Enjoy while it lasts!

The busy last weeks of the term have made me think about two pieces of advice. First, schedule your work. Getting the most out of the teaching depends on scheduling your readings and assignments, but it also enables you to have a (degree of) social life. That is where the second piece of advice comes in: have a bucket list. With that, especially a shared one with friends, you ensure that when you are not studying you actually leave your flat and the newest episode of House of Cards and get something in return for paying rent in central London.

To be sure, it feels like we just started our second term and had plenty of time to schedule, plan and complete our different assignments by the end of term. And yet, a quick look at any social media platform last week revealed many of us staying late hours at Maughan library battling against the old archenemy – the maximum word count. Having spent most of my evenings in the library for the past two weeks, I have to say that as long as you reserve enough time for the process, it can be very enjoyable. Moreover, in our Global Politics module we were tasked to set up our own research question based on our own interests. Now that the work is done, if anyone is keen on the Chinese naval modernization (War and Global Conflict- module), the future of the Arctic region (Global Politics- module) or the utility of military force as a tool of statecraft (Statecraft, War and Diplomacy- module), I am always up for a chat!

Longing out from the library

Longing out from the Maughan library

The other big thing occupying everyone’s time has been the module allocation process for our final year. Ranging from ‘Ancient Warfare’ to ‘Nature of Riots’ and ‘Political Economy of the Middle East’, putting twelve options down from 38 in order of preference was not an easy task. Eventually we would get one regional specialization (I chose ‘Russia in the 21st century’) as well as two other taught modules while the dissertation module would be based on independent study and regular meetings with a personal tutor. Perhaps something that I have learned this term is useful to share here: be proactive in asking for help from those who have been in the department longer than you. While the seminar tutors or your personal tutor cannot obviously give feedback on the exact content of your essay, they are always happy to discuss the general structure or point you towards useful readings.

In the end, despite all the papers and presentations, those are not the things I will remember from this term. Instead, I will remember the amazing event we organised together with three different King’s societies regarding the perceived Clash of Civilizations between Muslims and Christians in Europe, the talk by UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in RUSI, the end of term social in a German beer garden and the charity concert where three friends of mine were singing. Books and articles are there whenever you need them, but for the really important things, you only got three short years.

Celebrating the end of term with a duck burger

Celebrating the end of term with a duck burger in South Bank

The end in sight?

The first month of the term has been a busy one. After the usual back-to-university shock of the first few weeks – how did I ever manage to do so much reading per week last term – there were several exciting things happening at the same time. It felt as if the whole university had decided to jump past the couple of cold months ahead and focus on summer instead.

First, our professors in different modules started making references to possible dissertation topics. Second, some of the seminar leaders have taken a habit of constantly mentioning some third year optional modules, which we “might want to take” next year. Third, the career service is now occupying a sizeable chunk of our department’s weekly student newsletter with information on different events and summer opportunities. To be sure, the recent email about the summer programme in South Korea certainly caught my eye. Too bad us students are still expected to finish some 10,000–15,000 words of essays (depending on which modules you picked for this term) before we can seriously think about summer.

Alongside our lectures, the busy feeling is partly due to the diversity of other activities available around the campus and in London. The impressive set of exciting events on European politics organised by the King’s European Society two weeks ago filled every single evening of that particular week. Not that I am complaining, considering my field of studies, knowing the Secretary General of the European External Action Service – EEAS (a kind of Foreign Office for the European Union) is not exactly a disadvantage.

Sometimes these extra-curricular activities can have an even more direct impact on your studies. The other week, I was fortunate enough to attend a discussion about the relevance of ambassadors by two British diplomats in Chatham House using my King’s credentials. It goes without saying that my presentation on the very same topic in a seminar for Statecraft and Diplomacy – module the same evening greatly benefited from the experience. A similar opportunity this week, this time run by the Royal African Society, on the prospects of the year 2015 for Africa was a useful supplement for the regional lectures in our Global Politics module. You thought Ebola has affected Africa? Think again.

Given the recent info session we had regarding our module options next year, a few words about the final year are in order. Out of the four full-year modules we will have, one whole module will be writing the dissertation itself. Another one will go to the regional specialisation option and the last two can be selected from some 30 (!) options. Do I know the options? Not yet, but I will definitely express my frustration here when I get the details and start the tough job of narrowing it down to two!

