As a non-traditional student, I experience many of the same things as my younger counterparts. I have noticed though, that since entering graduate school at NYU, there is less of an age gap with classmates and definitely individuals my age and older in the program. I find there is more camaraderie at NYU, than what I experienced at UNC Charlotte. There were plenty of non-traditional students at UNCC, but not in my programs which made it difficult to forge new relationships, though I did make a few friends who I keep in touch with. At NYU we seem more inclined to study and work on group projects together, probably because we are equally invested in the outcome and everyone contributes to the process. It also seems as if we all have more in common in this program, though we come from very diverse backgrounds.
I am about to begin my second and final year, which seems odd in a way. At times it has been grueling, especially this past spring semester. But the learning experience, as well as the access to events and people is priceless.
Typically four courses is the maximum per semester in my graduate program, less if you work full-time. I was accepted into two global field intensives for the summer, Russia and South Africa – hence all the recent blogs about food and travel. However, the classes began during the spring semester. I also had an unexpected move before final exams and other matters to attend to before leaving the country for a month — on two back-to-back research trips. It made for a fairly crazy semester. These short research opportunities were part of what drew me to NYU’s MSGA program, which has turned out to be a great experience and definitely the right choice as far as graduate programs.
For my trip to Russia I spent the duration in Moscow. The research focused on Russian Foreign Policy, specifically its interactions with the United States (U.S.). There were definitely those who warned me against going, some thought it was not a good time to be in Moscow as an American. For my purposes, being there in the middle of strained diplomatic relations was the perfect time because it allowed me to further unpack the Russian-U.S. relationship.
The original intent of the research was to examine the affect Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations and asylum had on Russia-U.S. diplomatic relations. Did it cause a breakdown of trust in the relationship? The goal was to delve into the crafting and implementation of Russia’s foreign policy and address whether any changes have occurred based on Snowden’s revelations, or whether it’s modus operandi for both states.
On the surface, it appeared the situation with Snowden created significant problems for Russia-U.S. relations because it forced both sides to take a stand. However, during my research in Moscow it became clear during the interview process that Snowden was less of a catalyst and more of the proverbial nail in the coffin regarding the deterioration of Russia-U.S. relations. The problems did not stem from a single event, but rather a series of what President Putin considered a lack of respect toward him and Russia. Also serious betrayals by the U.S.: NATO expansion, as well as conflicts in Libya and Syria.
While in Russia I had individual and group meetings; I met with academics from the Higher School of Economics, MGIMO, as well as a few individuals from the Moscow Carnegie Center think tank. I also met with numerous members of the media, including RT, Dozhd TV, Corey Flintoff from NPR, Anna Arutunyan and several other international journalists. Meetings also took place with an official at NATO in the Belgian Embassy, several individuals at the US Embassy, and with the Australian Ambassador to Russia.
I have always wanted to travel to Africa and most of my academic writing for the past six years has focused on a few specific countries on the continent. My undergrad thesis for political science explained the impact of xenophobia on elections in South Africa. So, I was hoping that NYU would have an African GFI during my program. South Africa was announced after I had already committed to Moscow and the dates overlapped but my department allowed me to participate in both research programs.
The research focused on South Africa’s role in representing Africa globally. South Africa views itself as the hegemon of Africa and the best choice to lead the continent to prosperity, though some leaders of other African countries disagree. My research suggested that in order for South Africa to play a more constructive role on the continent, the government must meet its own domestic economic and social demands, while also building trust with the rest of Africa.
South Africa lived up to my expectations, though depending on where we were, the stark contrasts between wealth and extreme poverty made it seems like two different countries. But I will explain those experiences in more detail in upcoming blogs.
We met with experts in the following areas: foreign policy, political science, economics, private sector,education and social welfare. My interview with Ms. Aditi Lalbahadur and Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari
from the South African Institute of International Affairs was extremely helpful in unpacking South Africa’s domestic issues, especially social concerns. Other group meetings transpired with Isobel Frye, the director of Studies in Poverty & Inequality Institute; Darrell Beghin, executive director of Credit Providers Association; Rudi Dicks, outcome facilitator for the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, South African Presidency, a subset of the South African Government office of Economics and Labor Unions in Pretoria; Neva Makgetla, deputy director-general, economic policy, government of South Africa; Reverend Mqondisi Vena of the Western Cape Provincial Council of Churches in Khayelitsha Township; Tony Leon, senior politician for the opposition during apartheid; Ruth Masokoane acting CEO of South African Women Entrepreneurs Network (SAWEN); and Mokoena Mokoene from HIV youth awareness organization LoveLife.
Currently, I am in New York and I have two semesters left in this program. I am working on a proposal for an independent study for the fall, another proposal for my thesis (Spring 2015) and trying to acquire an internship specific to the thesis research. So even though I do not have daily classes to attend, there is still work to be completed.
I’ll be sad to leave my academic bubble next year, but I am also looking forward to re-entering the workforce and putting all this book learning to good use. It has been a great adventure so far.