International relations (IR) student Matthew Roberts worked this past summer in a position that was so rewarding, he now wants to pursue a career in the area after graduation.
Roberts was an intern at the Trust for the Americas, an international development section of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC. He was able to do this internship thanks to a scholarship from the International Centre at Mount Allison.
The OAS is an organization that promotes democracy, human rights, security, and development between its member states in North, Central, and South America. Roberts’ main project was a comprehensive document on how to establish innovation labs in lower-income neighbourhoods in the Caribbean and Central America. He says this type of work is the ideal experiential learning opportunity for an IR student.
“It was really great for me to have this experience, especially going into my last year of study,” says Roberts.
IR and politics professor Dr. James Devine agrees with this assessment.
“By working in the organization, you see what is involved in making these institutions work and function,” says Devine. “You also get a first-hand experience of the institutional culture. Mainly, you get to see these institutions in ways that are hard to explore in a classroom. You really need to be immersed in it to actually understand the way that it functions.”
Devine says this kind of experience also helps students understand why goals that might appear to be straightforward may in fact be very difficult to accomplish.
“You learn about the complexity of the issues involved and you learn the limitations of what an institution can actually do. You also observe how the politics of an institution can actually change and shape its objectives and its function,” he says. “It is one thing to learn about the institution from an abstract perspective — it is quite another thing, once you are on the ground, to see the many complexities involved.”
The experience has also changed what Roberts wants to do when he graduates.
“I am now interested in international development because I really enjoyed what I was doing this summer,” he says. “I was always interested in development, but before this internship I was leaning towards international-related law.”
Roberts was part of a larger internship program at the OAS, which consisted of 80 interns working in areas like human rights, development, and security. The interns were able to attend talks at different organizations like the World Bank, the IMF, and various think-tanks.
As an OAS intern, Roberts drew extensively from courses taken at Mount Allison in IR and economics. In fact, he says that economics was particularly useful for understanding important concepts that he used frequently in his work.
“Knowing how models of development work and how to apply them made it much easier to identify particular goals and understand how to work towards them,” says Roberts.
Roberts also feels the knowledge he gained from the experience gave him a better understanding of development and global governance, which will help him with courses he is currently taking, including his experiential learning course.
He sums up his experience this way: “Three credits in a very interesting and related topic to my degree and I had an awesome experience in the summer."
Roberts’ next step in this new career-journey is a special-topics course based on this experience.