Late night essay writing

Late night essay writing for Statecraft and Diplomacy module on the relevance of ambassadors and overseas diplomatic missions

Late night walk back from the library - or somewhere else, crossing the Waterloo bridge is always worth it!

Late night walk back from the library – or from somewhere else – crossing the Waterloo bridge is always worth it

Halfway There

The last week of the term is always a challenge. Finishing the last bits of coursework in time occupies everyone except the exceptional few who submitted their assignments long before most had started writing them. At the same time, it is easy to overlook the readings for the lectures and seminars. This week was an interesting mix of cyber warfare, ethical foreign policy and the use of propaganda. Moreover, we got our last taster lecture of the regional specialisation modules for the third year. Having already covered Europe, Middle East, South Asia and East Asia, now the topic was the Americas. Now that we have seen all the available options, we have until February to make up our minds. The decision is an important one, as it will determine the focus area of our dissertations for the final year.

Alongside the academic modules, this time I also finished an extra-curricular one. For the past 10 weeks, I had taken part in an optional module called King’s Leadership and Professional Skills Award. The module is open for all King’s students, providing that your application is approved, and is organised by the Career Service together with various employers. The module consists of 10 sessions covering topics such as networking skills, effective communication and interviewing techniques, from which you can choose five. Additionally, everyone taking the module is required to undertake a leadership activity as well as reflect the sessions in writing. Presentation and interview skills sessions are assessed through mock presentation and interview of course. For me, the best feature of the program was the fact that every session was run by a different employer giving me a chance to talk to people from Metropolitan Police to TeachFirst and hear about their graduate programs in person.

If committing yourself to one extra module sounds too demanding, the different career events organised by the Career Service offer a less time consuming way to prepare yourself for the professional life during your studies. The events this term have covered “spotlight sessions” with specific sectors such as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Security and Consultancy but also more general advice on getting and internship or making applications. Looking ahead t0 2015, the term will start with spotlight sessions on Think Tanks, European and International Policy and Defence Analysis – and all this during the first month.

Thanks to the international outlook of my course, the last week of the term also means not seeing anyone for a couple of weeks as most of us, including me, leave London for Christmas. Unsurprisingly, it must have been the busiest week in terms of socializing so far, there was something happening every evening. Don’t get me wrong, it only made the week better.

I hope the last four blogs have answered some of your questions about studying IR in King’s. If there are gaps, please let me know and I can take care of them next term. Until then, merry Christmas!

Strolling the South Bank

Strolling the South Bank

Life is serious

View from the flat

View from the flat

The Balancing Act

Studying International Relations makes one see the world in a new way. For someone who has lived most of his life in the Northern corner of Europe, the South Asian regional particularities never deserved close attention. Headlines of Finnish casualties in Afghanistan, an American drone strike in Pakistan or an election result in India were always unique, disconnected events. During the past two weeks, however, the different modules have overlapped to the extent that I can no longer perceive any of these events separate from one another and the regional context. Such is the power of studying.

In practise, studying means reading. For understanding every conflict, dispute and disagreement, there is always a host of competing explanations. While absorbing information and making up your mind on Kashmir insurgency, Indian naval development or the question of Tibet, it is easy to forget the other side of life in London. With all that this city has to offer for a curious mind, this is of course simply unaffordable.

Depending on your interests, you can choose from 260 existing university based societies or find a group of like-minded students to establish your own. Alternatively, whether it is a passion for shawarma or Jazz, there is probably nothing you cannot find from the city itself. Other than enjoying improvisation theatre or hunting second-hand books, I personally wanted to do something that has an impact. Being elected as Vice-Chair of the Young European Movement London, I feel I can contribute to the discussion of UK’s place in Europe and its role in the European Union.

However much it might feel so a night before an essay deadline or a big event about federalism, that is not the whole story. Having lived here for over a year already (and being somewhat over-social for a Finn), many of the highlights have nothing to do with the degree or volunteering. Instead, the highlights of many or most of the weeks are the people that have appeared in my life. It is the people you can enjoy your first ever thanksgiving dinner with, or a 3am traffic jam at Oxford Circus after a night out. Christmas time is especially notorious for all its social obligations. Looking at my calendar for the last two weeks of the term, one can see much more ice skating, Christmas markets, fondue nights, Stammtisch, and other end of the year happenings than academic talks.

xmas tree tgiving

Finally, since London is a hugely popular destination for travel, it is not rare at all to have a friend or a family member visiting over. If perhaps detrimental for the core readings for that particular week, it does offer a perfect excuse to go and eat out even more than usually (and on a budget if it is a family member) and see places that you might not dare go to on your own. The feeling when you can tell the direction of the traffic to your guest without looking at the arrow painted on the ground? Yep, you may call London your home.


