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Regional Focus in IR


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I recently received my B.A. in Political Science and am wanting to attend grad school to study international relations.  However, I am wanting to take the next year or so to work on developing my language skills and gaining experience living abroad prior to applying.  My dilemma at the moment is about which region/language I should focus on.  I am primarily debating between Russia/Eastern Europe/Central Asia and the Middle East.  I have some language experience in Russian and Hebrew, and I would enjoy learning Arabic at some point as well.  Does anyone know if either region is more desirable/beneficial than the other in terms of attending grad school and potentially in working in diplomacy or intelligence analysis in the future?

Thanks!

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Which region interests you the most? Selecting which region to focus on based on its desirability to admissions committees is getting it backwards -- you attend grad school for a few years, but your career is decades. 

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  • 1 month later...

I'd recommend going with whatever region/language is most interesting to you, both because it'll make your time abroad more enjoyable and because you'll learn more if you're happy in the region. As someone who spent 5 years studying Arabic, I can say that the Middle East/North Africa is a really cool region to study in (I especially love Morocco, but I've also lived in Oman and Jordan and liked living there too), and I find Arabic to be a really fun language to learn (it's super pretty and very different than English, which is a cool challenge). It is one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn, so keep that in mind if you're not naturally good at languages. But that does mean that if you learn it successfully, it can be useful both for grad school applications and for certain international jobs. Hope this helps a bit, and let me know if you have any questions about learning Arabic or living in the Middle East! 

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Little different take from the posters above me.. 

You can certainly apply learnings from one region to another and it's very probable that what you study tomorrow looks nothing like what you're doing 10 years down the road. However, you will need a job after you graduate. Among a variety of factors, how you position yourself will be crucial for your first job when you graduate from whatever program you choose.  

Both regions and languages you mentioned are smart choices for a career in diplomacy/intelligence. The US government has several scholarships and fellowships, see Boren and CLS, that should give perspective graduate students an idea of what languages and countries are priorities. 

For anyone considering a regional focus, I would suggest following the money. For example, if you were interested in development, look at where USAID/WB money is going, in terms of region and topic. Also, I know this sounds very cliche coming from a SAIS grad, but think about supply and demand. Is there a large demand for IR graduates who focused on X topic in Y region? 

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