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International Relations Begin in the Classroom

USC College students volunteer to teach high school classes a global perspective.

International Relations Begin in the Classroom

This year, the Teaching International Relations Program (TIRP) had a record number of volunteers and the spaces went quickly. Many of the students involved are veterans who return semester after semester for a program described as “a really good eye-opener.”

Organized by the Center for Active Learning in International Studies (CALIS), an outreach program sponsored by USC College’s School of International Relations, TIRP is a “team-teaching” program that sends students to lead local high school history, government and economics classes on topics related to international relations.

In teams of three or four, students teach four sessions, approximately one hour a week, ranging from human rights to U.S. foreign policy, frequently breaking up into smaller discussion groups for personal interaction with the students. The more hands-on the lesson, the more successful they are in engaging the students.

“As we made the lessons more interactive and debate-oriented, passions ignited,” said Anne Vaz, a junior international relations-global business major. After one particularly intense discussion of sweatshops and exploitation, she said, “One of the girls came up to me and hugged me, and said, ‘Thank you for that.’ ”

Vaz is now considering a future in education though she originally planned to study law. “I love it, I love teaching,” she said. “The kids just come to life … Sometimes it’s hard for them to connect, ‘What am I doing here and how is it going to affect the real world?’ and international relations helps them to make that connection.”

“There's something I really love about being in a classroom and being faced with the challenge of getting through to people — and that feeling alone has kept me coming back to TIRP again and again,” said sophomore Jennifer Fong, a double major in international relations and public relations.

Even though students can earn extra credit in their international relations courses by participating in TIRP, this isn’t the only incentive for students. Senior Ying Jia Huang, a triple major in international relations, history, and East Asian languages and culture, said, “I'm interested in educational policy and international development, so TIRP is the perfect opportunity for me to explore and enhance my insight.”

The time TIRP volunteers devote to developing lesson plans enhances their own studies at the College. Even prior to her work in the program, Vaz would study for tests by preparing her own lesson plans. “If someone had asked me to teach the class, I could have,” she recalled.

Fong agrees that teaching is a good way to review basic concepts in international relations. “There's no better way to prove that you know realism inside and out than if you can explain it to a second-semester high school senior. Teaching in a high school setting really drives you to think about the things that you're learning about in class and see how you can draw connections and relevance to your everyday life or the everyday life of a local high schooler.”

“At the end of the day, it’s not our egos that matter — we really want to make a difference,” Vaz said.

Why is it so important to teach high school students about international relations? For one thing, Vaz added, “In this world and age, nothing is local — everything is global.”

“By providing [the high school students] an introduction to the foreign policymaking process and the basic tools in deciphering the actions of their government and the international community,” Huang said, “we hope to equip them with the ability to comprehend the daily developments around them.”

Vaz goes a step further, eagerly reaching out to help students applying to college, and offering them insight into USC. Many, she said, have no idea that international relations is a subject you can major in.

“It’s not only about teaching international relations,” she said. “It’s about giving them hope.”