CIAO DATE: 7/00
A Unique Approach to Active Learning in International Studies.
Eugene D. Schmiel
International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
March 14-18, 2000
Traditionally in schools and departments of international affairs, foreign service, and diplomacy, "active learning" has meant using the case method, simulations, debates, and small group discussions. These methods, and especially simulations, have proven eminently successful in bringing home to students the complexities of international politics and diplomacy as well as the importance of non-native language usage, cross-cultural communication, and understanding of the motivations of differing leaders, nations, and peoples.
The Embassy and Diplomatic Scholars internship program in Washington, DC is a new type of active learning in international affairs which benefits from the lessons of the traditional methods and adds the realism of actual experience in making and/or implementing foreign policy. It is a unique active-learning approach for high-achieving undergraduate and graduate students (and recent graduates) interested in international affairs. The only program of its kind, the "Embassy Scholars" provides students the opportunity to engage in substantive internships in Washington, the nation's most international city. Students work in foreign embassies, UN offices, think tanks, development nonprofits, or U.S. foreign policy agencies. The program is conducted by the Institute for Experiential Learning (IEL), a nonprofit educational organization which arranges academic-based internship programs in cooperation with colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad.
The author, who has taught History and International Relations at four colleges and was a Foreign Service Officer in the Department of State for 24 years, took his own experience and that of academe into account when creating the Embassy Scholars program. As a result, the program is a combination of the best elements of all of the traditional methods while also providing an opportunity for students to "test the waters" as they make the move from campus to career. The academic courses and the individual experiences are linked so that while each student is having a unique experience, he is also benefiting from hearing about the others, work and, frequently, taking back to his office the lessons learned from others, experience. The program and the courses thus create a cohesive group of co-learners who provide insights from their experiences to the benefit of all group members. Nature of the Program
Qualified applicants for the "Embassy and Diplomatic Scholars" internship program must have a 3.0 GPA and some international experience; fluency in at least one language and/or foreign travel is recommended but not required. They are chosen by a special selection committee of Ambassadors, diplomatic practitioners, and international businesspeople. Once they have been selected, the students themselves choose where they will intern from among several possibilities in their area of interest. They can select from among dozens of organizations with which IEL has made arrangements, including the Department of State; over 40 embassies, including Canada, Ecuador, Estonia, Korea, Papua New Guinea, and Mexico; and many other agencies, including the American Foreign Service Association, the Brookings Institution, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
IEL ensures that the interns will have the opportunity to practice the full gamut of international-oriented professional experiences, including the skills of diplomacy, international relations and/or trade, foreign languages, and cross-cultural communication. IEL requires a commitment from the embassies and other agencies that the students act as entry-level professionals and be given substantive responsibilities. IEL staff keep in touch with the agencies throughout the semester to ensure that this commitment is fulfilled.
For example, in embassies the Embassy Scholars do research, write press releases, and compose reports on congressional hearings and legislation; promote trade and foreign investment; and/or prepare for cultural events and high-level visits. In the Department of State they research emergent international issues; write reports for senior officials; or follow the development of international-related legislation in the Congress and help prepare official testimony. Further, all interns have an unequaled opportunity to improve their language skills as well as their cross-cultural communications ability while also earning academic credit from their universities.
Specific examples from past semesters:
Embassy of Mexico: Doug Murphy from the University of New Mexico, Yiselle Bear from Loyola from Chicago, and Ruthanna Ruffer from the University of Arizona worked in the Embassy's NAFTA office preparing trade reports for and visits by the Ambassador of Mexico to U.S. states; United Nations: Dragica Fridl from Drake and Stephanie Seales from Barry University (FL) worked respectively for the Washington offices of UN headquarters and the UN Development program analyzing congressional and World Bank/IMF policies toward the UN. Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA): Amanda Brinkman of Carthage College (WI) worked on micro-credit programs for small businesses in several third world nations.
Embassy of New Zealand: Keren Yairi of the University of Illinois arranged investment opportunities in World Bank-funded projects for the embassy and had free access to the World Bank;
Embassies of Estonia and Latvia: Evan Naylor and Ben Young of Centre College, Matt Gunterman from Murray State, and Sam Wood of Longwood College analyzed and made recommendations about NATO expansion strategy for the Ambassadors of Estonia and Latvia while preparing daily press summaries sent directly to their respective Presidents; Department of State: Mison Riggins of the University of Hawaii prepared briefing papers for Japan Desk's meetings with senior Japanese Foreign Ministry officials; Lisa Mordin of Long Island University wrote briefing papers about Russian issues for Secretary of State Albright; and Sara Skahill of the University of Iowa became the de facto Lebanon desk officer for several weeks;
NATO Summit: Molly Smith of the University of Pittsburgh was the special assistant to the Director of Communications of the secretariat preparing for the visits of the presidents of several European nations during the 50th anniversary summit of NATO in April 1999; American Foreign Service Association: Jennifer Roberts of Union College, Paetra Hauck of the University of Southern Mississippi, Ed Mooney of Rutgers, Mara Caputo of Beloit College, and Sarah Wilson of Roger Williams University lobbied Congress on foreign relations and foreign aid budget issues.
