Feature Stories

Claire Meriwether '15 discusses how her pre-med and ICS courses enhanced her learning and internship experiences in Argentina

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Current Students

Arpita Varghese '15: "The reason why I chose ICS as my major was because of its trans-disciplinary nature..."

Hi, my name is Arpita and I’m a junior from India. I’m double majoring in philosophy and ICS with a focus on South Asia. The reason why I chose ICS as my major was because of its trans-disciplinary nature; and it sort of satisfied the many ambitions and requirements I came with when I came to Duke, and that included my interests in political science, human rights and even dance. I was able to pursue all of these and much more academically through ICS.

Mary Lagdameo: Arpita, how did the ICS Gateway (ICS 195 Comparative Approaches to Global Issues) influence your academic and personal interests?

Arpita Varghese: The ICS Gateway, contrary to my expectations prior to taking the class, went beyond exploring international relations. We touched upon and explored in detail, concepts of transnationalism…ideas of boundaries, borders and identity—national identity—in depth. These encouraged me to apply to a program with the women’s center over fall break to work for an NGO called Hope CommUnity in Florida where we looked at women and immigration.

Following that, this previous summer, the interest that I had developed through ICS Gateway inspired me to apply for a program with DukeEngage in Northern Ireland in Belfast, and this is led by Professor Robin Kirk. From her and the many people I interacted with and the organization I worked with, I learned that although "the Troubles," the conflict that happened in Northern Ireland, is often referred to the conflict between Protestants and Catholics…it’s a mixed bag, it goes beyond this dual aspect we often attribute to it. It involves politics, it’s often referred to as a working class issue, and it’s deeply engrained in your sense of identity being “national” or where you relate to. In these ways, the ICS Gateway class definitely influenced the decisions I made at Duke.

M: Finally, tell us what you’ll be doing in this upcoming year and what are your future plans after Duke?

A: This year for spring semester, I’ll be studying at Oxford University and I’ll be enrolled in two departments, the politics and international relations department and the philosophy department. The class I’m most excited about is Politics in South Asia where we’ll be looking at politics from the viewpoint of culture, religion, economics, and development, and by doing this we’ll also be looking at social organizations ranging from nongovernmental organizations to political parties.

Following that, for my summer I’ll be completing the second stage of the Hart Leadership Program on service-oriented leadership, and for that I’ll be working with an NGO with whom I’ll be developing community-based research. I’m hoping I’ll be able to work with an NGO in India; one of the topics I’m really interested in is child labor.

As for my plans after Duke, I’m still exploring them, but some of these options include going to law school and pursuing human rights in a legal manner, or applying to graduate school to study political science. The third option that I’m considering is working with a transnational or intergovernmental organization. 

Malena Price '15 was selected to participate in the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Summer Enrichment Program in Washington, D.C.

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ICS major Malena Price '15 was selected to participate in the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Summer Enrichment Program in Washington, D.C. during Summer 2013.  

As a Rangel scholar, I took two courses over six weeks in the areas of political economy and history of US Foreign Relations at Howard University. I formed relationships and learned from some of the most brilliant and passionate young professionals in the field of international relations and public service. During the program, I had the opportunity to visit different international organizations including the Department of State, CIA, International Institute for Peace, Council on Human Rights, USAID, and Chemonics Development Consulting Firm. I also received professional development and training, learning the best ways to present and conduct myself with an interviewer or mentor.

I had the privilege of hearing from influential figures in international affairs such as Edward Perkins, the first Black ambassador to South Africa, and of course, Charlie Rangel, Congressman for New York’s 13th district. Five of the best schools for International Affairs and Public Service including Princeton, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Tufts, and Georgetown spoke with Rangel Scholars to better inform them on the admissions process and how to best represent oneself in a personal statement. Similarly, representatives for very prestigious educational programs and scholarships such as PPIA, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the Gilman Scholarship, the Boren Scholarship, Fulbright, and the Pickering Scholarship came to educate Rangel Scholars on fellowship and scholarship opportunities and what to keep in mind when completing program applications.

