SPIA students are eligible to participate in any study abroad or exchange program sponsored by UGA, other USG institutions, or approved by UGA’s Office of International Education. Many programs offer political science and/or international affairs courses.

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Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

Writer: Elijah Scott

For my first thirty-six hours in Romania, I had met the national champion judo practitioner, realized that no one would accept US dollars or credit, was unable to buy food or transportation to either sustain myself or withdraw money from an ATM, and understood that my lack of language skills would not bode as well there as it had boded in Western Europe. Two weeks earlier, my mentor at the International Center of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government had offered me funding to go to Romania for three weeks to research and serve as a cultural ambassador; prior to this trip, I was unable to point out Romania on a map, let alone speak Romanian or understand the culture. And, although the trip started out fairly poorly and forced me to unintentionally fast for the first day and a half, my trip to work at the Conflict Studies Center at FSPAC at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania would come to define my college career.

During my three weeks, I primarily worked on two projects. In my three weeks at the Conflict Studies Center at FSPAC at Babes-Bolyai University, I worked under Dr. Ciprian Sandu. In this capacity, I researched regional conflicts, and I wrote two conflict analysis articles for the Conflict Observer Project website. These articles related to al-Shabaab militancy in Somalia and northern Kenya and the repression of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province of China. Moreover, I served as a cultural ambassador to bridge UGA and Babes-Bolyai University. In this role, I attended the National Public Administration Conference of Romania and advised undergraduate students on their research. I also attended a forum on US-Romania ties and advocated for the strengthening of ties between UGA and the city of Cluj-Napoca.

But more importantly, I came to more fully understand my academic and personal interest in international affairs and minority rights. My three weeks discussing international affairs with Romanian college students and professors helped me expand my worldview and view geopolitical issues through the eyes of the residents on the ground. For instance, the intertwined histories of Romania and Russia have scarred the collective psyche of the Romanian people, but without talking to students and people in Romania, I would not have tangible knowledge of this. People’s stories, in fact, are far more powerful as a teacher than are books, and my internship at Babes-Bolyai University has shown me the importance of studying conflicts from the people who experience them firsthand. Moreover, by studying two prominent conflicts, I was able to learn more about the intersection of law and conflict, especially when it pertains to discrimination against minority groups. My three weeks in Romania taught me the importance of studying international affairs, especially from the perspectives of citizens of other countries, and of advocating on the behalf of minority rights for their own merit but also for the ability of non-discrimination to dissolve conflicts.

Without such a formative experience in my undergraduate career, I would still be unaware of the power and potential of an international affairs education. Without the financial support, professional development, and personal guidance of the University of Georgia, I would not have been able to intern in Romania with CVIOG. The beauty of the University of Georgia and the School of Public and International Affairs lies within its ability to shape the minds of its students both in Athens and abroad, and I am extremely grateful to both institutions in helping me realize my potential. Because of my experience in Romania with support from the University of Georgia, I will be interning in Nairobi, Kenya in legal advocacy this summer to do exactly what I realized I should be doing a year ago: utilizing my knowledge of international affairs to listen to others’ experiences in a foreign country and work with them to effectively advocate on their behalf.

Teaching the Government how to Govern

Writer: Elizabeth Holland

Nestled behind the ancient oaks on North Milledge Ave. is a building where much of the behind-the-scenes action of Georgia government takes place. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government (CVIOG) offers the Vinson Institute Fellows Program to undergraduate students at the University of Georgia, and I was selected as a fellow in the fall of 2015. The Institute of Government is home to the Governmental Training, Education and Development Division (GTED) along with several other departments. This division offers training programs to government officials to instruct them about the rules and responsibilities of their offices. Stacy Jones is the associate director for GTED and served as my faculty mentor during my fellowship. With her direction and advice, we combined my interests in communication, law and government service to develop a social media guide for local government officials.

In the United States, 74 percent of adults utilize social media platforms. In addition, many federal agencies, state offices and local governments maintain social media pages. We conducted a survey to identify the legal questions local government officials frequently raise and the questions on which they most desired additional information. Many of their questions concerned whether local government officials can restrict what government employees say on social media or punish them for their posts. They also had questions related to social media and hiring decisions.
I conducted an in-depth case review and interviewed communications professors and local government lawyers to learn more about whether supervisors can restrict public employees’ social media postings or check social media history when hiring. With the help of Ms. Jones, we created a video tutorial that local government officials can use to learn about their rights on social media. 

The Institute of Government provided me with an opportunity to combine all of my interests in a way that enabled me to produce work that would have a real, meaningful impact on Georgia government. This opportunity gave me the ability to use skills I learned from my classes in the School of Public and International Affairs and begin to explore the possible career paths I can pursue with my degree.

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