Insights from Outside: The New Global M.A.

Introducing American Graduate Students to the World of International Diplomacy: “We’re Called Webster-World-Wide for a Reason.” - Dr. Weeks

To understand how diplomacy works, it helps to have been around some major international institutions. Even better, all the major international institutions.

At least that’s the underlying premise of Webster University’s new Global International Relations Masters Program that was launched at the Webster Vienna Campus at the end of August. Nineteen American graduate students, a few traveling abroad for the first time, arrived with luggage for ten months to Vienna, the city of the UN, OPEC, the IAEA, the OSCE and others, as they began their precedent-setting academic tour of the diplomatic centers of Europe.

“We are called Webster University Worldwide for a reason”, said Dr Gregory Weeks, Head of the Vienna IR department.

Webster’s new M.A. is rivaled only by Tufts University in Boston’s Global M.A. However, the Webster program alone offers students the chance to study at each of the four European Campuses, “exposed to international organizations and institutions in four major cities,” such as the United Nations in Vienna and Geneva, also home of the World Trade Organization, London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies and the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

The implications of this M.A. are revealed through the curriculum: The introductory courses are held in Vienna, the hub of most modern European international affairs, the research and Middle East segment are taught in London, the largest and most cosmopolitan city of the four.  The human rights issues are covered in Geneva, the so-called “Humanitarian Capital of the World,” and students tackle International Law in Leiden, which is only 10 minutes away from the city of the International Court of Justice, The Hague.

From Vienna, students will head for London in Fall II, when housing gets cheaper.  Then to Geneva Spring I for the IR program’s annual Humanitarian Conference” and then off to Leiden to visit sessions of the ICJ and NATO headquarters before the summer holidays. Which is not as complicated as it sounds.

“The academic part is the easy part”, commented academic director William Fulton.  “The students actually participate in the same classes with our other IR graduate students.”

Dr Hirsh added that actually finding housing for students is the “biggest headache.”

All students are US citizens, with one, Alex Moreno, originally from Argentina, and most had had few chances to travel outside the US.

“American people are not well traveled [and they have not] seen the people they are affecting,” said Joshua Reitnauer, a Sociologist from Pennsylvanian. “I  have come here for answers for myself.”

Palmer Shepherd, a musician and musicologist from Texas, has worked for NGOs in the last 10 years. He believes this M.A. will get him a better overall education, as well as giving him a broader perspective.

“My IR classes are like an orchestra of people from all over the world,” he said.  Angel Cintron, from Florida, was preparing to start an M.A. in Counterterrorism in Israel, but because of the current political situation in the region, chose the Webster program instead. Chicagoan Saran Sholar came to the program from Human Resources, and Robin Geller, from Philadelphia, from Political Service looking for “insights [from] outside the US.”

“Europe is not so narrow-minded and is much freer than the US when it comes to political discussions,” Alex Moreno said.

However, they have faced some significant challenges living in Austria. Although welcomed with several nice meals in nice restaurants, the administration “failed to provide the basics,” one student said. By week four, students accommodations lacked telephones, refrigerators and in some cases, even hot water, and most still did not have an Internet connection. And while Saint Louis had promised them a 15-minute walk to campus, the actual trip to WUV takes 50 minutes minimum when all connections work.

They also worry about their luggage – on flights from US to Europe, they were allowed to bring four bags, and on internal European flights, on much smaller planes, they are only allowed one, and could be required to pay as much as 700 Euros for the rest.  Thus students say they have begun to “feel very much alienated,” and there are some discussions as to whether they will continue the program after the holidays.

“All in all, it is a great learning experience,” said Asma Syed, the only student who was enrolled in this program last year, an awkward start due to administrative setbacks. Students hoped that some of these difficulties could be worked out at the other European campuses. However, it may also reflect a difference in what is expected of European university students, who are thought to be a lot more self reliant than American students and whose education is largely self guided.

Glitches aside, the Global M.A. is a unique opportunity that sets Webster University apart in the world of IR Masters programs.

There is a great “need for USA college students to study abroad,” said Dr. Frederick Bonkovsky of the Vienna IR department.

Dr Weeks agreed. “We believe that we have a winning program in the global IR MA,” he said, “[and one should] expect Webster University to be a leader in this area in the future as well.”

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