Friday, March 28, 2008

International Relations A Growth Discipline In Brazil (Liveblogging ISA)

I attended an interesting panel this morning on the using simulations in the classroom (more on that in the next post) but heard something about the growth of International Relations (IR) programs in Brazil that I thought was very interesting.

Apparently IR is a booming industry in Brazil. In Rio alone the number of colleges and universities offering programs has grown from 1 in the 90's to 7 today. My first instinct was that this was due to Brazil's growing sense of importance on the world stage and that the increased interest in IR by its young people was a manifestation of this self-awareness.

Wrong.

According to the two Brazilian professors (from the Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio De Janeiro) who spoke, Marcelo Valenca and Manoela Souza, the main reason for the increased interest was 9/11! Marcelo spoke of standing in front of a tiny TV with, as he described it, several thousand young students watching the attack on the twin towers and then, two years later, an explosion of programs in International Relations. Both professors also explained that there was a semantics issue as well and that "International Relations" sounds better in Portuguese than some of the alternatives. Finally, and most interesting to me, was the point (made by Manoela, I think) that even though the students were drawn to IR by 9/11, they stayed because of the world of ideas that the curriculum opened up to them.

3 comments:

Hurst08 said...

Are the Brazilian students looking at international relations as education for education's sake or do they see jobs in this field in their future? So many US students today see college for its vocational value; maybe I am mirror-imaging when I wonder why Brazilian students are flocking to IR because of 9/11? Do you think there will be jobs to match the enthusiasm? Reminds me a bit of the recent spike in forensics study because of CSI.

Manoela said...

Dear Kristan (and also hurst08),

I don't really believe that the Brazilian students driven to this course by Sept 11th or by the terrorist attack which victimed Mr. Vieira de Mello envision a concrete career when they choose their majors. As my co-writer, Marcelo, mentioned today, in Brazil people pick their majors too early (usually at age 17 or 18), and might be still moved by illusion or idealism. Accordingly, I understand that the WTC event being broadcasted everywhere gave the younger the impression that their lives were already marked by International Studies and that they should react.

Notwithstanding this, as I also mentioned today, most of them come to interpret the world in a rather different way as soon as they enter the course and get in touch with International Theory, Area Studies or specific disciplines. If they think big in the beginning, they actually come to understand they cannot "save the world". They also come to understand that not all of them can find a job in the United Nations or similar(specially coming from a Third-World country, sometimes lacking foreign language skills or needing to work from the beginning of the course, instead of doing research or engaging in volunteering).

In view of this, no, I don't believe that there are enough jobs to match the enthusiasm. I don't think either that they expect it after adapting to university life. The most ambitious might choose to prepare themselves for the diplomatic career exams, but unfortunately they (and I) don't see many other field opportunies. Despite their rather good knowledge, they deal with a market that neither understands what a IR bachelor can do nor actually conceives IR the same way as we do. That's why, for instance, a great part of the recent undergrads has decided to enter the Master's instead of looking for a job -- they knew they'd probably end up doing anything else but put in practice what they learned.(I think Marcelo mentioned today that courses which focus on Foreign Trade or Business Management are often entitled "International Relations" courses.)

Probably because of this underlying condition that both Marcelo and I were surprised today when you mentioned the BRICs as a possible reason for young people choossing IR as their majors. Our society still do not discuss Foreign Policy as much as it might discuss broader themes, such as the Iraqi war. The only exception I can remember has to do with Brazilians relations with Bolivia, Venezuela and the Mercosur members -- and still it's not such a big deal in our political agenda. Consequently, the IR field is often seem as insular and glamourous -- yet people don't believe they could really find jobs on it.

I'm not sure if I'm being clear, so feel free to continue this debate. I'd like also to thank you for giving space to our research on your weblog. I'm giving other presentation tomorrow and I hope it ends up being as fructful as the one we made today.

My best wishes,

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Manoela,

Thanks for taking the time to answer Hurst08's question in detail.

We at Mercyhurst have had a good track record with placing international students graduating from our program in Applied Intelligence in analytic jobs, mostly in competitive intelligence. If there are any undergraduates who have the desire and skills for such a Masters program, please encourage them to apply. For more info see www.mciis.org. We also teach an online certificate program in Intelligence Analysis and have many international students. Information on that program is also on the same website.

I am not trying to "hype" my program; I just know that it is a good way to take an IR background and turn it into something that is marketable in today's job market.

Kris