Going global

At UCSD, with a veritable buffet of disciplines, choosing your major or minor can often be both an enticing and overwhelming task. Often, the solution is to build one’s own major. But now, especially for those seeking an interdisciplinary major with an international emphasis, there is a satisfying solution: the new international studies major.

Hana Hsu

From proposal to reality

international studies may sound a lot like “”international relations (political science),”” but I.S. is another major altogether. According to I.S. Director Miles Kahler, who is also a professor at the UCSD’s graduate school of International Relations and Pacific Studies, “”Many faculty saw [a] gap in our interdisciplinary programs as a serious shortcoming.””

So in 1998, an international studies Advisory Committee consisting of key faculty members and senior administrators recommended the creation of the I.S. degree. Critical members involved included Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Marsha Chandler, Dean of Social Sciences Paul Drake and professors Joseph Esherick, David Lake, Robert Cancel, Maria Polinsky, James Rauch, Suzanne Brenner and Ann Craig. Chandler asked for a faculty group chaired by professor Ellen Comisso to form a proposal. The Committee on Educational Policy approved it in 2001, and thus the I.S. major and its supporting organization/research unit, the Institute for International, Comparative and Area Studies, were born.

“”The effort was a genuine interdisciplinary and interdepartmental effort … and the departments have continued to be very helpful in beginning the I.S. major,”” Kahler said.

Actually, the new major is really seven different majors — that is, international studies offers seven different degrees in the departments it is comprised of, including anthropology, economics, history, linguistics, literature, political science and sociology. Its specialty, however, lies in its truly interdisciplinary requirements. An I.S. major is like having a minor, a mini-minor, an area of concentration, a foreign language program and quasi-Faculty Mentor Program all in one.

The primary track (main major) and secondary track (chosen from another participating major, Communications, or an area studies program) offer students solid studies in one discipline as well as the flexibility to study a related subject or the same subject from other perspectives. The regional requirement encourages students to focus on one region through three classes. The core courses (Culture and Society in International Perspective and Economics, Politics, and International Change) use an interdisciplinary approach to explore key international issues and are taught by a rotating roster of professors from the seven different disciplines. In addition, the capstone senior seminar gives students the chance to discuss issues and complete a research paper with the support and guidance of a faculty member. The four-year plan incorporates time for students to study abroad. The result is a balanced interdisciplinary degree, providing both a broad background and a narrow focus in a particular world region.

I.S. Program Coordinator and Adviser Ahren Crickard acknowledged that the I.S. major is “”more rigorous than other majors,”” but should not pose a problem. As Crickard noted, I.S.’s 16 upper-division requirements (as opposed to the average 12 for other majors) does not bother ambitious students, many of whom plan to study abroad.

“”We even have a couple of students who are double majors with a demanding engineering major as their second major,”” Crickard said. “”All of this is to say that with proper planning, you can absolutely finish in four years.””

In fact, a few months after its inception, international studies has quickly grown into a popular choice, not only among freshmen, but upperclassmen as well.

“”We’ve gotten almost 80 students in less than a month … it’s been all over the board,”” Crickard said. “”We thought we were targeting mainly freshmen, but we have juniors and seniors, too.””

To accommodate upperclassmen who may be interested in the new major, the INTL core courses are open to any major this year.

Student satisfaction

Crickard notes that there are many reasons that students have flocked to the new major.

“”Some students have varied interests and would like to integrate those interests into one degree,”” Crickard said. “”Some students want to create a degree that combines disciplines that they would like to use in a career. Some students want to focus on a specific region within the track disciplines and combine that with their language proficiency.””

Revelle College junior and transfer student Francis Osorio finds the new major appealing because he wants to study in Spain.

As his friend, Earl Warren College junior Patrick Brown relates, saying “”I told him about [the I.S. major] because he was doing bio but he wasn’t happy … It wasn’t really what he was interested in. He said he wanted to work overseas and possibly teach in Spain … I thought, ‘This is the perfect major for him.'””

Similarly, Eleanor Roosevelt College freshman David Tan said that the I.S. major appeals to him because he has always been interested in history and wants to study abroad.

“”I would say that I.S. is very interesting because you have so many options,”” Tan said. “”The variety of classes and freedom is appealing … [and] you can travel around the world and learn about other cultures.””

As to why he chose an international studies-history major over a regular history major, Tan said, “”It’s more current. With international studies, you can apply it. You can affect the world, possibly even the future.””

Support and opportunities

But the new I.S. major is only part of a larger network of opportunities for students interested in international issues. Due to the positive response, I.S. has newly proposed additions, such as an honors program, a minor and a student group.

Tan heads the new international studies Student Group, which is open not only to I.S. majors but to anyone interested in international studies in preparation for a career.

“”Our club gives [those] students a direction,”” Tan said. “”We will have people come to talk about careers … and events to immerse students in different cultures.””

Moreover, thanks to the Institute for International, Comparative and Area Studies, I.S. students can find many opportunities. IICAS works closely with the Career Center, the Education Abroad Program and other departments/programs, including UCSD’s Graduate School of IR/PS, to provide internationally focused events and opportunities. This quarter alone, IICAS has sponsored or co-sponsored 13 events, such as the recent “”War with Iraq”” panel featuring UCSD and California Western Law School professors.

Faculty perspectives

The faculty is as excited as the students about the significance and potential of the new major.

“”It’s very difficult to adequately understand most significant international issues today, such as globalization, civil war, terrorism … without an interdisciplinary training … the I.S. major trains students for more comprehension [and] international career possibilities,”” Kahler said.

For literature professor Stephanie Jed, the I.S. major is a chance to foreground “”the importance of cultural fluency,”” something she observed as common in Europe and valuable to America.

“”Global business is done in English, but … when students think about other languages, they usually only think of food. [Yet] businessmen [in other countries] have a really wide-ranging cultural background in history [and] philosophy,”” Jed said.

Anthropology professor Nancy Postero also stressed the importance of international knowlege.

“”I feel like the world is becoming so interconnected that it’s important for students to understand the relations between countries and cultures,”” Postero said. “”I’m particularly interested in making sure we analyze the embedded cultural assumptions that are behind political and economic relations … [that we don’t just treat] culture as something that each country has to sell but a whole way of thinking and seeing.

I.S. vs. established majors

Yet for all its merits, I.S. in no way replaces the established majors and is not a panacea for undeclared students: It is fundamentally an international major.

As history professor Joseph Esherick said, “”One thing we discovered when we looked at other universities was that the international or global studies major was common, but differed radically in their content … It was often a default, catch-all major … not particularly rigorous. [I.S.] organizes [students’] diverse interests into a coherent curriculum so that there are sensible links, so that you get something useful for graduate school or a career.””

Literature professor Lisa Lowe, who will be teaching INTL 101 next spring, further explains using the literatures of the world major as an example.

“”The I.S. major is not intended to replace the LTWL major and doesn’t afford students the in-depth study of literature, language and culture that the LTWL major does,”” Lowe said. “”A lit major who wants to go to graduate school might choose LTWL … But those I.S. students can take many of the same world literature courses and apply them towards the I.S. major, and supplement them with courses in international politics or economics. An I.S. major [might be more concerned with] international matters. It’s just a difference of purpose.””

For more information, visit http://www.intlstudies.ucsd.edu, call (858) 822-5298, or go to their upcoming info session Nov. 19 at 4 p.m. in Sequoyah Hall 139.