners to all Britons!). You're not just British, you're British, English, from the West Country, from Devon, and from Exeter. And you have the ridiculously specific accent to prove it.
Credit to this blog post goes to second- year Global Scholar Keegan Amrine. Thanks, Keegan!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sarah Stroh: How to Spring Break in Africa

  Senegal is a relatively stable, democratic country in western sub-Saharan Africa. It’s actually the country that has the western-most point on the continent, if anyone was wondering. Although it lacks some key stereotypical qualities of an African country, like warlords, rampant AIDS or famine, and NATO and/or UN troops, Senegal is by no means almost at the first world level. The tap water is not safe to drink, the electricity from time to time goes out, showers are not often (or ever) hot, and the infrastructure is far from built.

My friends and I here in Dakar decided that we wanted to go bold for spring break - bold meaning that we would cross the entire country with our main goal being to see Senegal's tallest waterfall, Dindefelo Falls and go to the wildlife reserve Niokolo-Koba National Park.

Our first major stop was Kédougou, where we stayed in a cute little encampement and played Scrabble with the old men who ran it in a language that was a mix of French and Wolof. The next night we traveled to the Gambia River to see some hippos, but unfortunately they were not there. Sunday and Monday we visited some Bedik and Bassari villages, which are the main ethnic groups in the region (you may recognize the Bedik people as the ones that wear bones through their noses to show wealth or power). On our way back to our camp, we visited the Peace Corps base and we were able to discuss the Senegalese life with some volunteers! On what seemed like the hottest day (on average about 110 degrees), we climbed Mount Dindefelo, visited a Guinean village that resides on the plateau without passports I might add, and saw the waterfall from above! In all, we walked 14 kilometers in the extreme heat , but we survived !

During phase two of our spring break, we went to Niokolo -Koba National Park. We stayed at Dar Salaam, a small village just outside the park. Although unfortunately while in the park the chances of seeing "big game" like lions or elephants are extremely slim, we still saw hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, monkeys and many, many birds.

Overall the experience was an amazing one, and though I am happy to have returned back to the cleaner, cooler city of Dakar, I will be able to cherish my experiences in rural Senegal forever.
Credit for this blog post goes to second-year Global Scholar, Sarah Stroh. To read more about her time abroad in Senegal, visit her blog

Friday, February 7, 2014

Global Scholars February Community Meeting

               The theme for this month’s community meeting was professional development. 3rd year Global Scholars Bryana Banashefski, Rob Bronstein, and Emily Elliot-Meisel took charge of the program for the evening and made a presentation on how to present yourself professionally after graduation. Bryana started off the evening with a resume workshop with tips on how to perfect your resume. After a delicious interlude through a Mediterranean-themed dinner from Café Olé, we traded resumes with each other to correct the little mistakes that people often make on resumes. For example, periods! Don’t end one of your bullet points on a resume with a period and then not have a period for your next bullet point. Consistency is key; a clear and consistent resume makes a happy potential employer.
                Next up was Emily, who presented all of the different recruitment resources we have available at AU, such as the Career Center, the Office of Merit Awards, and David Fletcher, the SIS career advisor. Through these resources, we found many options for undergraduate students who may not want to enter the work force immediately, such as research and language fellowships and scholarships like the Fulbright and Truman scholarship. For those who are interested in getting jobs and internships with security clearance, however, Rob discussed the different intel internships available in the public sector, and the process of getting security clearance for these types of jobs. Often, clearance can take up to a year, which means that if you would like to join the CIA, it’s necessary to apply 1-1.5 years in advance. Planning is essential!
                Our final speaker for the evening was Hayley Darden, Search Director at Ashoka Innovators for the Public. Ms. Darden provided us with information on how employers think when recruiting for jobs or internships, and offered tips on how we should plan for our future outside school. With Valentine’s Day coming up soon, Ms. Darden advised us that the dream job is a lot like falling in love: it won’t happen immediately! There will be a couple of jobs that we may have to take for money or experience before we reach our dream job. She offered us some more tips on how to act in the workplace, how to interact with our coworkers as well as our superiors, and ended with a question to all of us: Whether it is money or meaning, what are you looking for in your first job?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University

