Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SAIS degrees: the MA

SAIS Bologna offers three master's degrees. Today Selim Koru discusses why he decided to pursue a master of arts in International Relations here. Later this week, Daniela Beyer and Jennifer Ottolino will discuss the two other master's programs.

While applying for M.A. programs was a long and arduous process, choosing the right school was relatively easy for me.

I studied history and international studies as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Afterwards, I worked a year as a journalist, then another as a researcher at a think tank in my native Turkey.

Selim Koru
The study of history had given me direction, but I soon became aware that I needed to develop my skills to progress. I taught myself how to write effectively, edit and quickly absorb large amounts of information.

I also took every opportunity to travel across Turkey and a bit in Iran, started reading up on economics and tried to learn Arabic and Farsi. Graduate education seemed like the logical way to deepen my studies.

SAIS's interdisciplinary approach to the study of international affairs made it the clear choice for me. It  emphasized the combination of languages, economics and humanities that I was already pursuing before coming here.

Once in SAIS, I switched around to find the track that best suited my goals. I had entered as a "Global Theory and History" concentrator but switched to Middle East Studies, mostly because it would allow me to write a thesis.

That might sound counter-intuitive to some (eyes usually widen when I tell people), but I feel it's especially important for those who, like me, would not exclude the academic route after an M.A.

at the Middle East club
The Middle East Studies concentration also offers generous summer funding to study Arabic in countries where it is spoken, which I plan to take advantage of.

But talking only about academics would leave out a huge part of the picture. The social aspects of SAIS Bologna are indeed a vital part of the experience and difficult to describe. Something about gathering roughly 200 from different countries who are interested in international affairs seems to accelerate friendships. Most of us felt like we had known each other after a couple of weeks.

That kind of atmosphere fuels other on-campus activities as well. I, for example, currently help organize the events of the Middle East club, work as a research assistant for the Bologna Institute for Policy Research (BIPR) and write for the SAIS Observer, our student newspaper.

As with academics, the limiting factor with the social aspects of SAIS is not the school's resources, but time.

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