Studies On-The-Go

I’ve written before about how my study plan has to as flexible as my work schedule. My full-time work in the orchestra has some really busy periods and my moonlighting as a dance critic and journalist means that sometimes it’s really difficult to find the time to meet my weekly and monthly goals.
Autumn was a particularly busy time – Ireland has many arts festivals around this time of year, so I travelled all around the country to see dance shows. On top of that, the orchestra had a really busy period with performances and recordings, including playing live for the second Lord of the Rings movie.
And as if things weren’t busy enough, another orchestra, Camerata Ireland, invited me to travel to Chile and Argentina for four concerts over eight days in early October. Touring to foreign countries always appears glamorous, but the reality of constant travelling between airports, concert halls and hotels can be a bit of a drag. Nevertheless, Camerata Ireland is a great orchestra and I always take any opportunity to experience other cultures and perform in another countries.
Anticipating down-time, I brought some study materials, particularly for long journeys. Baggage allowances restricted my reading to printouts of journal articles and a couple of study guides, but on two 14-hour flights and a few coach trips, I did manage to delve into my foreign policy and nationalism studies.
The great thing about studying politics and international relations is how the everyday news impinges on your studies. When in Buenos Aires, a few of us headed off to a particularly good parrilla mentioned in a guidebook and soon found myself in the middle of a noisy – bordering on violent – demonstration about austerity measures. The atmosphere was tense, so we slipped away and took a detour, but it piqued my interest in Argentina’s domestic political situation.
Many hours later, in the more relaxed surroundings of a tango club, I spoke with locals about Argentinian politics, and while I didn’t have a lot of local knowledge I could relate to how they spoke about the tension between nationalism and globalism, and particularly how Argentina finds itself compared to the economically emerging Brazil. In spite of my broken Spanish, I found myself able to relate and understand their position, not just through personal understanding, but by recalling some readings on my courses. It wasn’t that I was boring them with quotations and fanciful theories, but I was merely drawing on my ever-increasing understanding of politics at a global level.
Sipping Malbec, chatting with tangueros and tangueras in Buenos Aires about Argentinian politics might seem a million miles away from my study plan, but it is exactly why I’m putting myself through the hard slog of studying and examinations. I didn’t start this course to necessarily change career (although any offers would be carefully considered!). I just wanted to gain some understanding of the shifting global political landscape that we all inhabit.
Next May, I’ll be writing carefully structured answers to exam questions that will judge how much I understand my courses. I’ve no problem with that system of evaluation and will endeavour to get as high a mark as possible. But for me, the ability to empathise and engage with the political realities of other cultures is what attracted me to pursue this degree.

Michael is studying BSc Politics & International Relations 

4 thoughts on “Studies On-The-Go

  1. Hmn. Perhaps your approach might answer the question I posed to myself yesterday while following the UN vote on an observer status for Palestine. I was wondering why all the thinking and academic research efforts have not contributed greatly to defining an acceptable meeting point for the two parties in the conflict. There is a lot of emotions certainly, but analyses of the narratives of both sides by academics hardly seem to influence change or policy.

    So, maybe there is a lot to be gained from not discussing the issues from a safe distance. That’s easy for me to say though. My course will not require me to brave the rockets and missiles for a solution.

    When you discount the travel boredom and delayed baggage woes though, it sounds like you lead a charmed life. I won’t mind drowning my worries in classical music myself. So, have fun with your studies on-the-go lifestyle , Michael. Happy to read your thoughts.

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  2. I understand how your course can give you a new approach to discussing particular issues, since you have the requisite understanding of global politics from an academic perspective.

    When I’m reading some areas of Public International Law, and listen to global news, I immediately search for the issue relevant to international law. Good read, Michael. Often, you have to engage discussion within yourself and with others as you study distance learning and “on-the-go.”

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  3. I suppose that my studies aren’t necessarily providing neat solutions to issues like the situation about Palestinian statehood, but helping me understand the reasons why it is such a thorny issue. Firstly, I’ve learnt that the international community exists in an anarchic system, in other words there is no overriding power or governance. It’s more or less Lesson One in International Relations: there is no world government to enforce rules and institutions like the UN can be pretty powerless on certain issues due to its makeup.

    Secondly, sovereignty is a slippery concept and there are many ways of looking at why a state is sovereign or not. In general, sovereignty (like the situation with Palestine) is granted by others rather than earned by the state themselves, ie the UN member states votes on whether Palestine is sovereign or not. If you want diplomatic recognition and consulates that can only come from recognition by other states. And there are lots of de facto inconsistencies. Is North Cyprus sovereign? Is Taiwan? If some states recognise another’s sovereignty, then is that enough. If not how much is enough? All states? Is Palestine now more or less sovereign because of the UN vote?

    As I said in the blog post, I wasn’t speaking from any great academic height when I was chatting with locals in Buenas Aires. But I (hopefully) had a better understanding of their political situation. My studies (and academia in general) couldn’t provide a solution for Argentina’s fiscal impasse (or Palestinian statehood). But hopefully it has provided me with more understanding of why there aren’t easy solutions.

    And yes, I’d love that academia could have more of an influence in day to day politics. Unfortunately another course Democratic Politics and The State, provided me with ample evidence why there are different influences (good and bad) in political decisions.

    Thanks for engaging in my blog post. I write these to just share my experience in balancing working life, fatherhood and whatever else life throws at me with my studies. Yes, I think I’m lucky to earn a living playing music (albeit a bit precarious in this economic climate) but I think that we all come to our studies with different life experiences and we are a unique community with so many backgrounds.

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