SIR Voices: In Their Own Words

  • Life After Graduation: In India




    By Travis Glynn (BA, 2013)

    This past year I served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in India. It’s almost comical thinking back to my first few days of arriving in New Delhi, overcoming the jetlag, saying goodbye to my Wisconsin brats and cheese curds, and meeting the people who would become my close friends over the year. I had always heard that India was a place you either loved or you hated, and while at first my new environment was overwhelming with pungent smells, rickshaws, and constant commotion everywhere, I was determined to approach my year with a sense of humor and to apply my JEP service-learning skills to life post USC.

    As a Fulbright Teaching Assistant, I was responsible for Spoken English classes for over 500 students in levels six through eight. While this was admittedly a challenge, I was allowed to develop my own curriculum and goals for Spoken English, which were to complement the students’ other English classes. I decided early on to focus my classes on advancing students’ critical thinking and creativity skills. In sitting in on other classes at my school, I was struck by how the main method of teaching was rote memorization. Students would write down ‘correct’ answers to questions teachers wrote on the board, take turns reading these answers out loud and then write these exact answers in testing booklets once a month to pass exams. The ramifications of this were obvious in my classes in simple instances as when I would ask how the students were doing each day. “Fine Sir” was always the response. So one day, I asked, “What does ‘fine’ mean?” No response. It was Jithin’s birthday, and he was fine. Rajiv was ill, but he was fine. Steven had won an academic award, and he was doing fine. I proceeded to write a continuum on the chalkboard with ‘fine’ in the middle, and I had students name other English adjectives and place them on the board: ‘great’, ‘excellent’, ‘poor’, ‘upset’, and ‘hungry’, to name a few.  I almost think that after that day students came to my classes prepared with eccentric adjectives they had looked up in the dictionary the night before so they could answer, what was previously, an easy question. But, of course, then I would ask them why exactly they were feeling so ‘tremendous’.

    While I was working to challenge my students in the classroom, I also took advantage of the cultural exchange opportunities of the Fulbright program by celebrating India’s many festivals, volunteering with different Delhi NGOs and learning Hindi. One of the memorable holidays from this past year was Diwali, or the Festival of Lights. Diwali signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and it is celebrated with fireworks, sparklers, firecrackers, and lots of good food. While the cultural anthropologist in me enjoyed participating in the pujas and lighting the various candles and lanterns, I was humbled to be so welcomed into my students’ lives, a theme that was present throughout my time in India.

    In addition to connecting with my community, one of my goals for the year was to resurrect my love for running. While perhaps not the most logical goal—especially as I waited until I lived in one of the most populated, bustling cities in the world to begin running outdoors—I began running marathons and half marathons throughout India. While maybe a little unorthodox, running in different races would be one of my foremost recommendations for anyone living in a foreign country for a year. In my 10 races, I saw the Mumbai skyline from the Worli Sea Link, conversed with South Indian pundits along the beaches of Chennai, and ran along the foothills of the Himalayas in Mussoorie. I ended my running spree by traveling to East Asia and completing a marathon on the Great Wall of China.

    In many ways, the Fulbright program was the dream study abroad, service-learning experience. As an undergraduate, I studied abroad in Berlin, and just as I was beginning to speak German fluently and grow accustomed to German culture, I was pulled back to America. Spending a whole year abroad, albeit sometimes challenging, allowed me to fully engage with my school and community, apply my USC education to a global theater and challenge my physical limits in an adventurous, meaningful manner. Furthermore, spending a year teaching and volunteering with NGOs in the development sector has provided me a unique optic into South Asian culture and how public policies are designed and implemented in other countries. I am hopeful that, as I pursue a career in diplomacy, this experience will enable me to be an informed and effective policymaker in the future.

  • In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus and Towering Figure Peter Berton

    Known for his path-breaking work in Japanese studies, Professor Berton was an amazing mentor and leader at SIR.Although he retired in 1991, he was still busy working. in 2012, he saw his dissertation manuscript published by Routledge, and he had just handed his editor a new manuscript on the Japanese Communist Party not soon before his death, at the age of 91.To hear Professor Berton recount some of his experiences as a researcher in challenging times, click here.

    For the full story, click here.

  • Black and White Thinking not Ideal

    Ukraine in Context

    Professor and Director Robert English has been even more in demand recently: along with his regular administrative and academic duties, the events in Ukraine have drawn him into conversations on Europe, the United States, NATO, Russia, and the Crimea.

    Early on, he was on the Tavis Smiley Show, news radio, and other news services. Annenberg's Neon Tommy article on the crisis highlights Professor English's expertise: from economic development and democratization to regional security relations and alliances, it is clear that there are many considerations that play into the unfolding conflict. To understand the implications, Professor English points out, we need to look at these details.