            Harvard doesn’t have anything on the Global Scholars at AU. That was one of several conclusions I recently came to after I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Boston to present my Introduction to International Relations Research paper at the National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard. The three days I spent at the conference were an amazing opportunity. It was quite the experience to meet and work closely with such an amazing collection of minds. In the interest of full disclosure, the Conference was probably about 75-80% hard science research pieces (with my IR work being grouped into the little government corner with the other “humanities”). In D.C. and especially at American University, I feel there is a trend towards activism and hands on work to get down and dirty and fix the world. Especially in the Global Scholars cohort where we finish a year early, it was amazing to meet a group of kids who were talking about being in college for upwards of a dozen years to get their PhDs and M.D. PhDs and other assorted research degrees (I’ll admit to not understanding some of what they were talking about...maybe more along the lines of 60-70% of what they were talking about in their research). That is not to take anything away from the gifted researchers from around the country (and Canada!) that I met there; when people ask me what kind of students I met there, I only semi-jokingly respond that they are the future Nobel Prize winners of the world.
 Speaking of Nobel Prize winners, another really cool aspect of the conference was the fact that it was at Harvard and that there is a plethora of world-renowned speakers at the ready as a result. I had the privilege to hear Nobel award winning Astrophysicists, a Vice President of Google and an entrepreneurial expert known as “Hacker Chick” speak as keynotes and in smaller workshops and panels. At these panels I learned how to write grants, build a successful start-up (step one in World domination, check!), and analyze research in the humanities from a hard science perspective.
The term “humanities” brings me to the biggest lesson I took away from the Conference and that I feel any IR major and especially any future Global Scholar applicants could take away from NCRC: how to work with hard scientists. We are not very much exposed to hard scientists at AU, and I’ll admit much of my knowledge of them comes from one Intro to Physics course and the Big Bang Theory. However, once you get past the respective jargons of their fields (and as intimidating as their research sounds, they are just as impressed/intimidated by IR research. I had more than one student remark to me, “I didn’t know you could do research like this, with no numbers or equations involved!”), it really is all about the research. A love of knowledge is what brings us together as academic students, and what better way to express that love than through research? The research projects I learned about ranged from the different ways to develop a cure for cancer, to tracking the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, to the Hijras of India. At the end of the day, though, it all broke down to methodology, a universal academic language. The ability to experience a room full of researchers from fields completely unrelated to mine seemed daunting and almost unnecessary at first, but in reflection, it was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my academic career. Working with these students I realized a lot of them were technical geniuses but had no concept of integrating their discoveries or inventions into practical settings, such as a project to install massive solar panels in rural areas of developing nations that had no budget accounted for upkeep or security. That’s where we come in as social scientists. If we reach across the aisle and work with our hard-science brethren, we can make the world a better place.

Credit for this blog post goes to 2nd Year Global Scholar Mike Friel. Thanks, Mike!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lunch and Conversation with John Prendergast

Credit for this blog post goes to first year Global Scholar Catalina Calachan! Thanks Catalina!

On December 3rd, 2013, twenty Global Scholars had the opportunity to meet with author and human rights activist, John Prendergast, to discuss his experiences and ask him questions.  I was lucky enough to have acquired a seat at the lunch, and hope to share some of the highlights.
Prendergast’s accomplishments are varied and many.  It would be impossible to talk about all of his achievements in a single post, but I will mention some of them.  Prendergast played a pivotal role in negotiating the treaty that ended the deadliest war at the time, the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and participated in other peace processes within Africa.  In recent years, he co-founded the Enough Project, a project within the Center for American Progress dedicated to the stop of genocide and crimes against humanity.  Today, he collaborates with people like George Clooney and Ryan Gosling to generate political will and raise awareness of important issues pertaining to human rights and international development.  From working at the White House during the Clinton Administration to working with the Department of State to working with nonprofit organizations and non-governmental organizations to working with A-list celebrities, Prendergast has had an illustrious career thus far.  However, despite the acclamation, fame, and weekend getaways with Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, Prendergast has not lost sight of his vocation; he is energized about what he does, and humble about what he has done.
Prendergast walked into Battelle Atrium with a big smile on his face, and the desire to get to know all of us, as he made sure to kick-off the event with our personal introductions and a “fun fact.”  My fun fact was that LeBron James threw me his wristband at an NBA game, and when Prendergast poked fun at my favorite basketball player, I knew that his charm and candor would make for an enjoyable lunch.  Prendergast recounted how he got started working in the human rights field.  His story began with an impulsivity and audaciousness that reminded me of another man who recently spoke at American, CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  Prendergast and Cooper, both leaders in their respective fields, each hopped on a plane to a foreign land armed with a spirit of inquiry and youthful ambition; and there has proved to be great power in their risk-taking, as those daring adventures largely influenced both of their separate paths to success.  Prendergast, for example, reflected on his young, perhaps naïve, self, saying that he had seen an advertisement about starving children in Africa and was deeply affected by what he saw, so he decided to fly to the continent and see what was going on in person.  As he elaborated on his first visit to Africa, it was easy to imagine a young Prendergast embarking on that incredible journey, for the enthusiasm and optimism that fueled his early travels continue to shine through today.  We were all captivated by his boldness, and pleasured with his humor and down-to-earth demeanor. 
Humbly determined not to talk about himself the entire time, Prendergast was eager to engage us, and opened the floor up for our questions after he finished speaking about his life-changing trip to Africa and the work that he has been doing since.  The question and answer session was light-hearted, informative, and inspiring.  When asked about whether or not he was scared before getting on a plane all those years ago and flying to an unfamiliar place, with little knowledge of what he would encounter upon arrival and not much of a plan, Prendergast laughingly remarked on how he did not really know what to be afraid of, so he kind of just went with curiosity.  Looking back on it, he said that he probably should have been more prepared, but he was thankful for the generosity and good luck that helped him survive throughout his spur-of-the-moment trip.  Another interesting question pertained to the role that sports can play in international relations.  Being a lover of sports, and having strict loyalties to his teams, Prendergast was entertained and intrigued by the question, as he responded with funny anecdotes and insightful ideas.  He talked about the numerous times that the topic of sports has come up while at home and abroad, and joked at one point about the Yankee-Red Sox division of Congress.  His stories highlighted the way in which sports can be a uniting force that transcends national, cultural, and ideological borders, and also just a fun diversion from work (like when he had a meeting with Obama and was scheduled to play basketball as a break).  This question brought out Prendergast’s humor and easygoing personality, while providing a glimpse into his diverse and influential network of colleagues. All in all, the event was a highly inspirational experience, and one that benefited all of us.   
After the lunch, it took days to shake off the adrenaline rush that came from meeting John Prendergast.  His passion about the plethora of issues he works on is infectious, and it was truly uplifting to see that his excitement has not faded after all of these years.  I am sincerely grateful for opportunities like this one, and hopeful for more of them; they are part of what makes the Global Scholars Program so valuable.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Africa Expo - December 2nd, 2013

