Karin Polak Soweid '94
I was born and raised in New Hampshire, yet when my acceptance letter arrived informing me of my acceptance to the University of New Hampshire’s College of Liberal Arts, a faint whisper in my head told me that I was being accepted into an exciting new community that would change my life. Shortly after beginning my first year with an undeclared major, I met a sophomore in the dorm who offered me some insight and wisdom. She explained to me the IA dual major concept, the various required and elective courses, the coursework involved and the study abroad component. I still recall what a profound moment of discovery this was for me. It was as if a light went on in my head and has since never been extinguished.
My junior year study abroad experience in Paris was the first time I had ever travelled, lived, and studied overseas. It was a transformational experience for me as it offered my first glimpse of a world outside the home and college community I knew and understood. Besides living with a host family and attempting to master course material and the French language, I was also challenged to understand myself as someone who inhabits a larger world. I experienced first-hand the highs and the lows of living overseas, the challenges and benefits of that process. The language, learning and life skills I learned abroad continue to be useful in my daily personal and work life. Most importantly, I learned that feeling foreign is an attitude that can be overcome when we make efforts to appreciate and value one another.
Upon my return from my study abroad experience, I became even more intentional about pursuing a life and a career overseas by researching positions, internships and graduate programs that would further leverage my ability to establish a career path in the international arena. Undeniably, my experience as an IA dual major at UNH set me on a path to many goals and achievements, including national service (VISTA) and a Master’s degree in International Administration (Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver).
I have since lived and worked in areas of the Middle East and Africa where Arabic and French are spoken, and now, married to a Lebanese man, reside in Beirut, Lebanon. I currently work for an educational management company called SABIS®Educational Services, which oversees a network of 41 member K-12 schools in 14 countries. As Senior Human Resources Analyst, I research and implement organizational solutions in order to streamline processes such as recruitment, performance management, compensation analysis, between global locations.
I have met many people in my travels, work and personal life who have been surprised to know that I was born and raised in New Hampshire to a family that did not live an international lifestyle. I am able to explain the linkages that are now woven into the mosaic of my life, the origins of which can be traced to the IA dual major program at UNH; IA provided the foundation I needed to get started on a path to my career and the life I now lead.
My advice for current IA majors is to go for it, the sky is the limit! Stay focused on your goals and try not to be discouraged by what may seem to be, from the outside, a small and competitive environment. Be willing to volunteer and to work hard. Enjoy the ups and downs and learn from them. There is undeniable freedom and opportunity in being challenged to understand yourself in relation to other cultures and contexts. Your willingness to engage and learn from these experiences is what can and will set you apart from others.
I feel it is essential that students of international studies understand that their knowledge, skills and abilities will be valued in various sectors and will translate into real, important, and viable career options. They have the training and ability to build bridges between cultures, to think critically about how to minimize the gap that exists between those with resources and the poor, to encourage distribution of wealth, and to assist with real development issues facing more than half of the world.
Before closing, I must tell you how much I appreciate all that you have done to establish the IA dual major at UNH and to ensure that it remains highlighted on the academic map. It may sound cliché at this point to mention how fundamental and essential IA studies are in a world that grows smaller and more interconnected each day. It cannot be taken for granted that the media or the internet are substitutes for comprehensive, integrated and focused coursework combined with internship, language study and cultural immersion offered by the IA dual major program. Knowledge replaces fear and we live in a world that is in desperate need of the former rather than the latter.