As a high school graduate from Camden, NJ, I would not have believed that one day I’d be living in Morocco, preparing to climb Toubkal, the tallest mountain in North Africa. “I only climb figurative mountains, and they aren’t in Morocco,” I would have joked, especially given my aversion to most nature-related activities. Yet there I was,13,671 ft in the air at the summit of a mountain that represents so much more than the physical strength it took to conquer it.
During the several hours it took to ascend the mountain, I thought about my journey to that moment in time. I thought about the sacrifices my mother made as a single parent trying to raise a child in one of America’s poorest and most dangerous cities; I thought about the nerves and anxiety I had on my first day of class at Duke freshman year; I thought about the joy I felt on my first international flight to Kenya with the DukeEngage program; and of course, I thought about the sense of accomplishment I felt on graduation day.
As I look back on my years as an undergraduate, I realize that I was definitely a student that tried to take full advantage of the opportunities at Duke, some of which include: two summers in Kenya (one with DukeEngage and the other with Duke Global Health Institute), a spring semester in Strasbourg, France through Syracuse Study Abroad, and ten months in Cape Town, South Africa as a Hart Fellow through the Hart Leadership Program. Now I’m serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco with close to nine months under my belt. All of my work abroad has been focused on youth and educational development programming. I’m currently working on a project called Olympics of the Mind, Arts, and Culture (OMAC), which will be a community-wide competition for youth aimed at celebrating their excellence, nurturing their skills, and encouraging volunteerism. Our plan is to pilot OMAC this year in my small coastal town, and take it to regional and national levels in the coming years.
I’m still not 100% sure where my journey will take me after Peace Corps, but I am sure that I will take with me a sense of global concern, a strong intellectual curiosity, and a foundation of analytical tools that will continue to serve me well wherever I go, all thanks to the ICS program. And although Toubkal will most likely be the first and last literal mountain I climb in life, I won’t abandon my pursuit of the summits of figurative ones, where I hope to find like-minded hikers on the same search for solutions to our world’s most grave issues.
There is an old Arabic saying that one should seek education even if it takes one to China. At the time of this utterance in the 7th century, such a journey was inconceivable to many in the Arabian Peninsula and extremely difficult for the daring few. As an ICS major, however, easy is such a feat. The ICS classroom exposed me to a myriad of cultures, governance systems, languages, and ideologies. The intellectual thirst that had driven me from the Horn of Africa to Duke’s campus was quenched by a rich amalgamation of ICS courses in History, Political Science, Cultural Anthropology, Arabic, and Economics. The instructors in these courses are some of the most esteemed scholars and researchers in their fields. They are also genuine and helpful individuals whose primary task is to ensure the success and well-being of their students. Once, when I fell ill, a professor obtained my phone number from a classmate and called me. Another sought me out in an effort to keep in touch long after I had departed Duke. As an ICS major, you may find that these professors are not the exceptions rather they are the norm. Today, I am a JD candidate at the Northwestern School of Law. The analytical, research, and writing skills I developed as an ICS major have proved extremely beneficial to my legal studies. I remain grateful for my professors’ guidance and inspiration, and I have no doubt that current and future students will also benefit greatly from the professional and personal excellence of Duke's ICS department.
My Comparative Area Studies major (now ICS) focused on areas of the Middle East and Africa and led me to build bridges and work with populations in my own backyard. I currently serve as the Associate Executive Director for Program Services at Charlotte Family Housing, a housing and supportive services program for families. Our work focuses on empowering families to obtain and maintain permanent housing and we are motivated to build community among all of our neighbors in Charlotte.
I began studying Arabic as a foreign language at Duke in August 2001, one month before September 11, 2001. While discovering this dynamic, poetic language full of history and beauty, I was surrounded by messages in society and even among my friends that conflicted with and misrepresented the people and language I had come to love. I became convinced of the need to be critical of how our impressions of people are formed, and how those impressions impact how we relate to one another. It was the Comparative Area Studies major that allowed me to explore this—I had the chance to take classes in history, literature, art history, political science and language while unpacking narratives of power, place and identity and their role in empowering some while marginalizing others.
At Charlotte Family Housing we work directly with families who have experienced homelessness, partnering with them to identify and work toward their housing goals. We also work closely with volunteers who are matched with families to provide intentional relationships of support and encouragement. In most cases, the volunteers and families come from very different backgrounds. We work to build bridges across socioeconomic divides between people who might otherwise never meet. More often than not, families and volunteers discover that they share much in common and celebrate the changes they bring about in each other’s lives. It’s truly rewarding and remarkable to watch. In small ways—one relationship at a time—we take head on those narratives of power that I learned about in Comparative Area Studies. We help create new narratives that empower those at the margins of our city—these are stories of friendship, support and mutual accountability.