    From a panel at UCLA to multiple events at USC, the issue of Ukraine continues to be an important topic of conversation on international relations and security right now.

    Contributing to the discussion, Professor English wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times:"Ukraine's Neo-Fascists are Real and a Threat", notes Huffington Post, which picked up the op-ed. 

    Without discounting the threatening actions of Putin in Ukraine, Professor English points out that Ukraninan nationalists with a history of racist and xenophobic policy positions have emerged in the new Ukranian government, and that this is serious cause for concern.

    Instead of ignoring this, English suggests, a more beneficial stance would be to denounce discrimination against all minorities (including Russian minorities in Ukraine).

    This could open a door to diplomatic interaction between the US and Russia, and set up a credible stance for the US based on democratic ideas and anti-extreminism on all sides.

    What a good reminder that there is great value in the depth of understanding, area specialization, historical and cultural expertise, and perspective of our SIR professors.

    SIR has recently explored this issue from several angles: the IRUA and SIR recently invited USC's European Visiting Fellow Michael Reinprecht to speak about how the European Union has formed policy regarding its non-member neighbors, including Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, and the Balkans. We also had a guest, Wolfgang Petritsch, speak to a packed undergraduate audience on the Crimean Crisis here at USC. President of the Austrian Marshall Foundation and currently at Harvard University as a Joseph A Schumpeter Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

  • Rising to the Challenge in Burundi

    Jerry Bender Africa Award Internship Report: June – August 2013; Bujumbura, Burundi
    by Francesca Bessey June of 2013, I boarded a plane destined for Central Africa, not knowing what to expect beyond a difficult but almost certainly rewarding adventure. I had been hired as a field intern for the non-governmental organization Search For Common Ground (SFCG). For the next two months, I would be supporting programming at their office in Bujumbura, the capital city of a small African country called Burundi.

    Traditionally in Western media and scholarship, Burundi has been eclipsed by the humanitarian disasters of its neighbors to the north and west: Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In reality, these three nations together comprise Africa’s Great Lakes Region. They share a history of strife beginning with the brutal Belgian colonial regime and continuing well into the twentieth century: the colonial legacy of exploitation and ethnic hierarchy would fuel government corruption and mass violence that continues to this day. In 1993, a year before the massacre of 1 million Tutsis in Rwanda would shock the world, an estimated 300,000 Burundians, mostly civilians, were killed in an ethnic struggle. As the country began to rebuild itself in 1995, SFCG launched a Burundi program to aid in the peace-building process and support the national government’s transition to democracy. Today, they are working to promote free and fair elections in 2015. They strive for a future where all Burundians can engage in political and decision-making processes and work to equip all sectors of the population with the tools necessary to make this vision a reality."I didn’t have the chance to sit down with the Country Director for more than fifteen minutes before she had to leave for a regional conference in Rwanda, along with the only other fluent English speaker in the office"

    I left for Burundi knowing very little about the specific work I would be doing. I also happened to arrive in country the exact day SFCG was moving offices—chaos. And I didn’t have the chance to sit down with the Country Director for more than fifteen minutes before she had to leave for a regional conference in Rwanda, along with the only other fluent English speaker in the office. Burundi being a Francophone country, and the language of SFCG’s Burundi office being French, I had been hired on the condition that I was an adequate French speaker. But I had never had to use the language in the “real world” before and the experience promised to be a challenge.

    Before I had left for Burundi, I made a promise to myself: not to fear the uncomfortable during my trip. Three years previously, I had embarked on a similar solo mission to Kathmandu, Nepal, where I had volunteered at a clinic for four weeks. The experience had been incredible, but I had been reticent. This time, I vowed I would dive right in, immerse myself in the local culture, start conversations with people, check out the nightlife. Now, stranded as I was, without prior instructions or a supervisor, I had the opportunity to “dive in” like this right away. I was forced to be proactive—to introduce myself to my coworkers, to ask how I could help, to trust myself to carry out conversations in French.

    That first week, I had no specific assignment, but someone suggested I take a look at the organization’s Facebook page. I grabbed a notebook and spent two hours scribbling critiques. Since starting college, I have been an avid Facebook user—not for social reasons, but as a journalist and an organizer. I had never given it all that much thought, but the creation of punchy social media content with a broad-based appeal had become second nature to me. I was now, however, working with the medium in a different language and for a drastically different audience. I decided to spend some time investigating SFCG’s page for the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was an extremely successful example with over 5,000 likes.  Later that day, I tracked down the person responsible for social media and we began what would become an eight-week collaboration to reinvigorate the organization’s Facebook presence and to train the staff in its effective use. I had never experienced a partnership quite like this; we were both journalists by trade, deeply interested in communications and human rights, but our backgrounds and what we had to bring to the table were extraordinarily different. The opportunity was rare, and one that I recognized as unique to organizations like Search For Common Ground.