During these presentations, I learned a great deal of valuable information and was able to network with the admissions and selections committees for programs that interested me. I also networked with Rangel Fellows, selected graduates who commit to three years in the Foreign Service and two internships with the Department of State, both domestic and abroad. Fellows include White House employees, assistants to Congressmen and Congresswomen, Peace Corps Alumnae, and Fulbright scholars. The rewarding aspects of the Rangel Scholar Program include the opportunities to learn, network, and professionally grow from my peers, and of course, the vibrant and intellectually stimulating environment of Washington, D.C. 

Jamie Bergstrom '15: "This coming semester will integrate art, the Middle East, and professional work, and I look forward to continuing my varied studies as an ICS major at Duke."

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I am a rising junior double majoring in AMES and ICS with a concentration in the Middle East; I am also pursuing a certificate in the study of Ethics. My freshman and sophomore years at Duke featured international travel to Egypt, Turkey, Israel and Palestine. These travels grew out of my studies—of the Middle East, global governance and human rights—and allowed me to participate in immersive research. One such research opportunity was through the DukeImmerse LEAPED (the Law, Ethics, and Political Economy of Displacement) Program, in which I examined international displacement with Iraqi refugees living in Egypt.

Through two internships this summer, I am expanding my experience of the Middle East and refugee populations. I am currently interning in Southfield, Michigan with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the nation’s largest civil rights organizations. One of our goals is to improve Islamic accommodations in various institutions, such as workplaces, schools and hospitals. My current work approaches this goal by increasing understanding and dialogue. By writing detailed guides for distribution in these settings, we provide an introduction to Islam, necessary accommodations (such as offering halal food and prayer space, as well as accepting differences in attire), and legal precedents outlining the need for such cooperation.

My other internship this summer is a research position with the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Dearborn, Michigan. This organization primarily works with resettled Iraqi refugees, of whom the highest US percentage live in the Metro-Detroit area. Refugees can face many barriers related to language, finding employment, and navigating public services. My primary work in this context is collecting and analyzing local and national research and statistics for a concept paper aimed at local politicians, which will explain the needs of the population and relevant information. I also work on internal research, grant-writing and assistance with presentations to policy makers.

This summer was not limited to professional experiences through internships. My coursework at Duke to date has exposed me not only to culture and language but also to the global connections between nations and politicized international relations. Building on such classroom experiences, I participated in the Summer School on International Diplomacy through the United Nations Institute on Research and Training. This program, hosted at UN headquarters in New York, connected me with a multitude of professionals ranging from ambassadors to international lawyers and professors. The curriculum included speakers, a private tour of the United Nations as well as informative skills-building workshops on negotiations and resolution-writing. The program also included a session dedicated to UN research and projects in multilateral diplomacy. I am now working on a research project on opium production in Afghanistan.

In addition to my experiences at the UN, I am also taking a national and international security law course offered by the Duke Law School Summer Institute on Law and Policy in Washington, DC. This course has served as a brief introduction to law school, and it has clarified my understanding of national security in the legal sense. I am currently writing my paper on Homeland Security and refugee populations.

This summer has been filled with opportunities to learn, grow and explore. Continuing this trend, I decided to pursue another immersive educational experience for my junior year. I am excited to participate in a study-away program this coming fall in New York City at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. I will explore the Iranian revolution through social and artistic activism. Collaborating with an Iranian artist, I will work on my own art project to elucidate the understanding of social rights in Iran. This coming semester will integrate art, the Middle East, and professional work, and I look forward to continuing my varied studies as an ICS major at Duke.

Jaclyn Dobies '15: "To me, human rights is about working with people who have experienced conflict and making emotional connections with them."

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Jaclyn Dobies ’15, was one of the first Duke students to work at the Centre for Health and Wellbeing, formally the Ballymurphy Women’s Center, in Belfast in the 2012 DukeEngage Northern Ireland program. The center, which now serves men and women, started as a women’s health center and continues to provide alternative healing therapy services to the community.

How did you come to choose the DukeEngage program in Northern Ireland?

