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ICS Alumni Spotlight: Isham Randolph '00

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March 21, 2016

While I didn’t know what International Comparative Studies (then called Comparative Area Studies) was prior to stepping foot on Duke’s campus, it was clear very early on that it was the perfect major for me. Furthermore, the tools I developed through ICS have been crucial in my career as a documentary filmmaker. 

I arrived at Duke coming off a leap year living, working, and studying Spanish in Argentina. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in but I had a keen interest in the relationship between the United States and Latin America. ICS allowed me to delve into that relationship by way of courses in Spanish, Political Science, Literature, and History, among others, while providing a global context through capstone courses like Global Human Geography and Comparative Approaches to Global Issues. Even if my papers continued to skew toward Latin America (my final paper in the Comparative Approaches class was on Italian immigration to Argentina and the US at the turn of the 19th century), I appreciated the program’s insistence that we look beyond our regions of focus in order to gain a greater, global, perspective. In fact, Martin Lewis’ emphasis on the roots of language in the Global Human Geography course has helped me connect the linguistic dots on numerous occasions while working on National Geographic documentaries.

ICS has always put a premium on not only studying abroad but also doing it in a serious manner. I took that to heart, studying at a small research institution called CIDE in Mexico City, taking courses with CIDE students (unlike many other study abroad programs where you are placed in classes for foreigners) on Mexican history and international relations and gaining new insight and perspective on the shared history between Mexico and the US. The study abroad program — which allowed exchanges between a handful of colleges and universities in the US (Duke and Northwestern), Canada (McGill in Toronto and the University of Montreal) and Mexico (CIDE and UDLAP in Puebla) — had been created during a unique post-NAFTA moment and unfortunately doesn’t seem to exist anymore.   

Finally, as I moved toward graduation, the department’s course flexibility gave me the space to pursue a certificate in the Program in Film and Video (now the Program in Arts of the Moving Image), opening my eyes to the power of documentary to explore the same cultural and historical questions that had already guided my course work. It was then that I felt that I had the right medium for me for pursuing these cultural and historical questions. 

After graduation, this very ICS-oriented skillset plus my newfound interest in documentary led to a Benenson Award in the Arts to document the lives of American Expatriates in Mexico — asking the question, when there are so many people trying to reach the United States, why do people leave?  Building off of the footage that I had captured while on my Benenson award, a Fulbright Scholarship to further pursue the project then followed. During the Fulbright, I spent most of my time in retirement communities in Mexico, as it seems that most Americans head to Mexico to fulfill what could be considered the final chapter of the American Dream, to retire comfortably.

Now I work as a freelance documentary producer for such groups as National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian Channel and the Rockefeller Foundation. The job requires the tools to be able to jump between a wide range of topics in a wide range of locations around the world — from US-Mexico border issues to exploring the changing dynamics of cities in places like Accra, Ghana and Bangkok, Thailand — tools I honed by way of the opportunities afforded to me through a degree in Comparative Area Studies (now ICS).

Here are some links to recent or pertinent projects:

Informal City Dialogue, Rockefeller Foundation: Bangkok

Informal City Dialogue, Rockefeller Foundation: Accra

What Would You March For? Trust for the National Mall/National Geographic Studios

“Photography by Danielle Hill/Still Life Projects”
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ICS Alumni Spotlight: Megan Benham '10

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November 17, 2015

Duke University is a mesmerizing, intimidating place for a small town Midwestern girl, so I had few goals beyond passing classes for my future at the university when I arrived on campus in 2006.  I knew two things: my varying interests made it difficult for me to focus on my desired area of study and I wanted to learn as much as possible about as many subjects possible.  It was shortly after taking a course called “Religions of Asia” that I discovered International Comparative Studies.  I became fascinated with the close relationship societal and religious culture had in Asia, and my advisor informed me that the ICS major would allow me a strong platform for exploring that relationship more in depth.  I discovered the interdisciplinary nature of ICS appealed to my desire to expand my knowledge base, less by subject and more by theme.  The academic breadth of the major prepared me for a variety of positions and a career path that has been both unconventional and rewarding.

International Comparative Studies served as a strong foundation for my growing career.  I have utilized my knowledge of the Middle East and Islam to build relationships between different religious and cultural communities.  I helped Iranian refugees resettle in Indianapolis by introducing them to local resources.  I helped the Wesley Foundation at Purdue develop new lines of communication between various faith communities on Purdue’s campus.  I served as an AmeriCorps fellow for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights helping a Muslim school and mosque in the northern suburbs of Chicago create community opportunities in their facilities to better connect them with the non-Muslim residents of the neighborhood. 