    SFCG had impressed me from the outset because of the great emphasis they placed on local capacity-building. While I was in Burundi, our office was constantly partnering with local civil society organizations, community educators, mediators and government representatives. The staff was almost entirely from Burundi — unusual for an international NGO — including a team of four journalists who were responsible for broadcasting the organization’s very own radio show on conflict management and political dialogue. This organizational composition facilitated a unique two-way exchange between local and expatriate staff that served as the cornerstone for the internship program. At the same time that I was benefiting from the perspectives of those who had grown up and lived the realities our organization was working to change, I was able to provide expertise I have gained from my Western education. Such expertise, I learned, was an important resource as organizations like SFCG rely entirely on the grant money they receive from aid programs—most of them based in the Western world. As a result, I was almost immediately put to work grant-writing, preparing reports for our donors and authoring promotional materials, such as articles for the organization’s international blog. While the organization was technically bilingual, a lot of intra-organizational resources were only available in English, so I also spent some time translating these documents for my French-speaking colleagues. In such a setting, I was able to see myself as a cog in a system that was making a demonstrable difference in people’s well-being and in the efficacy of the political process. And I was able to grasp this system’s impact so much more completely while working alongside individuals who not only appreciated our cause, but whose own lives and the lives of their children stood to benefit from the work we were doing.

    What was more, my internship in Burundi was an opportunity not only to experience meaningful work, but meaningful work in a field that I had been largely ignorant of in the past. While I have long been interested in global development and human rights, I had never really been exposed to the development sector enough to envision a future career there. While an intern with SFCG, I experienced both the thrills and frustrations of development work. My own tasks were closely integrated with those of my coworkers and I was regularly consulted for my feedback on different projects. I was also invited to staff meetings and frequently had the opportunity to speak to the Country Director one-on-one. Even as an intern, I was granted the freedom to be innovative with my work, to try out new ideas. I was expected to learn fast and to manage the language barrier, but this only made it all the more rewarding when I accomplished the tasks I set out to do. I appreciated the space to experiment in this way, to work at my own pace and to use my creative judgment when preparing a newsletter or translating a document. I am certain that my work was better because of it. In some cases, such freedom was a direct result of a lack of administrative oversight, which sometimes hindered the organization’s ability to set, pursue and achieve concrete goals, but this always seemed to frustrate other international interns whom I met or spoke with more than it frustrated me. Functionality is built, not forced, and my experience with SFCG served to confirm for me that I am comfortable in such work-in-progress environments. I learned to actively seek out places where I was needed and holes I could fill; it was an invigorating challenge and afterwards, I always knew what I did had mattered. I suppose I’ve returned with a bug for development work of this nature, one that will certainly shape my academic and career goals over the course of the next few years.

    "what I wish to share with my peers are all of the experiences in between"

    There is a plethora of avenues available for the adventurous college student to go to Africa, but I encourage those who really want to broaden their perspective not to settle for insular programs that leave them interacting with their fellow expatriates more than the social, political and cultural landscape they have come to experience—and perhaps change—in the first place. Spending quality time with individuals whose backgrounds and personal stories differed so radically from my own allowed me to finally, viscerally grasp the striking similarities among people who live on opposite sides of the globe. I have spent years advocating for the human rights of people whose lives are led far, far away from mine, and those same years griping at the constant roadblocks thrown up by people who have shut the door on giving aid to those they believe can’t be helped. It is tempting, as an activist, to attempt to wrench that door open with depressing statistics and graphic slideshows, but such tactics will not move a person any more than a violent sequence from a video game if that person does not first understand that the people who are suffering are real.


    When I look back on my time in Burundi, I will remember first the friends that I made and the critical work that I did to support the activities of Search For Common Ground, but what I wish to share with my peers are all of the experiences in between. Meeting the children of my colleagues. A zookeeper’s joke about an escaped snake. Hospitality. Music. My favorite waiter bringing me my favorite juice. Feeling normal, despite the incredibility of it all—that is what I wish to emphasize. Because if I can communicate that sense of normalcy, of life-as-we-know-it, however many miles away, I can hopefully help my audience to recognize their fellow human in those who suffer in the Global South, allowing their desire to help said fellow human to extend that much further.