Today in the SIS Atrium from 11AM-3PM, several different organizations came together to talk about career opportunities in Africa, particularly in the human rights field. The Africa Expo is held in honor of AU graduate and human rights activist John Prendergast, who is meeting with several Global Scholars students on Tuesday, December 3rd for lunch and conversation. Some of the organizations involved in the expo include:

Enough Project!
Peace Corps
Development Executive Group (Devex)
Abt Associates
Textbooks Africa
Society for International Development
Global Witness
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Advancing Girls Education in Africa (AGE)
Young Professionals in Foreign Policy

One of our Global Scholars, Alex Young, represented the Textbooks Africa organization in the expo.

A 2014 summer abroad opportunity offered in South Africa

Friday, November 22, 2013

100k Strong Foundation Inaugural Conference

The 100,000 Strong Foundation Inaugural Conference was held on Thursday, November 21st in honor of the US-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange and in celebration of the fourth Anniversary of the Launch of 100,000 Strong.  Unfortunately, Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to be at the conference to commemorate the launch as well, but was not able to come because he was in situation room with President Obama.At 9:30, President of American University Neil Kerwin and President of the the 100,000 Strong Foundation launched the conference with their welcome speeches.  

 The first conference had a theme of “Building a Globally-Fluent Workforce.” James Goldgeier, the Dean of SIS at AU, was the chair. Dean Goldgeier along with the Principal of Dewey Square Group Maria Cardona, President of Xavier University of Louisiana Norman Francis, and President of Wanxiang North American Pin Ni discussed the importance of educational exchange between the United States and China. Drawn from their past experiences, they all emphasized that educational exchange was crucial for enhancement of language ability and culture awareness. The first conference was followed by performance by students from Yu Ying Chinese Immersion Public Charter School. 

After a welcome message by Jim Hall, the CEO of WorldStrides, guests were having traditional Chinese food as lunch. A group of American students who used to study abroad in China and Chinese students who study in the US now then had a student testimonials session. The president of Ford Foundation Darren Walker was the chair for this conference. Students shared their personal experiences from their educational exchange. Many shared anecdotes they encountered due to misunderstanding of foreign culture, inaccurate usage of language, and being judged by stereotypes. For example, Charles Chen, an undergraduate student from American University said many Americans asked him “Can you hack into our computers?” and “Do you like eating doggies?” when his answers for both questions were always an absolute “No.”  However, both young people from America and China said that they were optimistic about the future of US-China relations. 

After student testimonials, Mona Locke, the interim executive director of Susan G. Komen Puget Sound chaired the US-China Strategic Relations and People-to-People ties conference.  Former Special representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs of State Department Reta Jo Lewis, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, and CEO of Blackstone Group Stephen Schwarzman share their personal understanding about the topic. Daniel Russel highlighted that Americans need to understand how the world works and the US need people who understand Asia in culture, business, politics, and other arenas. He stressed that people-to-people tie is not something “feel good to do,” but is something crucial for US long term national security. When there are ties between Chinese and American people, Americans can  understand China’s political actions and intentions; hence, people-to-people ties with China is strategically important for US.   

Finally, Vice Premier of China Liu Yandong gave her keynote address as the concluding of the conference. In her speech, Vice Premier Liu recalled the story that President Xi’s friendship with his American friends when he visited the US 28 years ago endures when he came back and visit his old friends after he became new President of China.  She said that from President Xi’s story, it is obvious that communication among young people can influence relationships among countries. After China and US changed their leadership last year, her visit this time marks the first round of high level humanity exchange between the US and China. After China’s Reform and Open Policy, there were 3000000 Chinese young people that studied overseas, and 50% of them studied in the US. Vice Premier Liu said that “Investing in US-China relations, One Student at a Time,” which was the theme of today’s conference, speaks to the essence of such educational investment. To invest in youth is to invest in future. Vice Premier Liu concluded that the foundation of US-China relations is people, and the hope for US-China relations is young people from both countries.

Two of our Global Scholars, Yuyang Zhang and Shuyu Shen, were invited to the 100k Strong Foundation Inaugural Conference. Credit for this blogpost and pictures goes to Yuyang Zhang. Thanks Yuyang!