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Why I Majored in International Relations

Sam Bither ’21

I came to Pomona with an interest in domestic politics and diplomacy, and how they work together to solve global issues. I knew that I wanted to major in a related field, but I was torn between majoring in PPE [philosophy, politics and economics], politics, or international relations. I eventually settled on IR because it perfectly blended my passion for the study of Arabic and my interests outside of the classroom.

The international relations major is definitely requirement-heavy, with its various electives, study abroad, and multiple semesters of foreign language. But this wide breadth in the curriculum has allowed me to focus both on topics I have enjoyed since coming to Pomona, like Arabic, and explore new areas I hadn’t previously thought would captivate me. Before taking Professor Stephen Marks’ International Economic Relations, I had only surface-level knowledge about international economics and how monetary systems function. But since taking his class, I’ve developed a new interest in the global economic policy, and I’m planning on conducting research during my semester abroad in Beirut into Middle Eastern monetary policy and how it has affected certain economies in the Middle East. 

The international relations major, with its combination of foreign language, history, economics, and politics, take a truly interdisciplinary approach, which I believe is critical to fully understanding how our world became the way it is today. With insightful and engaging professors, and a curriculum that gives students a comprehensive background in a variety of subjects, the IR major at Pomona is an excellent choice for any prospective student who wants to participate in engaging classroom discussion and develop a well-rounded foundation in diplomacy, international economics, or another one of the many fields of international relations!

Nathan Charles ’21

With our generation entering a rapidly advancing globalized world, we must be equipped to face a host of evolving challenges. I’ve always been interested in international affairs, and I knew coming into Pomona that I wanted to expand my communication and problem-solving skills in a global context. The international relations major not only offered the perfect learning philosophy for me to achieve this goal, but also introduced me to number of paths I may pursue in my career.

Because international relations draws from a wide range of fields, it attracts a diverse group of students with various specific interests—such as economic policy, human rights, environmental reform, and others—under the umbrella of international relations. This leads to rich learning environments where we develop the ability to tackle multi-layered issues and question how we can be more effective global citizens. The professors in the IR Department bring unique perspectives and backgrounds to their classrooms, ensuring that students engage in a comprehensive approach to their studies. While IR majors pursue a range of academic and professional specializations, we all share the same desire to make better sense of the complex world we live in.

For my senior thesis, I plan on analyzing the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a commitment agreed upon by all United Nations states in 2005. R2P prioritizes protection from genocide and other crimes against humanity above state sovereignty, thereby justifying foreign intervention when a state fails to protect its people. Following ongoing conflicts in regions impacted by foreign intervention over the last 15 years, criticism of R2P has risen sharply, leading many to question its validity altogether. I want my thesis to explore where and how the agreement fell short through certain case studies, and then develop big-picture considerations for the doctrine’s future.

Calla Li ’22

My interest in international relations began with my love for foreign languages and cultures. As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, I grew up speaking Chinese with my parents and taking frequent trips to China. I later picked up Russian and French and spent time learning Russian in Moldova and French in Montreal. I was fascinated by the cultural differences and similarities I had experienced, and I wanted to understand the historical and political context behind them. To me, IR is the perfect intersection of my academic interests, and ultimately, the skills and knowledge I gain from the IR Program will allow me to understand a broader range of human experiences.

I love the interdisciplinary aspect of the major and the emphasis on building a strong foundation to help make sense of critical international and domestic issues. While the program is rigorous and challenging, it also provides enough flexibility for me to explore all my interests and integrate them. Because of the IR Program’s rigor, the community of both faculty and students are incredibly tight-knit and supportive. Additionally, IR majors tend to come from more diverse and international backgrounds, and I enjoy hearing about fellow students’ experiences growing up outside the U.S. or like me, as the child of immigrants.

