Political science students discover passion for international relations thanks to study abroad options
Abigail McCarter is a political science and Spanish double major from South Carolina. Originally interested in law and immigration upon coming to college, McCarter has found a new passion in international relations and diplomacy after studying abroad in the Balkans in the summer of 2018. There she participated in a five-week program taught by Vladimir Matic, professor in Clemson’s political science department. Her experience in the Balkans with the U.S. Embassy ignited a passion for learning and culture.
New York native Georgia Krendel is also a political science student who held an internship in the Balkans this summer, although her initial interests differed wildly from McCarter’s. Krendel was able to learn more about her longstanding interest in disrupted regions, and she later pursued a spring semester abroad in Belgrade, Serbia, which immersed her in politics and with people on an even greater scale.
Jeffrey Peake, chair of the political science department, said students involved in the Balkans and Belgrade programs benefit in a variety of ways because they are not typical locations for an internship or study abroad experience. He said that given the Balkans’ history of conflict in the 1990s and its ongoing process of democratization, students who thrive in its study environment “should have no trouble navigating London, Paris, Rome or Berlin.”
“Both study abroad programs include excursions throughout the region where students learn about conflicts from multiple perspectives,” Peake said. “This provides students cultural literacy and an ability to navigate tough issues from a variety of perspectives. Through these programs, students build the capacity for empathy, which is a crucial skill for careers in public policy, diplomacy, government and business.”
When applying for internship opportunities around the world, the U.S. Embassy in the Balkans stood out to McCarter as an opportunity to learn more about the region and political environment. Serving as a political intern, she conducted a research project that explored the idea of Serbian accession into the European Union. She reported the daily news happening in Europe to the U.S. ambassador. While her work changed day to day, McCarter attended conferences on human rights issues, the European Union accession process and press briefings.
McCarter enjoyed working with foreign service officers at the embassy who provided her with mentorship and advice throughout the summer. Ultimately, her investigation and reports on Serbia’s progress toward joining the European Union were transformed into a long-term essay which has been archived at the U.S. Embassy. The experience allowed her to better understand how compromise works and how the U.S. presents itself abroad.
“The most rewarding part was any time that I got to spend talking to local Serbian people in order to get a taste of the culture firsthand,” McCarter said. She spent her Friday afternoons doing this through a partnership with American Corner, where she was able to assist local Serbian students learning English.
Krendel’s biggest takeaway from her internship also stemmed from interactions with Serbian people. Her internship involved working for the Civic Organization European Movement in Serbia.
The organization’s goal is to work toward a more democratic country and extension into the European Union. Krendel was regularly impressed by their work ethic despite the fact that they were fighting for something that wasn’t guaranteed.
“Serbia joining the European Union is not a sure thing, but that just made the people more determined,” Krendel said. “They worked toward this every day in the hopes that it would happen.”
Krendel learned about human rights initiatives and educational reform as well as improving economics in the country while she interned. She enjoyed learning about what the European Succession Process consisted of from individuals who work on the opportunity every day, especially since European Union Parliamentary Elections happened while she was abroad. Her duties included assisting in the creation of an English version of the website, attending meetings and writing articles for Belgrade Security Forum.
“The most rewarding thing was being able to work firsthand with people who are striving for a more democratic Serbia,” Krendel said.
In addition to holding an internship with the Civic Organization European Movement, Krendel sought out a volunteer opportunity with an organization called the Workshop, which is an educational space for migrants and refugees. She volunteered throughout the week to teach English to students who were eager to learn. Krendel said her overall impression of Serbia is that it is a remarkable place filled with generous, goal-oriented people.
After such a valuable experience abroad, McCarter has decided to pursue a study abroad opportunity in Argentina in the spring. She is grateful for her personal growth during her time in the Balkans and looks forward to learning about another culture that is entirely new to her. She plans to remain involved in the international relations community as well as continue her membership with the Clemson Diplomacy Club on campus.
Krendel hopes to join the foreign services after attending graduate school for conflict resolution and peacekeeping. However, prior to graduate school, she hopes to gain more fellowship experience and would love to teach abroad. Krendel plans to remain involved with the Clemson Diplomacy Club and return to Serbia over spring break to continue helping at the Workshop.
“Abigail and Georgia are excellent students whose accomplishments in academics would make them strong candidates for employment or graduate work,” Peake said, “but their internship experience combined with their very unique study experience in the Balkans only strengthens those accomplishments by infusing them with real-world, practical experience in other nations.”