I was eager to join the DukeEngage in Northern Ireland program because of the focus on human rights and the opportunity to volunteer in an NGO, the Centre for Health and Wellbeing in Belfast. I was interested in learning first-hand about the issues of division in society, peace building, and conflict resolution in Northern Ireland. With Robin Kirk as director of the program, I knew I was in for an immersive and challenging experience.

Why are you interested in human rights?

To me, human rights is about working with people who have experienced conflict and making emotional connections with them. Sharing stories and relating to people in Northern Ireland has had a profound impact on my life. I am passionate about working on issues of equality in terms of gender, race, socioeconomic status and other areas of social justice. I love getting involved with organizations that bring people’s voices forward, specifically the unheard voices.

What did you hope to learn during that summer?

I hoped to learn a lot about the conflict in Northern Ireland and more generally why conflict happens. I wanted to learn first-hand about the history of the place, the people, and the nature of conflict of Northern Ireland. How does one recover from conflict, individually and as a place? How do you create peace after such violence and pain?

What did you do at the Centre for Health and Wellbeing in Ballymurphy?

I assisted with phoning clients and helped with a class for older women on relieving stress. I also participated in a group for youth who are considered high-risk. We worked on issues of criminal justice and talked about hate crimes. Most of the youth I worked with were all Catholic youth, although the youth worker also worked with a cross-community group of both Catholic and Protestant kids. 

What did you gain from your experiences? 

I definitely made a lot of relationships and my partner, Nicole Daniels, and I became especially close with our two supervisors. I could never pay back my supervisors and the people who welcomed me. Northern Ireland is a beautiful culture and place, and a lot of pain still exists.

I gained a real understanding about what the community feels about this conflict and how hard it is to achieve peace. We talked about achieving peace at the sake of justice. Sometimes you have to make compromises…there were sacrifices that had to be made for peace and people still don’t know who killed their loved ones; there still remains a lot of hurt. I also learned that there is a difference between peace and the absence of violence. In Northern Ireland, I would say there is an absence of violence. There are often no bombings or riots but there are walls everywhere in the community; there isn’t fighting but there isn’t a whole community. Thankfully, organizations such as the Centre for Health and Wellbeing and our other DukeEngage community partners exist, working to change this and to create an active peace in Northern Ireland.

Currently Ms. Dobies is spending summer 2013 in Bangalore, India with a grant through the Duke Internships in India Program. She is interning at Dream A Dream, an organization that works on Life Skills development in children from vulnerable backgrounds through Football and Creative Arts. As part of her work, she is networking with several large Indian NGOs to improve the program monitoring and evaluation processes at Dream A Dream. 

Alexa Barrett '15: "The ICS major has helped me develop different frameworks for understanding the political, cultural and social contexts of the experiences shared with us."

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After spending my gap year in Córdoba, Argentina studying the military dictatorship of the late 1970s and “los desaparecidos”, I chose to major in ICS because it allows me to travel, become fluent in a foreign language, and do original research on the social consequences of living under civil strife. I am currently doing life-story interviews with Bhutanese refugees in Nepal with five other students in the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ DukeImmerse: Uprooted/Rerouted program. The International Comparative Studies major has helped me develop different frameworks for understanding the political, cultural and social contexts of the experiences shared with us. My coursework with DukeImmerse has expanded my understanding of issues of human rights, identity and citizenship through hands-on engagement.

Alix Heyes '14: "My choice to major in ICS is an essential part of becoming the type of doctor that we need in today's globalized world."