Embassy of France: Samantha Price of Oregon State, Alicia DeGroot of Calvin College, and Chad Hossler of Penn State wrote press releases, edited newsletters, and prepared for visits of French leaders. U.S. Trade Representative: Hannah Halbert of Transylvania University engaged in preparations for the next stages of WTO reforms and China's entry into the WTO.
Academic Elements of the Program
The IEL internship model stresses that all programs are academic-based and that students should be able to earn a full semester's credit for the experience. Thus, while students work four days per week at their internship site, one day per week they take classes specially-created for this program.
The first course, "International Relations, Policy and Practice," involves extensive training in diplomatic practice, including writing and communications, but also includes an in-depth introduction to all elements of the international relations community, including international business and trade. Students visit foreign policy agencies and international organizations, including the World Bank/IMF, Department of State, Department of Defense, National Security Council, Congress, and the CIA, for in-depth, off-the-record briefings by senior officials concerning current policy and careers in government and international affairs. The program also includes international-related social events where students network with senior government officials from many nations, international businessmen, and leaders of the international financial institutions. During the Fall semester 1998, Estonian Ambassador Kalev Stoicescu hosted a reception at his embassy in honor of the Embassy and Diplomatic Scholars. In the Fall semester 1999 and the Spring semester 2000, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Marc Grossman spoke to the students at a private lunch in the Secretary of State's dining room at the State Department.
Students also take an experiential learning course which ties these elements together while bringing a focus to the experience and its role in each student's professional, personal, and career development. Current students can earn up to 15 hours of credit for the program through arrangements between IEL and the students, institutions. Some students participate in the program after graduating as a means of engaging in the transition from "campus to career" and gaining the experience necessary for entry into the foreign policy field. IEL provides extensive advice about career advancement, including preparations for the Foreign Service examination. Over half of the students who have taken that examination have passed.
Pedagogical Background: Active Learning in International Studies
The Embassy Scholars program was designed to help meet a growing need in higher education to link practical training with formal academics. Educational theorists today believe that university students who desire to succeed as leaders in the new millennium's "globalized" societies will need to be prepared for significant international challenges. This is especially true for those majoring in fields with an international focus, where linking the theory and practice of politics, international relations, and/or international business requires both knowledge about and experience in -- and with -- other cultures, peoples, languages, and societies. Political Science majors seeking careers in diplomacy, international relations, international business or banking, etc. must have, in addition to a solid academic curriculum, exposure to international issues and a globalized background and perspective to succeed.
Recognizing this need, many institutions of higher learning instituted and implemented programs such as internships, service learning, and the other forms of experiential/active learning as a significant component of their curricula. Most educators now believe that the transition from campus to career, with all that implies, can be eased and enhanced through a successful experience of this nature, especially internships. A growing percentage of schools now require some practical training, internship, or active learning experience for graduation.
Traditionally, in schools and departments of international affairs, foreign service, and diplomacy, "active learning" has meant using the case method, simulations, debates, and small group discussions. These methods, and especially simulations, have proven eminently successful in bringing home to students the complexities of international politics and diplomacy as well as the importance of language usage, cross-cultural communication, and understanding of the motivations of differing leaders and nations.
The author, who has taught History and International Relations at four colleges and was a Foreign Service Officer in the Department of State for 24 years, took all of this into account when creating the Embassy Scholars program. As a result, the program is a new type of active learning which benefits from the lessons of the traditional methods and adds the realism of actual experience in making and/or implementing foreign policy. It is a combination of the best elements of all of the traditional methods while also providing an opportunity for students to "test the waters" as they make the move from campus to career. The academic courses and the individual experiences are linked so that while each student is having a unique experience, he is also benefiting from hearing about the others, work, and frequently, taking back to his office the lessons learned from others, experience. The program and the courses thus create a cohesive group of co-learners who provide insights from their experiences to the benefit of all.
The program is for U.S. citizens and legal residents, but international students can be placed (and have been placed) in embassies through IEL's other internship program, "The Capital Experience."
The application deadlines are late November for the Spring semester and early June for the Fall semester, but early applications are encouraged. Applications and additional information regarding credits, housing, etc. are available on the IEL web-site, www.ielnet.org. While need-based scholarships are available, in 1999 several foundations interested in supporting education in international relations, including the Una Chapman Cox Foundation and the Goals for Americans foundation, also provided funding for several full tuition merit-based scholarships.