Carolyn Kent graduated from Duke University in 2008 with a Major in International Comparative Studies, Minor in Spanish and a Global Health Certificate. After graduation, she worked as a consultant at Ascendient for two years focusing on health care reform research and strategic planning for hospitals and health systems. In 2008, she founded a 501(c)(3) non-profit called Global Connections for Change that organizes community-building fundraising events for existing community organizations. Carolyn served as a Municipal Development Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala from 2010-2012 and is currently a ProInspire Fellowworking with the Executive Team at National 4-H Council.
Walking onto campus for the first time as a freshman, I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of pre-professional track I belonged to but I definitely knew that I wanted to explore the myriad of academic opportunities that Duke had to offer. I had a passion for helping others, a thirst for learning about my Latin American roots, and a desire to be inspired by new ideas.
With those three things in mind, I became incredibly interested in the intersection of international development, global health, history, and entrepreneurship. Those subjects didn’t seem to connect to anyone else on campus, but I strongly believed that international development had to be approached in a holistic manner. I saw entrepreneurship as a mechanism to inspire others to become agents for change in their own communities and knew that a strong historical understanding of a country would help me understand its culture, beliefs and perspectives. The ICS major allowed me to take an interdisciplinary approach to my learning experiences at Duke so that I could gain the knowledge I needed to succeed in an international career.
Despite my parents' incessant comments and questions about how my major was going to help me “land a job”, my broad range of experiences set me apart from other candidates while going through rigorous interview processes. The study abroad experiences I had while at Duke inspired me to found Global Connections for Change which provides funding for HIV/AIDS education efforts in Durham and Tanzania as well as scholarships for Guatemalan youth. The analytical thinking skills and cultural perspectives I gained while taking classes for my ICS major helped me succeed as a Peace Corps Volunteer as well. The ICS department always encouraged me to be intellectually curious and it is that curiosity, humble nature and open-minded attitude that helps Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) successfully integrate and partner with their communities to achieve positive change. As a PCV, I was able to work with my community to build Guatemala’s first Mayan Educational Center made with eco-bricks and secure a $35,000 start-up grant from the Inter American Foundation. My one piece of advice to any Duke student is that creating an academic experience that focuses on new learning experiences and going out of your comfort zone is far more rewarding than pursuing a major to conform to external pressures. No other major gave me the flexibility to pursue my passion, and for that I am incredibly grateful for the ICS Department.
Carving out a career as a certified Generalist is a high risk/high reward gamble. Or gambol, if you will: my path since a Comparative Area Studies major at Duke (now International Comparative Studies) has taken a delightfully circuitous route, from microfinance in China to civil/military strategy in Afghanistan to nuclear security in Boston. And ICS could not have prepared me better, as the career of a global Generalist is built on the promise, “I can learn anything.” ICS, at its core, teaches us how to absorb the world around us, how to use a broad knowledge base as a reference point for mastering new opportunities.
I chose Duke because of the ICS department; it was exactly the kind of major that I would have invented anywhere else. Each semester, with a motley course schedule that majored in political science and history and minored in “the kitchen sink” (everything from fencing to 20th century literature), I found myself weaving a cohesive tapestry out of class discussions that—on the surface—had nothing in common. I left Duke with a profound understanding of how to learn, how to listen, and how to gain insight into one subject area through the lenses of unrelated experience.
I left college committed to international development, but with no idea of how to contribute without the practical skills of an engineer or nurse. I landed a job with HOPE International, a global microfinance network, less through any relevant background in finance than through the above-mentioned promise that “I can learn anything.” And I did: six months of donor communication gave me all the exposure I needed to prepare operational reports, from which I learned to extract narratives from the financial and performance data that represented the management’s priorities. I moved into the Programs department, I moved to China, and thus began 8+ years in a field that I hadn’t known existed when tenting in K-ville.
Beijing was home for four years, during which the “comparative area” portion of my studies proved specifically useful. As Regional Director for HOPE’s programs in Asia, I had to understand how political and economic dynamics at country levels would differently impact what were supposed to be similar microfinance processes. My portfolio included Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, and this exposure to post-conflict development launched me into graduate school, where I investigated the use of development by the U.S. military in counterinsurgency contexts. Armed with a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, I subsequently returned to Afghanistan for two stints as Interim CEO for HOPE International’s microfinance program in Kabul.
This retrospective narrative credits my stream-of-consciousness career with far more cohesion than it deserves. In fact, I have operated on the simple principle, “I must have a reason to say no to an opportunity.” Most recently, this has translated into starting Silverside Detectors, a technology company committed to helping governments slash the risk of nuclear terrorism. I’m learning again; it’s the thinnest thread of connection from Silverside to counterinsurgency to microfinance to Duke. But my ability to spin that thread, the ongoing career of a global Generalist, owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the vision of the Duke International Comparative Studies
Johnny Lee graduated from Duke University with a double major in International Comparative Studies and Economics and a minor in Chinese. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research on the impact of tourism on ethnic minority development and identity in rural Western China. Starting his career as an Analyst in Goldman Sachs #1 ranked Asia Financials Research team in Hong Kong, he is now the COO of AIC Education, a leading education consultancy firm in China with ten offices spread across China and the U.S.