In the spring semester of my sophomore year, I completed an independent research paper on Sino-Soviet diplomatic relations in Professor Pey-yi Chu’s Researching the Cold War seminar. I learned a lot about how to conduct research and interact with primary sources through synthesizing original documents from various international archives, including the Wilson Center Cold War archives in Washington DC, as well as gained a deeper understanding of an influential period in Chinese-Russian relations. One year later, I am currently interning part time and virtually at the Wilson Center Cold War archives, where I am assisting in the translation, organization and contextualization of Cold War-era documents in Russian and Chinese.

Selena Lopez ’22

I would be lying if I said that when I arrived to Pomona, I explored a variety of majors until I magically fell in love with international relations. The truth is, I’ve known that I wanted to major in IR since I was in sixth grade because researching college majors was my idea of fun at the time. But I have to admit that with every class I take for international relations, I fall more and more in love with my choice. So during my sophomore year when I rang the golden bell to declare my major, the decision could not have felt more right.

The secret beauty of international relations, in my eyes, is that I never feel like I’m limited to just one major. I take a variety of classes at all the 5Cs: politics, Spanish and French, history, anthropology, linguistics, and more. From French Literature as a Form of Resistance to Journalism in Latin America, the possibilities within the interdisciplinary department are ever growing. The biggest sign that I chose the perfect major for me has been looking at the classes I’ve taken since I arrived, and realizing that I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Even though I missed out on studying abroad because of the pandemic, one of the most fulfilling research projects was possible thanks to the classes that the 5Cs offered through the Study Abroad Office during our virtual semesters. I took Indigenous Movements of Ecuador with Professor Sebastian Granda, and with some inspiration from my Linguistic Anthropology class with Professor Cecile Evers, I designed a research project that I hope to continue and build on through summer research and my senior thesis. Looking at Indigenous language revitalization efforts and their effectiveness in Ecuador, I delved into the language of Shuar, spoken in the Amazonian region of Ecuador, to understand if Western approaches to language preservation were effective (spoiler alert, they’re not).

While sixth-grader-me couldn't have predicted I’d end up at Pomona, I am happy that even then I had my eyes set on a major that allowed me to make the most out of a liberal arts education. With the added perk of being able to learn from every nook and cranny of the 5Cs, I really do believe Pomona and its IR major was the perfect fit for me. If you want to get more specific though, Carnegie Hall’s library (home to the Pomona IR Department) is the most perfect nook of all.

Max Ober ’22

The main reason I chose to study international relations was to explore my passions and what truly interests me. I have always been enthralled with geography, history, and demographics, fields that neatly coalesce within the interdisciplinary structure of IR. Far from being limited to these fields, however, IR at Pomona has offered me the opportunity to develop knowledge of theory, policy, and statistical analysis and apply these foundational skills to my preferred subdisciplines in IR. Overall, IR’s interdisciplinary requirements have kept my intellectual curiosity piqued and constantly seeking more answers while raising twice as many questions.

The wide breadth of topics within IR works very well with the requirements of the IR major, meaning the major’s structure is very good at giving students the exposure and skills to whatever they may choose to concentrate on. At the same time, there’s no requirement to concentrate in any area of IR, so the major can also offer a great variety of learning opportunities across disciplines and regions. 

During the summer of 2020, Pomona started the RAISE program to give students the opportunity to do remote research and create a project in coordination with faculty. With guidance from Professor Pierre Englebert, I researched socio-economic and ethnoreligious tensions of Timbuktu, Mali and ways in which various policies relating to the decolonization of education could provide relief from cycles of poverty and violence.

Finally, because language is such an important requirement of IR, the major encourages you to develop, refine, and perfect your language skills throughout your time at Pomona. No matter what future profession an IR major lands in, having the ability to speak two, three, or more languages is a fantastic asset. 

Erin Puckett ’22

I chose to major in international relations after taking a seminar class on modern Middle Eastern politics my senior year of high school. I loved the class, particularly the big questions that it provoked about the responsibility of states to intervene in conflict and respond to democratic uprising in autocratic states as well as the nature of power in the international system. Taking my first IR class at Pomona cemented that feeling when I had such interesting discussions and simulations in my Intro to IR class.