    • Bessey's article on a Great Lakes regional conference for women journalists, published on SFCG’s international blog


  • Professor Berton's New Book

    Originally a 1957 dissertation, Professor Berton's work on diplomatic relations between Russia and Japan at the turn of the century was just published and made available to the public by Routledge in 2012.

    Reviewing Russo-Japanese Relations, 1905-1917: From Enemies to Allies for the American Historical Review, Frederick Dickinson (Dec 2012) remarks: "this brief but pithy volume is a valuable new resource for students of early twentieth-century diplomacy and World War I alike."

    Professor Berton was born in 1922 in Poland. At the age of six, he moved with his family to China. He studied violin in Japan with the world-renowned Alexander Moguilevsky and became fascinated with Japanese language and culture.

    In 1950, he began graduate studies at the East Asian Institute, Columbia University. Professor Berton started the Asia-Pacific area studies program at the USC School of International Relations in 1962, and continued as coordinator for the next thirty years. He also developed the University’s first lecture course on Japan.

  • Inaugural Lecture of Peace and Conflict Series

    Professor Geoffrey Wiseman has worked with SIR this year to bring Ian Martin to campus for the first lecture in the new Peace and Conflict Speaker SeriesOn Thursday, April 25th at the Davidson Conference Center. The Speaker Series will bring a leader in peace and conflict to speak at USC each year in the Spring semester. Along with a public lecture and Q&A session, the guest speaker will meet with USC professors and graduate students as well as advanced undergraduates in smaller meetings and roundtables. 

    Bringing students, professors, and other colleagues at USC together with an experienced practitioner to confront one of the most pressing issues of the day, this year the discussion revolved around the challenges of state-building and post-conflict advisory role of the United Nations in Libya. Martin was one of the key people on the ground for the UN in Libya, and has a wealth of insight and experience to share when thinking about creating new consitutional governance documents and structures, arms control, factionalism, security, government accountability, democracy education, post-conflict reconstruction, corruption, women's political participation, and the implications of the Libyan case for other countries with civil unrest and authoritarian governments.

     Martin was Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of Mission in Libya until October 2012. Secretary-General of Amnesty International from 1986-1992, Martin has also held many senior positions in the United Nations, and was the Vice President of the International Center for Transnational Justice.

  • In Memoriam: Cold Warrior with a Warm Heart

    The SIR family was saddened to learn of the passing in mid-March of William Van Cleave, Professor and Director of the Strategic Studies Program at USC from 1967-87. Bill had vast experience in, and influence upon, U.S. defense policy. This came in part from his service in numerous policy-advisory positions. For example, he was a delegate to the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (SALT) and a member of the "Team B" review of intelligence estimates on the  Soviet military, both in the 1970s. From 1979-81, he was senior advisor to Ronald Reagan and Director of the Defense Transtion Team for his new Administration.

    The prominence of his policy positions, or of his many (200-plus) publications, do not even begin to tell the story of Bill's impact on USC and on U.S. security policy. He had a large and loyal following, and placed many of his graduate students in important exectutive-branch, Congressional staff, and think-tank posts. He stirred controversy with hard-line positions favoring a large U.S. military buildup, one that many now credit with accelerating the USSR's global retreat in the late 1980s and ultimately ending the Cold War.

    Even Bill's critics--and he had many--admired his passion for ideas and dedication to his students, many of whom were acknowledged as among the best that SIR produced (inlcuding Air-force Secretary Michael Donley, former Deputy National Security Advisor J.D. Crouch, and various top State and Defense Department officials). Keith Payne, Director of the National Institute for Public Policy, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, recalled Bill as "an incomparable mentor, friend, and constructive critic." Riki Ellison, former USC and NFL linebacker, and currently Director of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, remembers him as "a surrogate father" in whom burned "the fire of enlightenment".

    A former (some say lifelong!) U.S. Marine, Van Cleave recieved his BA in political science summa cum laude from Cal State Long Beach, and his MA and PhD from the Claremont Graduate School.

Rising China an Illusion?

SIR Professor Daniel Lynch's new book, China's Futures: PRC Eiites Debate Economics, Politics, and Foreign Policy (Stanford UP), questions the concept of the inevitable rise of China. In conversation with Andrew Good, Professor Lynch notes that economic and foreign policy projections may have to scale down and that some domestic unrest in China may be the result. To read more, click here.

SIR Undergrad published Online

Alexis Dale-Huang (SIR undergraduate student) has a piece "The Changing Face of China's Military", published online in the Huffington Post. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation is on the increase. Read more by clicking on the link above, or at the online magazine, China Hands.

