Words by Patrick Douse.
A week is a long time in politics, and a week on the SOAS study tour is ample proof of this. We gathered in New York ahead of a busy schedule designed to take in the United Nations (UN) and then onwards to the seat of Government in Washington. Although we were all students from the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD), most of us had never met before, since the group had many online participants.
As a virtual learner, meeting real students face to face is refreshing, and a great opportunity to share the academic experience. Representing over a dozen countries, our group was a mini United Nations and seemed to gel almost immediately.
Two days in, the UN headquarters gave us a comprehensive overview into the workings of the various departments, and the challenges of getting 193 countries to agree on anything. The worrying global spend on armaments, and the comparatively little effort devoted to disarmament; the planet threatening human effects on the environment, climate change, plastics, global warming, and the seemingly futile attempts to address these brought home some uncomfortable realities that ‘meat free Mondays’ and using fewer plastic straws might not be quite enough. On the plus side, we do have to applaud the work of the peacekeepers, the international convention on land mines and the formulation of pathways towards tackling sustainable development.
Our adventure continued as we sped across the countryside by Amtrak to Washington. Another two days of jam packed meetings with several US Department bodies and think tanks. Everyone will have their favourites, but the tour of the Capitol building then meeting Chief of Staff to Congressman Todd Rokita, Mr Mark Cruz, who gave an interesting insight into the day to day running of government – with a somewhat upbeat evaluation of the current president’s performance – and the seminar event with Ambassador C. Steven McGann were my particular highlights.
TBT to last week’s Study Tour in NYC w/ a HUGE thank you to the @UN from @soas_cisd @SOAS @DanPlesch @AshleyC14183322 @drjsimonrofe a great platform for CISD students to learn and thrive #DegreeAndBeyond pic.twitter.com/v2AG8hnCIc
— CISD (@soas_cisd) May 3, 2018
Steeped in history, DACOR Bacon House has everything you would expect when entertaining an ambassador, including appropriate Ferrero Rocher substitutes prepared by their in-house Chocolatier. This venue played host to two other sessions, one on cultural diplomacy, which was interactive and I felt particularly useful for my own area of interest, the other on the topic of space diplomacy.
Achieving international consensus on not blowing up one another’s satellites will be helpful going forward, and one cannot help thinking that if other world problems had military consequences – for instance, if plastics in the oceans messed up the engines of aircraft carriers, much more would be done to eradicate them.
Meetings at the CATO Institute and the United States Institute of Peace were fascinating in terms of comprehending the work done by think tanks that inform much of US foreign policy. Although it may have felt like we were in a bubble, away from our day to day lives, world events and politics were never far away. During our trip the news of the two Korean Presidents shaking hands broke, and although there was an element of caution, it was clear that those in government were ready to lavish praise on the current US administration. Talk of Nobel Peace prizes already abounded.
An important feature of the tour was the arranged social activities. We had the chance to meet SOAS alumni in both cities, and this was great for imparting the idea of belonging to a SOAS family, and that the network of support exists beyond our studies. We also had a treat in Washington, dining at Barack Obama’s favourite diner ‘Ben’s Chilli Bowl’. As a vegetarian, I can recommend the ‘Veggie Dog’.
For anyone contemplating a study tour, I would thoroughly recommend it, not just for the knowledge gained into the workings of diplomacy and international relations, but for the added value of meeting fellow students and staff. I am already signed up and looking forward to the next tour in Europe!
Patrick Douse is studying for an MA in Global Diplomacy (Online Learning)
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