Abraham Lincoln in the recent film Lincoln said, “A compass..[will] point you True North from where you're standing, but it's got no advice about the swamps and desert and chasm that you'll encounter along the way.”
Having realized that living life for the approval of others left me empty and feeling burnt out in high school (yes I was your typical results-oriented Asian who did well in school to avoid disappointing my parents), I arrived at Duke with a burning desire to find what I truly cared about. My mission was clear, but not my vision.
Despite being unable to articulate my vision at the start of college, ICS gave me the opportunity to piece together my own “major”, class by class, regardless of whether they were in the same discipline. This largely helped me get to the classes I was genuinely curious about faster. I believe reflecting on the gap between prior expectation and actual experience is most revealing about one’s character and interests when one had possessed a genuine curiosity to try it in the first place, whether one was able to articulate the initial curiosity or not. Thus, being able to encounter the swamps, deserts and chasms that were more relevant to me faster helped me find my True North faster. Gradually, I learned that I cared most about providing opportunity to those that lacked access.
This evolutionary approach to my education that ICS enabled also helped me appreciate the process of learning. Moreover, it forced me to introspect constantly. I carried forward this habit beyond Duke, checking, at every critical juncture or transition in my life, whether I was adhering to my inner compass. Through much reflection and self-analysis since college, I’ve come to learn that meaning to me is no longer defined solely by doing something that provides opportunity. Rather, I have to also be pursuing something that otherwise may not exist if I do not participate. I’ve discovered the growth of our own potential goes hand in hand with the opportunities we create for others to do the same.
Today, I consider myself among the fortunate few with a career pursuing something I love and find meaningful. As the COO of AIC Education, I am helping to build a platform where more typical Asian over-achievers can discover their passions and live according to their purpose in service of others in the same way ICS has enabled me to do.
Click on www.facebook.com/ARelations for more on AIC Education.
Since graduation, I have moved from the wonderful state of NC to Los Angeles, CA where I now work as a Production Assistant on the ABC Family hit show "Melissa and Joey." This is the first step on the journey to becoming a screenwriter, as I one day hope to be a sitcom writer and showrunner. I also do freelance work for United Talent Agency doing screenplay coverage. I'm currently rewriting a short film that could potentially be produced within the next few months.
My experiences as an ICS major really aided me in that this major helped me hone in on the writing and research skills needed in this industry. It also gave me a global appreciation and cultural knowledge, which is important when writing and reading scripts in terms of reaching out to a wide audience. The impressive number of courses offered by ICS also allowed me to explore what I truly love, which in turn helped me make the decision to chase after this dream of being a screenwriter.
Two weeks after I graduated last May, I moved to Beijing, China as a Princeton in Asia fellow to work with a nonprofit social enterprise called The JUMP! Foundation. JUMP! works with international schools all over South East Asia and the Middle East delivering leadership programs based in experiential education. I've been with JUMP! for almost a year now as a Program Manager and have travelled all around the world, from Saudi Arabia to Oman to Malaysia (where I'm writing this post from). Living in China and working for JUMP! has been indescribable and I've had unpredictable experiences, filled with both challenge and reward.
My experience as an ICS major provided flexibility for me to bring more meaning to my Duke experience. Unlike other majors, I was empowered to choose my own courses and acquire knowledge on my own terms. This is a type of experiential education, which is a philosophy I have come to care deeply about. In addition to other parts of my Duke experience and my current job at JUMP!, ICS helped influence my view of education as a self-directed and self-driven process.
As an undergrad at Duke, I didn't know that I would become a teacher, but I did know that I wanted to do something with an international focus in a non-corporate setting. I eventually went to graduate school and earned my teaching certification and Master's degree. My ICS degree helped me get the teaching jobs I really wanted. Among dozens of applicants for a teaching position, I was selected because of my background in cultural and environmental geography. ICS gave me a frame of reference for seeing both teachers and students as having something valuable to contribute to the learning process, and I am very thankful to have that perspective.
ICS allows for the integration and synthesis of the Duke core requirements with personal interests in a manner flexible enough that I was able to conduct academic research in the humanities, study abroad, obtain a second major, pursue multiple foreign languages, and write an honors thesis. The core ICS class which addresses globalization and internationally-oriented knowledge paradigms directly led to my current position as a Master's student in digital humanities at King's College, London, where I'm learning the technical skills to enable a more open and equitable dissemination of cultural material.
