Friday, September 9, 2016

Cooperative degrees: The MAIA with Leiden University

SAIS offers several degree programs. One of them is the Master of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA). The MAIA is offered at the SAIS Europe campus and it's a two-year program with a research focus. Students can pursue this program by spending two years at SAIS Europe or by spending a year at a partner institution and a year at SAIS Europe. 

Over the years, SAIS Europe has established partnerships with four European institutions: The Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, Austria; the University of Bologna, Italy; Sciences Po Lille, France; and Leiden University, The Netherlands.

Students enrolled in the first year of the master's program at one of these institutions can apply to spend the second and final year at SAIS Europe and obtain (in most cases) a master's from the institution of origin and a Master of Arts in International Affairs from SAIS.

Today, Colm O'Flynn of Ireland, tells us about his experience with the MAIA program. Colm spent his first year at Leiden University and his second year at SAIS. Over the course of the two years, he earned a Master in International Studies from Leiden University and a Master of Arts in International Affairs from SAIS.

When I first started my Master of Arts in International Relations at Leiden University, the cooperative degree partnership between Leiden and Johns Hopkins University SAIS had just begun.

Although I was aware of the partnership, I hadn't really thought about applying to SAIS. I was already enrolled in a great graduate program at a top European university and pursuing a second master's degree seemed at the time redundant. My attitude quickly changed following a presentation at Leiden University by a representative from the SAIS Admissions team. I began to immediately realize the incredible opportunities the cooperative degree program offered and, although I was somewhat dissuaded by the tuition fees, the long-term career benefits won me over. I applied in January 2015, and was lucky enough to be accepted a couple of months later.

Colm receives the traditional Italian laurel crown
 by SAIS Europe Director Michael Plummer
Looking back on both degrees, I see how they complement each other. At Leiden University, the approach focused more on the theoretical aspects of International Relations. The class was smaller and the onus was very much on the student to keep up to date with the course material. This said, when I struggled with some course content, the professors always made themselves readily available to answer any of my questions. Indeed, much of what I learned at Leiden helped shape not only what I would study at SAIS, but also my broader outlook on global political developments, particularly with regards to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Coming from a European program, it took me a little time to adjust to the American system. The SAIS program adopted a more hands-on approach with language classes, weekly problem sets and economics sessions with the teaching assistants, all supplementing an already busy class schedule.

Initially, I was concerned about the strong economics focus of the SAIS curriculum – as a student in the MAIA program, four out of six of my courses were going to be on economics—but, I was able to adjust to the more quantitative elements of my studies during pre-term (a four-week period before the start of the academic year where students can take intensive intermediate-level economics and math classes) with the help of Dr. Erika Meucci, the “mathematics magician”. In the end, I grew to very much enjoy the economics-based focus SAIS is known for.

In addition to the academic experience, the value of my SAIS degree can be found in my classmates. I was fortunate to meet and befriend some extraordinary students while at SAIS. Whether I am looking for a job or a couch to crash on, this network will be invaluable for me going forward in life!

I now work for One Acre Fund, an East Africa-based NGO that specializes in agricultural development. It is very difficult for me to imagine working here in Kenya without the experience of having studied both at Leiden and at SAIS.

It was during my studies at Leiden that I first developed a real interest in Sub-Saharan Africa. While at SAIS, I began to take a deeper dive into some of the more pressing political and economic issues specific to the region.

Before I started at One Acre Fund, I had little work experience. I am convinced that my diverse educational background helped push through my candidacy to the latter stages of the interview selection process.

Colm O’Flynn
SAIS Europe 2016

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