All these experiences led me to my current position at Benedictine University.  This small catholic university has strong religious and ethnic diversity with 15 percent of the student body self-identifying as Hindu and 30 percent as practicing Muslims. As the Global and Intercultural Program Coordinator, I work with faculty and staff to develop both academic and extracurricular events to educate the university’s community about religious and ethnic diversity.  The events not only create educational opportunities, but they also provide venues for important interaction and discussions among ethnic and religious communities.  My ability to organize these types of programs comes in great part from the cultural understanding gained through the International Comparative Studies program at Duke.  The ICS program empowered me to spread cultural knowledge here in the western suburbs of Chicago, and maybe someday beyond.

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ICS Alumni Spotlight: Aislynn Turner '11

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October 1, 2015

I started at Duke majoring in Public Policy, thinking that one day I wanted to go into government and policy. However, I soon found myself falling in love with all of the cultures embedded within Duke’s campus, and I took on a second major in International Comparative Studies (ICS). The courses I took and professors I learned from opened my eyes in ways I never expected. I developed a passion for languages, cultures, and for understanding why different types of governments operate the way they do. While at Duke, I had opportunities to conduct research in Egypt, China and Kenya. My research in Kenya led to the development of my ICS honors thesis, which was later published as a book about Kenyan education and economic policy as it relates to women’s empowerment. I graduated from Duke with a keen interest in government operations and international development policy, but I also wanted to further my education and focus on a specialty. Thus, I headed to the University of Southern California to work on my Masters of Public Administration. Because of the international research I had conducted at Duke, USC offered me a Dean’s Merit scholarship that covered the majority of my tuition expenses.

While in grad school, I was selected for a highly competitive internship program with the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department. Though I had never before heard of the field of emergency management, it intrigued me from the start. Natural and man-made disasters affect all nations, can happen at any time and can have devastating effects on the economy and day-to-day life of local residents. During my first week at the internship, I was assigned with writing a Mass Feeding Plan for a city of 4+ million people. It didn’t take long for me to see the relationship between the policy I was shaping and the impact it had on local people. This field was exactly where I wanted to be, forming policy that had a direct impact on peoples’ well-being.

I have continued to advance in my career in emergency management, working as a Homeland Security Analyst in government consulting and then moving to Atlanta to work for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security. My studies in ICS remain very relevant to my career. Whenever a major disaster happens in any part of the globe, we learn from one another and support one another. It wasn’t long ago that our executive leadership traveled to Japan after the major earthquake/tsunami/nuclear incident that devastated the country. Our executives brought back lessons learned from that incident that we have now applied to our own plans and policies in Georgia. In this field, nations and states continuously work together to share resources and knowledge so that we can prepare people for disaster and adequately respond to and recover from any incidents that occur.

You can follow my Twitter updates on emergency management trends at @AislynnTurner

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Alumni Spotlight: Sung Bae Park '14

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February 20, 2015

My name is Sung Bae Park and I graduated in December 2014 with a double major in International Comparative Studies and Economics with a minor in History. This year, I will be joining J.P. Morgan’s investment banking team in Hong Kong. As a Korean national who grew up mostly in Singapore, ICS was a natural choice for me while exploring different options as I was keen on learning about different cultures and transnational issues.  

As a college freshman, I did not know that I wanted to be an ICS major. I had always been interested in Economics, but it was only later that I decided to pursue ICS as my major as well. At first, I became interested in ICS for the prospect of exploring cultures and languages that were new to me. Beyond mere exposure, however, I feel that one of the hallmarks of the program is how it can change the way one views the world.

Economics tends to rely on numerical analysis to look at various issues, while this is useful to bring to the table tools applicable for evaluating efficiency and equilibrium, it often leaves out other issues like justice and fairness. ICS fills this void perfectly. Entities that occupy merely a variable or two in economic analysis take on entirely new significance and become the focal point of discourse in courses offered by the ICS program. ICS helped me to see how relationships among governments, corporations, NGOs, and individual citizens can be identified and reconfigured in various discursive contexts and the importance of having this understanding, which I have learned to apply in research projects in my classes.

I cannot overstate the usefulness of the ICS program in honing skills applicable outside of academia. I had previously assumed that Asian countries share similar backgrounds and hence that the issues and challenges they face would be similar. As an ICS major with concentration in East Asia, I learned that couldn’t be further away from the truth. By comparing and contrasting situations faced in different parts of the world, I learned to grasp a more nuanced understanding of an issue. This is of particular importance for investment banking, where there is no "black and white" when looking at strategic options for a company, just as there is no such clear cut answers for many of the critical issues discussed and analyzed in courses under the ICS program. The ability to grasp the nuances in a company or an industry is a valuable asset that must be developed over time, so I am grateful that I decided to pursue ICS as a major.

