George Bernard Shaw said that “the power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” I went to an International Relations graduate program with the same mindset as many: a healthy desire to leave the world in a better place than I found it. Fast forward two years past graduation and I have nothing more than a part-time job at a bookstore to show for my effort. Like Mr. Shaw, I’ve become a bit cynical about the experience. I’ve come to some unsavory – yet accurate – stereotypes of my academic comrades-in-arms. Thus, without further ado, I present to you the six types of people you’ll meet in International Relations grad school:
The GI Bill Soldier that Slightly Freaks Everyone Out
They finished their service like, yesterday, and their muscles show it. Every time they raise a hand for a question, their tricep bulges and the pudgy liberal arts type sitting behind them has involuntary flashbacks to junior high swirlies.
Bonus points for sleeve tattoos of skulls and flags. Double bonus points for off-putting comments about Afghanistan. Will likely have a “high-and-tight” haircut. Always focusing on international security, and almost always the only Republican voice in class. Despite their odd ways, these are generally good, if not the brightest, guys. If you can deal with offhand comments about “that time I beat a guy’s head in with a hammer in Kandahar,” then you may have found yourself a study buddy. Semper Fi! Hooah! NRA!
The Wealthy-Yet-Cool Global Citizen
The passport says “developing nation,” but the style says “SoHo.” Their parents are rich as shit – well, the dad is. He’s probably a diplomat, in Big Oil, or the Interior Minister’s cousin. The mom is almost certainly a trophy wife, or at least homemaker (she’s from a Traditional Culture, after all).
Despite the usual surefire warning signs for “insufferable tool,” the Wealthy-Yet-Cool Global Citizen manages to avoid a bad attitude by way of being, well, a global citizen. They probably attended high school and undergrad in vastly different regions which, combined with their parent-funded wanderlust, led them to develop a genuine compassion for other cultures and classes. They make good conversation, they’re modest, and they’re fun to have around.
The Wealthy Global Citizen Who is Stuck-Up as Balls
The offshoot of the Wealthy-Yet-Cool Global Citizen is the global citizen who’s got a parental trust fund and doesn’t hesitate to show it. In contrast to the above, “cool” variety, the stuck-up type probably comes from a developed country, likely in Europe. Thus they hold themselves to a high, “French-Italian” standard of dress for class, as if they’re on the way to a discotheque instead of sitting in a sweaty plastic chair for two hours. And of course after class it’s straight to an actual disco. They’ve done their share of traveling, but mostly to Ibiza, and their idea of “wanderlust” involves banging a Mexican busboy on a Cancun spring break.
These students generally aren’t driven by what you’d call a passion for changing the world. Rather, given their propensity for style over substance – in this case, dressing well and having an impressive title – the bastards are drawn to international diplomacy and the United Nations system. After all, these organizations being bureaucratic, impotent circle-jerks does not make a pinstriped Tom Ford suit and a name tag saying “Adviser from France” any less ego-stroking.
Seriously, just stop by the United Nations cafeteria at lunchtime and listen to the chorus of these modern Mother Teresas discussing happy hour plans. Changing the world, one Appletini at a time. Barf.
The Left-Wing Feminist
Inserts into every discussion phrases like “intersectionality,” “neocolonialism,” and “privilege.” They’re probably studying economic development, in which case of course these pseudo-Sapphic scholars are focusing on women’s development in Africa. When it comes to debates, consensus, consmenshus; If you don’t yield to their world-systems theory/Marxist/anti-globalization assertions, you’ll be labeled as “missing the point” and any number of “-isms” are implicated your way.
They are way too into yoga and go all in with the whole Indian, eastern spirituality thing. (Bonus points if they mention “Kabbalah” without irony.) Their greatest goal is to travel to Tibet, and if they’ve already gone, they’ll work it into every conversation. Depending on the severity of the stereotype, they may not shave their armpits, but they will always shave their legs (really sticking it to gender roles there).
Nevertheless, in one in four cases, the Left-Wing Feminist is in fact a guy, which makes them all the more insufferable. And despite their Marxist, pro-“little guy”(er, “gal”) leanings, the LWF has ironically always favored Hillary over Bernie. I think we might wager a guess that it wasn’t because of policy differences.
I’ll sum up the type with an anecdote. Your correspondent once heard an LWF make the following assertion: “I know we should replace capitalism, I just don’t know what we should replace it with.” Take a moment to consider this statement. It’s like an onion of stupidity: you can just keep peeling at it and discovering new layers of idiocy. In any case, I’m sure replacing capitalism will be first on the agenda when Hillary gets elected.
The Stressed American Who Came Straight from Undergrad
The few non-global citizens in any IR grad program probably worked their world-saving butt off to get there. When your parents aren’t connected, you need old-fashioned elbow grease to succeed. And when your parents aren’t rich, you’ve got to pay for school somehow. The only choices are a maddening amount of jobs or an equally-maddening amount of student loans. Either way, the Straight-from-Undergrad American is probably in a constant state of caffeinated anxiety. You can pick them out of a crowd by the telltale jittery flop sweat and the uniform for their after-school job poking out from under their sweater.
Unfortunately, these are the types most likely to finish grad school and end up in unrelated part-time jobs (*cough cough*) as the years spent unsuccessfully job-hunting spool out like toilet paper on a spinning roll. Why do they find it so difficult to get a job? Because all the types listed above have already seized them via networking, and who’s got time to network when you’re going right from the library to a shift at the bagel shop?
The Career-Changing American Who May or May Not Be In Over Their Head
Each of the previous five types had more or less familiarized themselves with the field of International Relations since undergrad, developing a healthy dose of cynicism regarding their prospects of actually changing the world. In contrast, the American (and it is always an American) who decides, mid-career, to spontaneously educate themselves in IR is in for a rough ride. They’re probably not worried about paying for the program like the Straight-from-Undergrad type, given that the career they’re coming from is invariably law or finance (although I once met a coke-fiend former Hollywood executive who recently discovered his humanity). So they don’t have a financial burden to bear. But they do have an ideological barrier to surmount: not having studied – or experienced – the nitty gritty corruption of developing nations, the Career-Changer always comes to the program with a bit too much idealism and not enough realism as to how they can make a difference.
Nevertheless, in many cases, the Career-Changer is actually able to make the biggest difference in comparison to the other five. They’re old and wise enough to know that government diplomats and UN workers accomplish exactly nothing, so their priority upon graduation is instead using their knowledge of the private sector to get involved in efficient NGO work. And I’ll be damned if I haven’t met more than a few successful ones.
So, although George Bernard Shaw recommends a bit of cynicism, perhaps fill-tilt condemnation of IR is unwarranted. Maybe I’ll have an even more nuanced perspective when I find my own job in the field. I’ll let you know when I get there. In the meantime, welcome to Barnes and Noble! Can I interest you in the latest Tom Clancy?