Read about Dee as a Robertson Scholar at Duke here.
Read the article on Dee, who received the 2012 Distinguished Honors Thesis Award here.
Comparative Area Studies (now ICS) enabled me to develop my regional interests in South America and Subsaharan Africa, while also giving me the flexibility to delve into documentary studies. After graduation I went on to hold fellowships in Colombia and South Africa and conducted participatory documentary projects that led me to graduate school. CAS provided me with both the rigor and flexibility I needed to forge my own path into the realms of visual anthropology, media criticism, anthropology of war. My forthcoming dissertation is titled, Guerrilla Marketing: Information War and the Demobilization of FARC Rebels.
Nicole Gathany '11 • Master's student of Public Health in Health Policy and Management at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University
I graduated from Duke in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in ICS and completed my fieldwork for my ICS Senior Honors thesis in Nigeria, where I studied spiritual warfare and healing among Yoruba Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians. ICS gives its students a unique set of comparative-analytical and cultural competency skills. While completing my fieldwork in Nigeria, I used the skills I gained in ICS and discovered (albeit by accident) how a nation's agricultural and trading policies affect eating behaviors and therefore the health of its citizens. This sparked my interests in health policy and management in public health, and I am now pursuing a Masters of Public Health in Health Policy and Management at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.
Sitting at my graduation ceremony back in May, I could not have been happier to have spent the past four years with the ICS department. ICS allowed me to tackle a wide array of subjects yet also focus in depth on Africa, a continent where I grew up and am also very interested in academically. The ICS major, coupled with my Spanish major, allowed me to easily go abroad for a semester in Spain, and spend a summer in South Africa. Those two majors combined with my journalism certificate were the perfect blend of disciplines for my chosen career path. Since graduating, I've been working as a TV reporter for a local station in New York City. Though the TV business is full of people who majored in broadcast journalism, I think my ICS major provides me with a more holistic and diverse approach to the stories I cover. I look back so fondly on my not-too-distant years at Duke, and ICS was certainly a part of that overall great chapter in my life.
ICS is a multi-disciplinary major that draws on incredibly diverse courses and has taught me to be flexible, creative, and open-minded when approaching issues. As a project manager in the financial services industry, the skills that I acquired through the ICS major were highly transferable to my job—they have enabled me to think critically and to develop strong communication skills through the close-knit seminar environments.
An old Yiddish saying maintains that "mentsch tracht, Gott lacht" ("people plan, and God laughs")—this aphorism describes my life in a nutshell! I started out pre-med at Duke, but took my physician Dad's advice to major in something non-science related that I might never get a chance to study again. I loved languages, and thought it might be interesting to learn Japanese and Chinese; since Duke did not have an official East Asian Studies major, I ended up a Comparative Area Studies (now ICS) major by default... and what a stroke of luck that turned out to be! I fell in love with the Japanese and Chinese languages, literatures, histories and cultures, so much so that I dropped any notion of going to medical school and determined to build a career around them. After matriculating from Duke, I became one of fifteen people world-wide to receive a two-year Rotary Japan Scholarship, which I used to study comparative Japanese and Chinese literature in Tokyo and Osaka. My experience living and studying abroad was eye-opening and life-altering, and would never have occurred but for my CAS background. After returning from Japan, I attended Harvard Law School and spent several years in an international law practice on Wall Street, as well as two years as General Counsel for the non-profit Human Rights in China before taking time off to raise my three wonderful sons. Now, I am living a dream in my second career as a restaurateur/caterer in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts... and many of my specialties are based on the Asian cuisine I learned while living abroad! CAS imbued in me the creativity, flexibility and broad world view to continually and successfully take the road less traveled—something that has proven invaluable personally as well as professionally.
By encouraging me to explore a region of the world with an interdisciplinary approach, the ICS major didn’t just expand my knowledge of Africa—it helped prepare me to live there. The cultural knowledge and language skills that I developed as an ICS major shaped my interest in gaining first-hand experience in the region of the world that I had spent the last three years learning about in a variety of classrooms; from the lecture hall, to the dance studio, to the drum circle. No other major would have offered me the same flexibility to study Africa through such a multifaceted approach, while giving me the strong academic background to support my fellowship application. Writing this from Accra, Ghana, I’m grateful to ICS for inspiring and encouraging me to consider post-graduate opportunities abroad.
Read Ragno's short bio on Princeton in Africa's web page here.
Comparative Area Studies (now ICS) afforded me an invaluable opportunity to explore my interest in international affairs across a range of disciplines, from history and political science to literature and the arts. It also provided an ideal way to integrate study abroad--in my case, a semester studying history and geography in Madagascar--into my course of study at Duke. The knowledge I gained through my CAS coursework and the diverse analytical approaches to which I was exposed have proved useful throughout my career.