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My choice to major in ICS is an essential part of becoming the type of doctor that we need in today's globalized world. My focus is Africa, where the global health fight has been concentrated for the past decade or more. This is also where malaria, HIV/AIDS, TB, bacterial disease, and chronic illness are common and, in the case of chronic illness, on the rise. Through ICS, I studied these diseases and their effects on the molecular, community, and global level. My ICS courses have provided me with perspective, perspective that allows me to better understand the lives of my patients on whatever continent they might live on, whatever language they speak, or whatever background they come from. I have studied war and how it exacerbates risk factors for disease. This major has taught me that, often, medical professionals are the only avenues for peace when they serve as go-betweens and when ceasefires are called in order to facilitate vaccine distribution. In the modern age, doctors have roles that go well beyond repairing the body. They are sources of all types of aid relief, from promoting sanitation to finding the source of infections and caring for those that others might discount as hopeless. As an ICS major, I have studied comparative cultures. In addition to English, I speak Spanish and French and will begin learning a fourth language, Swahili, this summer. With globalization and the diversity already present in the US, knowledge of cultures and language skills are invaluable to the modern physician. While volunteering in Durham emergency rooms, I've seen how patients use small blue translation phones to express their needs to medical care providers. I've observed how impersonal this process becomes when patients feel as if they are talking to a machine recording. With the possibility of a new immigration policy, there will be even more need for doctors who can not only fix a patient’s body but also understand his/her reasoning, background, and language. This is beyond the capabilities of a little blue phone. This is why I chose to become both an ICS major and a PreMed student.

Hilary Zarnett '15: "I didn’t come to Duke looking to become an ICS major – the major ended up finding me."

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I didn’t come to Duke looking to become an ICS major – the major ended up finding me. I spent my freshman year following my academic advisor’s advice to take whatever courses interested me, but they all led me back to the same place: ICS. No other major melds my unique interests – culture, history, language, and politics to name a few - under one cohesive umbrella, allowing me learn about my region of study, the Middle East, through a variety of different lenses. The ICS major truly challenges me to think about the world beyond the parameters of my own experiences and has proven to be a rewarding path of learning during my time at Duke. 

Leilani Doktor '14: "What is the good life?"

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What is the good life? To me it's being able find incredible value in everyday actions. Whether it's noticing relations between my students and volunteers in Tanzania or being able to see the greater implications of a recent news article. ICS gives me the ability to analyze my world beyond the surface value, and not only on an international field. I never knew that a major could give me this type of insight, variety, and flexibility, until I found my way here. 

Andrew Rotolo '14: "No ICS major is quite the same, in fact most of us are looking to do pretty unique things, but this makes the ICS community at Duke something really special."

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I stumbled upon the ICS major after searching across a broad range of academic studies Duke offers. What I loved about ICS was that it allowed me as the student to largely determine where I wanted to focus my interests and passions, while still keeping me organizationally accountable to meeting some important requirements before graduation. No ICS major is quite the same, in fact most of us are looking to do pretty unique things, but this makes the ICS community at Duke something really special. I've had the opportunity to do a lot of travel to sub-saharan Africa for internships, study abroad, and service work in my time at Duke and I can honestly say that all of it has been completely relevant and complementary to my studies at Duke with ICS. ICS has encouraged me to look outside the box of a typical academic experience, and instead pursue a path of true meaning for what is going on in the world today.

Ali Schwartz '15: "ICS gives me the freedom to truly make my major my own, educating me in a diverse collection of areas and in a unique way."

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I came into college with no idea about what I wanted to major in, my interests spanning a wide range from language and culture to economics and business. ICS caught my eye in its ability to combine many disciplines to view the world's interconnectedness from multifaceted perspectives. With my focus on Europe and study of Spanish, I am able to combine my interests to see how this region fits into and interacts with the world as a whole, in terms of culture, communication, policy, history, and many other aspects. ICS gives me the freedom to truly make my major my own, educating me in a diverse collection of areas and in a unique way. Everything ICS has taught me will be invaluable to apply to my study abroad experience in Spain and post-graduation, when I hope to go into business.

Sungmin Sohn '15: "How do I tie my passion for rural development and human rights issues in a global context?"

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How do I tie my passion for rural development and human rights issues altogether in a global context? ICS is the answer I found here at Duke. ICS offers the flexibility to understand the interconnectedness of the world from several different points of view, while providing an opportunity to develop one's deeper interest in a specific region within the context of culture and politics. Through ICS, I have spent my semester abroad in Udaipur, India and Beijing, China, conducting research on the achievement gap amongst rural students and studying government policies that address health issues in migrant communities. This summer, I am coming back to Beijing in order to work with migrant children. I seriously can't wait!

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