When people ask me what I majored in while in college, the conversation is the same every single time. It goes like this:

“So, what’s your major?”

“International Studies”

This is followed by a disappointed sounding “Oh…uhm…what can you do with that?”

To most people “International Studies” sounds a whole lot like “Liberal Arts.” No one can understand why someone would want to study something where there isn’t a defined job that goes along with the title. Today, I am here to tell you why I chose International Studies and what my degree is about.

Flags...it's really about collecting flags.
Flags…it’s really about collecting flags.

First off, my goal in life up until the age of 18 was not to go galavanting around the world. My entire life up until that point, I wanted to be a scientist. I was (and still am) incredibly nerdy. Specifically, I wanted to go into forensic chemistry. My mom and aunt work at a national lab and I was always involved in the science world. I really loved it, and still do even if it is a long shot from where I ended up.

Now, for most people, changing your mind about what you want to do for the rest of your life at age 18 isn’t a big deal. You’re barely out of high school, and most people don’t have it figured out until after a few years of college. But, for me, it was pretty major. At 18, I had already gone through two years of college. I was already in the midst of preparing myself to transfer to another university in order to complete my degree.

So what happened? Calculus. I hate math. I always have, even if I always pulled good grades. I had the worst teacher in the world for calculus though, and she ruined it for me forever. This woman at one point even told me that I must need help from the special services department for my disability. What was my disability? I couldn’t do 20 calculus problems in the 5 minutes she left at the end of each class for our quizzes. We’ll just top it off with the fact that it was Valentine’s Day she told me this…in front of the class. Crying ensued. After that incident, I studied calculus for 8 hours a day for the rest of the quarter, and I pulled my grade up from an D to an A-. Even if it was a glorious success, I decided the moment I got my final grade that it was enough. I refused to take math ever again.

I am 98% sure I have seen this exact problem on a math quiz.
I am 98% sure I have seen this exact problem on a math quiz.

Hence, my plans for forensic chemistry went down the tubes since I needed a couple more levels of math for anything related. I was lost. I had no idea what to do with my life. I had been studying science for forever, and it was suddenly it was not an option. Even though I was disappointed, I never felt like I gave up on my dream. I knew my path had to be something different and I chose to pursue it instead.

So, I thought about everything I liked besides science: Spanish came up first, but if you just get a Spanish degree, you are fairly limited to teaching, so I knew that would have to be just an addition. Writing came up next, but I was not about to get an English degree (again, limited to mainly teaching), and I have never really liked the restrictive properties of journalism. I also liked history and geography, but I couldn’t see myself in either of those majors. Sociology and Psychology interested me as well, as they are more in line with the science degree I had been pursuing before, but again, I didn’t feel as though it was a perfect fit for me. It was really by chance that one day I was looking at universities close to home that I found the international studies major at the University of Idaho.

Go Vandals! Woo!
Go Vandals! Woo!

It was everything I wanted: language, history, geography, politics, anthropology, sociology, psychology…practically all of the social sciences rolled into one neat little package. There was a bonus to the major as well: I would have to study abroad. Can you say destiny?

So, what can I do with my major? A lot of things. The way that the major was designed at my university is that I have 3 specializations: Language, Region, and Issue. Mine are  Spanish, Latin America, and global resources and development. The first two are fairly self-explanatory, but the third one is what makes all the difference. Global resources and development prepared me to be able to work on development projects around the world through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the United Nations, or other organizations such as the Peace Corps.

The title for my thesis was Exploring Renewable Energy Alternatives to Protect the Patagonian Region in Chile and Argentina in which I was actually able to use my previous science background to write! I also, in my last semester, worked on a project proposal entitled Implementing a Sewage Treatment, Pollution Education, and Health Program in the El Alto Region of Lake Titicaca.

As fun as that must sound, development projects are the core of society. Development is the process of changing for the betterment of a community. On a local rather than an international scale, most cities have a development committee or sector that aids in planning projects for the continued growth and betterment.

The degree does not limit me to this though! Due to my spanish background, I could teach spanish, or english as a second language if I wanted. I could also work as a translator or interpreter if I get the certifications. I can work in business, administration, human resources…just about anything that you can think of, I could potentially be able to work in. Really, my job market is more open than most peoples’. My issue at this point in time with mainly lies in my visa.

My goal now, is to eventually apply for my post-grad in something along the lines of a masters in human rights, international development or security, law school for international law, or something along those lines. My dream school for this: The Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. They have the perfect programs, and I can get a law degree in conjunction with my masters. Alas, money and location are currently my issues, but one day I will get there. There is even a faint possibility of trying to get my master’s degree in Chile, but more research and money will definitely be required before that happens.

Hopefully this explains a bit about the major and ends the questions as to what I can do. Anything I put my mind to! That’s the answer. Anyone else out there with a degree they find hard to explain to people? Someone who changed their major radically like I did? I would love to hear your stories.

¿Quieres leer esta entrada en español? Haz click aquí.