People often ask if I have to speak lots of languages to study my course, so I’ve become used to explaining it straight away as “politics basically”. This is far from the truth. International Relations is politics, yes, but it is also history, geography, economics, sociology, philosophy, current affairs and business.
International Relations is the study of the everyday: the circumstances, history, the people, decisions, and structures that determine the world’s current situation and, more personally, how each of us live out our individual lives.
I am learning about why I behave the way I do. Why you behave the way you do. What better way to understand how to change things that to understand the very foundations of our society?
When I finished school I was unsure about coming to university at all, but was considering a joint honours in English Lit and History. I was working in a primary school at the time saving up to go travelling and my world felt very small. For example, a frustrating conversation with my colleagues about how a new plank of wood on the fence didn’t match the rest of the fence could last all morning. I wanted to broaden my perspective, and looked towards majoring in a subject that took on the world’s biggest problems. Coming across International Relations during UCAS searches, a subject I had touched on at history A level, I decided that’s the direction I would take. All the travelling I have done since has only served to feed my studies and confirmed I made the right decision.
International Relations at Leeds Beckett is different from many other universities. It doesn’t teach it in the traditional archaic method that separates politics and economics and prevents the necessary connections between leadership and money that drive society to be made. This is how it is often taught at historical universities with conventions to uphold. Instead, as a contemporary university, the International Relations modules at Beckett are closely linked and encourage students to make associations between them all.
Modules cover a huge variety of topics. Aid, charity, basic political economy, human rights, history of the cold war, the British empire, American hegemony and the rise of China, and construction of international institutions are subjects all covered just in the first year. These give you a basic understanding of the concepts, histories and states on which IR and IR theories are built.
Second year focuses on the academic approaches of scholars towards IR, and also becomes more specialised in terms of focusing on more particular national or regional situations. Third year gives students the independence to follow their own interests, to decide the direction to take for their dissertations.
To complete a BA in IR at Leeds Beckett, students are also required to undertake 100 hours of volunteering at some point during their second and third year. This can be spread over a few months or done full time for 3 weeks. It can be volunteering in anything you wish, whatever you are interested in, and is a fantastic opportunity to build networks for the future and gain experience in your chosen field.
Job opportunities are very broad for IR students and can be along the lines of aid and NGO work, working for governments, councils, international institutions like the UN or World Bank, or working in business, for political parties, or for private companies. The skills and understandings gained on this course are widely applicable.
I enjoy studying IR because it makes me see life differently, it makes me see how language, discourse, learning and therefore our own thoughts limit our perception of the world. It is a course that stimulates emotions. If you're invested in our world it will make you angry, frustrated, shocked, hopeful, passionate, sad and empowered. The more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know, the scale of the world’s dilemmas and wonder if we can really be sure of anything.
Socrates quote pretty much sums it up: ‘I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance’, and the fact that IR is more than just politics.