One thing that surprises me is how fast the ICS curriculum has been growing over the past few years. When I returned to campus in the fall of 2013 after a 2.5 year hiatus for military service, I was surprised at how the list of approved classes had grown compared to the spring of 2009 when I took my first ICS class. The wide array of courses now available makes ICS a truly attractive major that can foster variety of interests and career paths. The growth in curriculum also makes it much easier to complement the major with a minor by taking cross-listed courses as I have done to graduate with a minor in History. I recommend those who decide to major in ICS to explore as many options as possible to make the most out of the opportunities that are offered in this fast-growing program, a program that exposed me to new ways of understanding the world and equipped me with tools that I will continue to leverage in the future. 

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Alumni Spotlight: Megan Moskop '08

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September 2, 2014

By: Megan Moskop

This is my 6th year as a Special Education teacher at the best middle school in America.  I’m biased of course, but I love working at MS324, which is a public middle school in Washington Heights, a Latin-American neighborhood in northern Manhattan.  In addition to my daily work of helping students recognize their value, intelligence, and potential for success, I help our 8th grade students and families navigate the NYC high school admissions process. 

I spend my “free time” as an active member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers (NYC’s teachers union), and as the “Learning Labs Director” of the Manhattan Young Democrats.

Through these and other community-based organizations, I strive to be an advocate for educational systems and polices that will help our students thrive. Majoring in ICS prepared me uniquely to listen, learn, grow, build community, and share knowledge all over the world, or, where I am right now, in a very worldly corner of the world.

At Duke, the flexibility of ICS allowed me to simultaneously pursue my passions for working with youth, for exploring the world, and for sharing stories. 

Through various Research-Service-Learning courses, I volunteered with several programs in the Durham public schools.  With my “Women as Leaders” course in public policy, I mentored girls at Brogden Middle School.  Through Educational Psychology, I tutored a fourth grader at Watts Elementary, and my junior year, through a Collaborative Art course at the Center for Documentary Studies, I led an afterschool art program at Club Boulevard Elementary School. 

My largest community-based project at Duke, however, began my sophomore year in a class called “Durham’s Black Wall Street.” The focus of that class became my Documentary Studies Certificate “Capstone” project, and continued even beyond my graduation.  Under the guidance of Barbara Lau, then at CDS, I worked with local historians and archivists at NC Central University, UNC, and the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company to conduct oral history interviews with African-American businesswomen in Durham and across the south.  Radio Documentary classes with John Beiwin, and a web-design class I took to satisfy math requirements taught me how to present and share those stories, both on Duke’s own WXDU and in a web exhibit:  

My senior year at Duke, I worked towards bringing city and campus activists together by sharing information, co-sponsoring events, and hosting parties under the auspices of the Duke Progressive Alliance.

Away from home base in Durham, Duke provided me with even more opportunity to serve and learn. As a rising sophomore, the Benjamin N. Duke Scholarship program partnered me with the Boys and Girls Club in Aynor, South Carolina, a two-stoplight town on the way to Myrtle Beach. There, I spent the summer designing playgrounds, making monsters, and supervising seascapes with children aged 3 to 16.  My junior year, while studying abroad in Perugia, Italy with the Umbra Institute, I volunteered as an English Tutor at the local Montessori School.

Perhaps my most formative lesson in global thought and local action, however, came when I taught English for three months at a school for Tibetan Orphans in Kathmandu, Nepal.  My students and host family taught me to breathe deeply, seek simplicity, live in laughter and joy, and spend each day working hard for myself and for those around me.

Just after graduation in 2008, I continued to teach and learn globally as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malta. There, I worked closely with the cultural ambassadors at the US Embassy, officials in the department of education, and teachers and students across the island.  A typical week in Malta involved traveling on antique yellow buses from one end of the island to the other, reading stories at a village primary school, playing football at an all-boys secondary school, and rounding out some days at University of Malta where I co-taught a “professional communication” course and studied Arabic and Art Education. 

All of these formative experiences through ICS and Duke brought great perspective to my current work within the New York City School System. In 2009, when I began teaching here, I was prepared to navigate, and learn from the complex cultural interactions I faced on a daily basis.  To learn more about how to help my students do the same, I attended Hunter College, where I received an M.S. in Special Education, further expanding my capacity for understanding and problem solving. Teaching still challenges me, and I continue to learn from my community every day.  You can follow some of my learning on twitter @msmoskop.

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