History is Alive in Global Politics

Professor Sarotte's writing has been in the news recently, because of the relevance of her research on the history of the end of the Cold War. For example, Sarotte has written about the disagreements between Russia and the United States over NATO expansion, and how faulty assumptions about the causes of the fall of the Berlin Wall shape assumptions about U.S. intervention in current conflicts - such as Iraq. Her recent book, The Collapse, is an exploration of why the collapse ended up being peaceful, instead of violent. Recently, Professor Sarotte gave a special Dean's Lecture at USC (see photo, by Karen Tang, of Sarotte with USC Graduate students), “A Broken Promise? The 1990 Origins of NATO’s Post-Cold War Expansion,” in which she discussed the role of regular people in the end of the Cold War, and the important reverberations of history that continue to shape current events in eastern Europe.

David Karl on the G-20 in St. Petersburg

David Karl (SIR PhD 1997) and President at Asia Strategy Initiative, has a new article in The National Interest.

In "Rejected: Why Obama Snubs Europe", Karl explores the current gap between rhetoric and action in Transatlantic diplomacy.

SIR Alum at Davos

Mahmood Sariolghalam earned his PhD in international relations at USC Dornsife in 1987. He is a specialist in Middle East politics, Iranian foreign policy and political culture, and Professor of International Relations in the School of Economics and Political Science at Shahid Beheshti University. He was at the 2014 World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, themed “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business.”

For the full story, click here.

Military Soft Power: Take Notes on this!

SIR Professor Carol Atkinson just finished a Fulbright Fellowship at the Rakovski National Defense Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria. She gave a briefing to USC students on some of her most recent work, focusing on miltary collaboration. Specifically, Atkinson has been studying educational exchange programs. Her work has on-the-ground applicability, and is building a new body of emperical knowledge about an under-studied but increasingly important area of international relations: miltary soft power. For more, click here.

Paying it Forward

Congrats to SIR alumna Alexis Jones for her Dornsife feature - she's doing great things. Having been inspired and encouraged by her professors at SIR, she is working to build an NGO that helps support girls. Read more here.

SIR Student Amanda Schmitt at 2013 Global Ethics Fellows Conference

At a three-day conference with members of the Carnegie Council's Global Ethics Network, Amanda Schmitt is developing strategies for her study of the civil society response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the international responsibility to respond. SIR Ph.D. alumna and director of the Levan Institue at USC was key to this exciting opportunity. Read more here.

Inspiring New Conversations

SIR alum Ankur Poseria has been working as executive producer on a documentary film on a small ethnic group in China, called the Moso. In the Himalayan foothills, Poseria and his team workedd hard to gain the trust of people, to learn their stories, and to capure some of this on film.

Poseria says that his studies at SIR helped him decide on a career in international filmmaking, and also developed his analytic and critical thinking skills. He specifically recognised Professor Doug Becker for his influential teaching.

For the full story, click here.

Linking Global and Local Interests

International relations major Melia Albrecht and her pal Norma, whom she befriended through Best Buddies California. Photo courtesy of Melia Albrecht.

Melia Albrecht, a double major in international relations at USC Dornsife and public relations at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has studied in South Korea, Egypt and Turkey.

But Lanterman High School, just a few blocks from campus, is her favorite.

Albrecht volunteers at Lanterman with Best Buddies, an organization that fosters one-on-one relationships with people who have intellectual and development disabilities.


SIR Professor wins Book Award

Along with two other awards (American Political Science Association's 2013 Don K. Price Award and the National Academy of Public Administration’s 2013 Louis Brownlow Book Award), the 2014 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order makes it clear: Hymans' work is an important contribution. The book analyzed nuclear weapons projects started by repressive regimes and how they were often prone to inefficiency and failure, due in large part to heavy-handed management. Even successful programs have met with considerable delays and challenges.Hymans concludes that overestimating the threat of these programs can allow for serious miscaluclations, including unnecessary military interventions. For more: Foreign Affairs, The Diplomat, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Audio Interview

Identity in Jordan: Cynical and Destructive Developments

SIR Professors Brand and Hammad have published an op-ed, in which they identify some important and worrisome trends in Jordanian politics leading up to the elections scheduled for January 23rd.

read more here...

Burma-US relations: Worst-case, it goes somewhere

Professor Wiseman's IR 303 course assignment turned into a published op-ed for student Reid Lidow; his ability to write was helped by his recent travels.

Read the op-ed.

Energy and Motivation go a Long Way

  Alumna Brittany Berns has created a scholarship for girls' education in Benin, successfully created a fundraising campaign and built a new school building as a Peace Corps volunteer, and says her time at SIR prepared her for success (particularly her overseas experience and TIRP experience)
read more

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