International Relations program at King’s

From system to unit level, what is the King’s IR program all about?

Looking for the right BA program can be overwhelming because there are so many options available. At least it did for me. In fact, I started by scrolling UK universities in an alphabetical order. After getting as far as the letter c, I started seriously questioning my methods. Focusing on universities with some name in the field turned out much more sensible strategy, for example, the Department of War studies in King’s has more International Relations scholars than any other department in the UK.

For me, the decisive element in choosing the King’s IR program was its in-built flexibility. Students take the identical set of modules only in their first year and after that everyone is not just encouraged but also expected to focus on topics of their professional and academic interests. In our second and third year, we can choose most of our modules ourselves.

Reflecting the inter-disciplinary nature of international relations in practise, the IR program is actually a joint-effort by Departments of War Studies, European and International Studies and Political Economy, which ensures a wide range of module options. In our third year, when we choose our regional specialization, the King’s Global Institutes play a major role in running the so-called area studies.

For me, deciding between modules would have been substantially more difficult unless we had had the mandatory ones last year. The first-year modules in international history, international economics, international relations theory, and in conflict and security studies, together gave a good understanding of the different dimensions of the contemporary international relations. For someone who is not particularly keen on international economic relationships or political theory, this was particularly useful. First, it gave me insight on topics that I would not have otherwise studied in detail. Indeed, both theoretical frameworks and economic relationships are crucial in understanding policy makers’ decisions and state behaviour. Second, it helped me discover my interest areas even more firmly -thus helping me to choose my second year modules.

TLibrary dayo illustrate this in practise, I explain briefly the modules I am currently taking. In fact, I believe I managed to construct a nice set of mutually supporting elements (Also just a view of one of our magnificient libraries)

The Foreign Policy Analysis- module asks who does foreign policy and how foreign policy objectives come about. The Statecraft and Diplomacy- module looks at how states and other actors interact with each other and what tools, ranging from appeasement to gunboat diplomacy, they use in pursuing their objectives. The War and Global Conflict- module focuses on the cases where the competing objectives cannot be settled peacefully and interaction leads to a violent conflict or war.  Finally, the core module this year, titled as Global Politics, provides a framework for all this with a focus on global transformations, transnational challenges, international institutions and chancing power structures of the 21st century. Needless to say, every passing week is extremely interesting!

Christmas on Campus

Christmas on Campus

International Relations 101

Every inhabitable bit of land on this planet is owned by a state. The world looks like a single entity only if looked from space. On the ground, it is composed of some two hundred separate territorial units, each facing the same dilemma. How to ensure everyone’s right to mind their own business when what happens outside the state borders affects what happens within? In reality, of course, these seemingly separate units are not so independent from one another. In fact, they are entangled in an increasingly dense and complex web of interaction.This is the question, which drew me to King’s in the first place. I want to understand how units based on territorial sovereigntyand independence could better overcome cross-border challenges.

The study of International Relations has traditionally meant studying relationships between states. In modern times, a host of other actors need also to be considered. In my program, you can pursue the path that interests you most. Whether your focus is on the traditional foreign policy and diplomatic relations, the influence of the non-state actors in challenging the state authority, or the overlapping economic and social relations binding states together in international institutions, the decision is yours.One of the greatest advantages of the International Relations program is the chance to build it largely based on your own interests.

In my department, the studying experience encompasses much more than mere academic teaching. One can read the same books everywhere, but the kind of first-hand experience you get here is harder to master on your own. Lectures and seminars are frequently accompanied by a range of different events focusing on a particular aspect or situation in international politics. Blurring the line between academics and practitioners, between theory and policy, is encouraged both in and outside the classroom.

In addition to the university-run events, the wide spectrum of different student-run societies, and the co-operation with other institutions such as think thanks and policy-centres, ensure that every week is packed full of non-academic opportunities. Moreover, with its highly international student body, there is sense of learning international relations in practise. With each passing week, I face new opportunities to experience communication and teamwork in an international environment.

London, International Relations and King’s vast professional and academic networks are an excellent match. Applying to King’s was one of the best decisions of my life.

View from the War Studies Department

View from the War Studies Department