International & Intercultural Studies
Laura Cantekin, '08
Graduate Program: Columbia University,
Teachers College - Peace Education
In recognition of the unprecedented dimensions of issues of security, war and peace, human rights and global justice, and sustainable development in a world of violent conflict, the program in International Educational Development (Department of International and Transcultural Studies) offers a degree concentration in Peace Education. Peace Education is primarily concerned with addressing direct, structural & cultural violence through the transformation of pedagogy, curriculum, and policy related to education in both formal and non-formal contexts. Through the concentration, students are provided with a conceptual understanding of issues related to peace and human rights, as well as practical skills in curriculum development.
I have been interning for the Women’s Empowerment Institute of Cameroon (WEICAM) since June 2008. I found the organization on idealist.org and applied as a volunteer. WEICAM is a local women’s organization which focuses on legal rights education and economic empowerment programs for the Kumbo community in Bui Division. My main responsibilities were to coordinate the youth legal rights training program, the agricultural cooperatives program, and write grant proposals under the guidance and vision of our Director who is from Kumbo. As the organization is only two years old and funding is unreliable WEICAM staff, including the director, are all volunteers. This experience has allowed me to gain better insight into the women’s movements in Cameroon, the issues facing local NGOs here and the effectiveness of participatory community development. It has also left me interested in the process of successful capacity building and how the relationship between local NGOs and national and international donors can be modified to better empower grassroots initiatives for development and social change.
After trying out coaching soccer, housekeeping, and substitute teaching, I fell into an internship with a fantastic organization and am now Western Regional Organizer for Bread for the World. We work with the grassroots to help them use their voice on behalf of poor and hungry people – both in the United States and world-wide – by speaking up to their members of Congress about hunger and poverty legislation. Advocacy is an important and necessary part in the fight against hunger because it can address needed systemic changes. Feel free to call, I’m always interested to talk.
On November 9th, my friend Yasmeen forwarded to me an email from the U.S. Embassy in Paris, regarding two “Cote d’Ivoire” demonstrations that would be held on November 11th at Place Victor Hugo, with the warning: “American citizens are…urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.” I thought to myself, okay, so I’m not an American, why is she sending me this? I didn’t really think much about it and closed the email. It couldn’t have been a few hours later when she called me and asked, “Did you get my email? Are you going?”
You have to understand, I was never an activist at Pitzer. Surely, I had numerous friends there who actively partook in demonstrations and awareness weeks, and I sympathized with the minorities and the women and the countries that were being oppressed in the books and articles from class. I understood the concepts and the theories, but I wasn’t about to throw myself into danger. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have gone had my friend not sounded as enthusiastic as she did. “Yeah okay, I’m going.”
I always imagined demonstrations to be violent, with people looting and the police with their K-9 buddies hosing down or arresting the peaceful demonstrators with tear gas and batons. There would be the news crew with their cameras and their colorful armbands marked MEDIA, photographing images for 8 o’clock news, and massive chaos everywhere.
How faulty my imagination proved to be. I cannot even put into words how large and powerful the world seemed to me that day; and perhaps I shouldn’t. All I can say is that in one afternoon, all of the problems I had encountered in adjusting to life in Paris seemed to disappear.
In my experiences so far, I realize that AGS is what I make of it. The administration has been wonderful. The professors are extremely resourceful. If anything, the students have helped me the most in adjusting to the school and to Paris. For instance, the Student Association at AGS recently put together a fieldtrip to The Hague to visit the Peace Palace, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, and we had the opportunity to have a discussion with a judge from the ICC. I have heard of previous trips to the N.A.T.O. and to U.N.E.S.C.O. The proximity of all these institutions to the school and to the field of International Relations is phenomenal.
At the same time, graduate school, for me, is not just what I learn in my coursework, but how I learn it. I can choose to come to Paris, refuse to speak one word of French, go to class every day, defend my thesis, and graduate with Honors. There is nothing wrong with that, it is your choosing; and perhaps there are students who do that. The problem, I find, is that I can just as easily do the same thing in an institution in the United States, minus the burden of the language barrier, minus the exchange rates, minus the headaches associated with the French system. I think what sets this school apart from other institutions is that it allows a diverse group of English speaking students (with varying degrees of French proficiency), to come together in Paris and not only do research for their theses, but also have the experience of being a foreigner. This feeling is very different from your typical vacation to Prague. I’ve found that if you are willing to step outside your domain of comfort and you force yourself to live and assimilate in an unfamiliar or foreign setting, you become aware of your own strengths and limitations, and you begin to connect concepts from the classes with your real life experiences.
When I review the pictures from the demonstration, I realize that an element is lost in the process of flattening the world onto a small glossy piece of photo quality paper. While the photographs of protesters with their signs and placards provoke some sort of emotion, it is as though these feelings are objective, much like the pictures I see in an encyclopedia. Yet every day, when I step out of my apartment, I become subjectively reminded of the fact that I am a foreigner, and each day, I become exposed to a new experience that forces me to rethink and revise my conceptions of the world around me.
This, to me, highlights the education I am receiving from AGS.
Here is the web information for the school I am currently attending:
My website is:
After graduating from Pitzer in 2000, I really thought I was done with school forever. I participated in the Pitzer program abroad in Ecuador during my junior year and my experience in there, living with a host family and taking classes at the university, really allowed me to learn Spanish and become fluent. I learned so much from being abroad and felt the experience was so life altering that I developed a passion for traveling. Natural progression led me to big plans to start a career in the study abroad field at a university or college. Unfortunately I was told that I needed a master's degree just to get my foot in the door since the field is very competitive.
Which brings me to where I am currently studying for my master's in International Policy Studies- specialization in Nonprofit Management and International Organizations, at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in Monterey, CA. As part of my program I did an internship with the Institute of International Education this past summer in San Francisco helping out with the Fulbright Scholarship and the Fulbright Memorial Fund - a program to send American teachers to Japan for 3 weeks to experience Japan's educational system. I will be graduating in May 2005 and will be attending the NAFSA conference with the hopes of making some connections and starting my career in the study abroad field.
Current contact info: