Kelsey Wheatley, originally from Easton, Maryland, joined the Global MA program to further her education after completing an internship at the U.S. Department of State. She enjoys the challenges of working in diplomacy and thinking critically about issues of international relations, such as global security. Let’s meet Kelsey!
1. What sparked your interest in international relations?
When I was young, I had a subscription to the National Geographic Kids magazine. I loved reading the articles about other cultures and exotic animals and this fascination followed me throughout life. As an undergraduate, many of my classes furthered these interests, while internships with the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal and the United Nations Office in Geneva propelled me into the field of international relations and security. Going to Lisbon by myself for a few months was challenging, but it gave me a taste of what it’s like to work in the field of diplomacy and sparked my interest in global security issues.
2. Is there a specific topic in international relations for which you are most passionate?
I am particularly interested in resource security and the subsequent problems it creates in societies where food and water are scarce. The emerging conflicts we witness today both within and between countries often stem from these issues, so it is a highly relevant topic within the field of international relations. Furthermore, I am exploring the links between resource scarcity, poverty, inequality, and discrimination. Bridging the gap between societal discrepancies has been a sincere passion of mine since I was young, and the study of resource scarcity falls within this realm.
3. What is your current city, and what is your next stop in the program?
Once I complete my term in Beijing, China, I will head to Vienna, Austria for the final term.
4. What has been your best experience so far in the GMAIR program?
My objective from the start of the program has been to expand my worldview, and doing so has been the highlight of my journey thus far. I have the opportunity to experience vastly different cultures and perspectives, witness the varying degrees of affluence present in the world, and am in awe at just how many people with whom we share the planet! Studying in Havana and Beijing has had the most dramatic impact on my global perspective.
I was certainly knocked off my pedestal of Western exceptionalism after arriving in China. Before landing in Beijing, I knew that China’s population was over 1.3 billion, but it took me actually placing my feet on the ground in the country to acknowledge that China’s population is about four times as large as the U.S. population. FOUR times.
While there, I enjoyed learning about a culture so unfamiliar to me and directly experiencing Chinese traditions. Taking several Mandarin classes was also a surprising supplement to my classes because our professor provided us with meaningful insights that would have been lost had we not been exposed to the Chinese language. For these reasons, delving into the culture and challenging the way I perceive the world around me has been the most worthwhile experience.
5. Which city has been your favorite so far in the program and why?
Havana has been my favorite city in the program. To me, Cuba always seemed like an inaccessible black box due to Americans’ inability to travel there. Upon arrival, I liked the idea of speaking Spanish with the locals and walking down the colorful streets in the warm island weather. However, I quickly realized how much I take for granted in life, from an ease of internet access to locating goods I was used to having readily available. Additionally, my limited ability to communicate with family back home was challenging.
However, the frustration I sometimes felt was counterbalanced with the pure joy that Cubans exuded; it was contagious! I witnessed the binding power of culture and how it breathes life into people. I was constantly reminded that, although life was far less “convenient” than I was used to, humans find ways to create their own happiness. The people—including our generous hosts—were hospitable and full of life, despite the hardships they faced. My only regret is that it took me leaving the country to realize the impact it had on me, and I find myself missing it more and more. Looking back, I am honored that I was mistaken for a local quite a few times!
6. What has been your biggest challenge as you adapt to different cultures during your travels?
The greatest challenge in adapting to different cultures is the process of breaking down the worldview that I possess as an American. I enjoy meeting this challenge, and now understand that any confusion or annoyance I sometimes feel often stems from my personal expectations or biases. This was difficult to admit, initially, but now I able to quickly identify when I’m experiencing culture shock.
Trying the local dishes when I arrive in a new location is also always difficult for me. I have always been a picky eater and usually dread trying new food, especially in front of locals! I will say that China has definitely provided me with the best—and worst—food that I’ve tasted all year!
7. What are your plans for the future after you complete the Global MA program?
After I graduate from the Global MA program, I plan to return home to Maryland to pursue a career with the U.S. government. I am interested in working for the State Department, USAID, or another agency that has the ability to enact positive change in the most underprivileged parts of the world. Specifically, I am seeking a career that addresses water and food security issues in the Middle East and Africa through aid and development programs.
Thank you for participating in Webster’s Global Blog, Kelsey! Continue doing the great work and keep us updated with your journey!