I love the interdisciplinary nature of the IR major - I’ve taken a wide variety of interesting classes that have broadened my knowledge and allowed me to learn from many great professors. 

This past semester in Professor Tom Le’s International Relations of East Asia class, I conducted research on bilateral U.S.-South Korea cyber cooperation, particularly related to North Korean cyberattacks. My area of interest in international relations is state-sponsored cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns, so it was a great opportunity to explore that in the context of a region I had not previously studied.

Jonathan Rushton ’22

I came to Pomona with an interest in history, language, economics and modern politics and knew I wanted to study these subjects in a deeper way. The IR program here does an incredibly good job at joining various fields in class to help understand the ins and outs of the world we live in. The curriculum includes classes on international economics, a multitude of global history classes and even certain anthropology classes, which convinced me that this would be the most academically interesting (and challenging) major I wanted to choose. As our world has become more connected than ever before, I’ve always wanted to become knowledgeable, familiar and understanding of how the world works and how it interacts with itself. Growing up in a mutli-national family, international affairs have always been really interesting to me. I have always followed international news and sports as both my brothers and father weren’t born in the U.S., so IR has been my plan of major since high school.

The professors within the department are all incredibly intelligent and caring, meaning they both make class interesting but also make each student feel valued and listened to. Professors ensure that the students can follow their own interests within the field and research various topics in class. Professor Tom Le’s class allowed me to combine one of my main interests, soccer, and international economics in a final paper, while Professor Mietek Boduszynski’s class allowed me to profile Viktor Orban’s political transition, which has since been published. Furthermore, the background and experience our professors have brings new insights into every class discussion that makes the subject even more interesting. Whether its stories from working with governments, in embassies or in grad school, the IR department has a multitude of fascinating professors that we work with. Furthermore, each professor sees IR in their own way, whether it’s a focus on theories or individual/state relationships, meaning that the major provides a thorough way to appreciate international relations.

In my major, I have become interested and focused on Eastern and Southern European politics which has resulted in two of my favorite research papers that are both individual profiles on Viktor Orban and Recep Erdogan. The research focused on their transitions of ideologies and manipulation of domestic institutions and real-world issues to certify control within their country. Professor Boduszynski helped me a lot with my research on Viktor Orban, resulting in the paper being published, which was a really awesome, rewarding moment.

IR is one of the most interesting and rewarding majors to choose at Pomona.

Virna Seminario ’23

Like most first years, I arrived at Pomona undecided about my major. I wanted to study politics, Latin American literature, environmental analysis, Arabic and have the opportunity to dabble in social sciences that I hadn't known about throughout high school. I planned to take the classes that caught my eye and follow my interests: a history class on Colonial Latin America, Introduction to Arabic, Intro to International Relations, Intro to Sociocultural Anthropology. Midway through my sophomore fall, I realized that I had been working towards an IR major subconsciously. Its organic formation speaks to the interdisciplinary nature of the major. The wide breadth in the curriculum has allowed me to explore different disciplines and get a well-rounded liberal arts education. While the major is a little heavy on its requirements, it seldom feels that way. There is plenty of room to explore other interests. The flexibility allowed me to try Arabic while taking literature classes in my native tongue, Spanish.

Besides the wide range of disciplines and the major's flexibility, I enjoy the program's people. Professors are incredibly knowledgeable, very accessible and they genuinely care for their students. From mentors like Professor Heidi Haddad to professors whose classes I haven't taken yet, professors are incredibly willing and happy to meet with you and discuss personal interests, current events and post-college plans. While a lot of my learning comes from professors, there is a lot to learn from my peers who are brilliant and come from diverse backgrounds.

Another thing I love about the major is that you can make it your own. There are multiple avenues to complete requirements and lots of autonomy over advanced electives, language choices, study abroad programs, history classes and within-class assignments. I experienced this freedom as early as my freshmen spring, in Professor Tom Le's Introduction to International Relations course. I had the opportunity to explore a topic of my choosing as a final paper. I chose to combine my love for food with my newfound passion for international relations to write about Japanese cuisine as a tool for power and influence.