In the past few years, as my millennial generation has entered college, global and international studies have started to creep onto the list of the ten most popular majors, a list that historically hasn’t changed much. I’m a High School senior, and at a couple of the universities I’ve looked into, Admissions Officers have mentioned that it’s become a top choice – if not the top choice – among applicants as a major field of study. Even small liberal arts schools are recognizing its importance and appeal with international study institutes of their own. Since this is my area of interest too, I’ve been doing some thinking about why this field is so popular right now.
We seem to have a new sense of geography. Unlike the generation of my parents, my generation comes out of a truly multi-ethnic culture. Within my relatively close social circle, I can quickly think of friends whose parents come from Mexico, Israel, Iran, Brazil, Russia, Uruguay, Korea – and I'm sure there are many more. Being a first generation American, if not an immigrant, is so commonplace that it seldom comes up in conversation. And this is just in the environment of a private school. For my friends in the Los Angeles public schools, the situation is even more extreme. In comparison, my parents tell me that, growing up, they knew few, if any, kids with backgrounds substantially different than theirs. And, unlike a generation ago, many of my friends have actually lived in and/or travel frequently to their parents’ home countries.
This may be one contributor to — or reflection of — my generation’s focus on international studies and much greater tendency to study and travel abroad than in the past. The number of college students that study abroad has had a five fold increase since 1986. Whether we’re studying international business, language, culture, or technology, we’re getting a lot of exposure to other cultures, and we see the differences...and similarities.
I had the opportunity to study for a semester in Israel. My last meal there was a falafel sandwich on a busy street in Jerusalem. The square was teeming with an array of Israelis. Hassidic families hustled past salesmen in the window of the fashionable Diesel store. People on cell phones, Russian-speaking school kids, schwarma chefs and jewelry vendors were in the mix, too, along with an American girl from Los Angeles. I fit in and belonged there, I realized, as much as anyone else did. In order to be at home in Jerusalem, I didn’t need to join an already unified culture. It’s a culture of multiple perspectives, just like my home in Los Angeles.
Everyone complains about the sprawl of Los Angeles, but I see it as just the opposite. My Los Angeles is a crossroads where everything, and all kinds of people, come together. In this Los Angeles, the wonderful Persian tradition of expansive hospitality, combined with the urge of all immigrants to adopt American customs, dictates, for example, open cappuccino buffets for Halloween trick-or-treaters. At the city’s Youth Council, I work in another L.A.: one where students worry about getting shot and sixteen-year-olds drop out to clean houses. I used to love a now-closed restaurant called, appropriately, Crossroads. The food was Israeli, but many of the customers were Latino laborers. The owner spoke to them in Spanish, but the customers knew the menu, and I wasn’t that surprised when someone answered with a few words of Hebrew.
So, it makes sense that my generation sees the whole world as its field of study. Many of us come from or have experienced places that – like L.A. – are intersections where we’ve learned to integrate our own experiences and values into a mix of disparate cultures, languages, goals, and people. Our computers feed us second-by-second updates on the world’s diplomatic challenges. We know there are problems that simply must be fixed. At my school, and probably at many others, the Community Service Fair is the most popular event of the school year. When we go to a concert, it’s often a benefit for a cause that we may also post on the ‘Causes’ tab of our Facebook page.
The urge to change global conditions makes the field of international relations both a potential career and a pursuit of a personal passion. In an article about trends in "hot majors", Paul LePore, an assistant dean at the University of Washington, told the Seattle Times about the increasing desire of incoming students to "do social good", even though “There isn’t a ‘change the world’ major.” But as I look at the world, it seems like international studies is a pretty good place to start.
Abigail Zwick is a High School senior in Los Angeles.