by Caroline Gustavson

Deciding upon a school for my college career was extremely difficult even though I knew I wanted to be an International Affairs major. I had contradicting opinions from my family members with regard to which university I should attend, but I knew that I had to do what was best for me. I remember seeing UGA had a program called SPIA, so I investigated it more. It soon caught my attention, and I began to pitch the idea of being a SPIA student to my family.

My mom was completely supportive of my decision, however, my cousin was not sold on the idea. My cousin’s impression of UGA was just another large public university with no specific interest in the students. I took her words into account, but at the end of the day, I decided on UGA, enlisting as a SPIA major. When I first started taking classes, I still did not really maintain a great idea of what SPIA actually was because I was getting my electives out of the way. I started to fear that my cousin was right, because so far I was only in big lecture halls. All of this soon changed as I began taking my SPIA courses.

Immediately, my classes got considerably smaller and much more engaging. Once in my International Affairs classes, the largest one I had was about thirty people. Not only was I able to form meaningful relationships with my professors, but I had the ability to voice my opinion and take part of important debates. This is one of the many things I have to thank SPIA for. My classes within the School have given me a platform to represent my ideas and what I believe in without the fear of being judged or reprimanded. My ability to think critically vastly improved because of the great debates cultivated in my classes. After taking fascinating courses such as Terrorism, Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict, and classes focused on Middle East relations, my passion for SPIA only grew.

SPIA is considerably small compared to other colleges at UGA, and many students still do not know about its existence. I knew that I wanted to change that, so I got involved whenever I could. It became more apparent to me that SPIA was more like a small community than anything. I have met some of my best friends from SPIA and have enjoyed all the opportunities it has provided me with.

Now a junior at UGA, I cannot imagine having gone anywhere else. I have SPIA to thank for this. I have fostered my passion for international relations while having fun and meeting some of the most amazing people along the way. Because of my SPIA major, I am involved in so many more organizations than I could have imagined, and I feel as if I can actually make a difference. My classes have developed my understanding of the world and my understanding of my own beliefs and values with regard to world politics. Whenever I see my family around the holidays, I always have the urge to tell my cousin, “told you so.” I guess the lesson I want future students to take from my experience is to do what you believe is best for you, and I promise, it will lead you to wonderful memories and opportunities, just as SPIA has done for me.