My name is Rebecca Crunden and I’m a postgrad student at UCC. Although I grew up in Texas, I left when I was 18 and my entire college education has been in Ireland. I finished the Master’s in International Relations course less than a month ago and I’m going directly into a PhD in History. To be honest, I think there’s no other university in the world at which I could have done such a fast and stress-free transition. I’d heard from other students that MA programmes tend to be solitary experiences with long periods of loneliness unless you’ve remained in the same location since undergrad. To my relief, I found this anything but the case.
Two years ago, I was on a gap year following the completion of my undergrad in Maynooth. I left final year feeling burned out and needed a break from studying. But October arrived and I knew I wanted to return to school, so I began looking into MA programmes which offered history in a way that I knew I would respond to and benefit from. My initial thought was to study European History, specifically Irish. At the time, I had never considered International Relations, nor was I particularly inclined towards politics. But whilst browsing through the programmes UCC had on offer, I stumbled across the MAIR (MA in International Relations) course and began reading through the modules.
It wasn’t what I expected at all. When people ask me why I chose Maynooth, I tell them it was because of how lovely my interactions with the college were before applying. It was the same with UCC and the History Department. Having heard countless horror stories of unhelpful, uncaring, undedicated members of faculty in other colleges, and the chaos and upset this had caused in my friends’ lives, I knew I didn’t want that in my MA. I wanted to know that the lecturers cared as much about the subjects we were studying as we did, and that’s exactly what I found. A quick email to the head of the programme – and my future supervisor on my dissertation – convinced me to apply. In fact, several of my classmates told me the same. They picked the course because the outlines were intriguing and flexible, covering such a variety of topics as feminism in International Relations, whether states can commit acts of terrorism, and the ins and outs of Frederick the Great’s public and personal life. Such discussions were not only engaging and enlightening, but also fun, and our group’s interaction with the department became a vital part of our success.
In the first term, we were twenty odd strangers in a room discussing foreign policy, world politics, and international conflict. Although such a scenario is often grounds for bickering (one need only look at the news), somehow that never happened in our class. Moderated by lecturers as intensely passionate about the subjects as we were, even those of us with starkly different opinions found a middle ground. Our class met up frequently outside of the classroom for drinks and debates. When we were assigned the task of creating a board game for our Game Theory class, nights were arranged so everyone could attempt to play each other’s. (Whether or not they were playable proved beside the point.) In the second term, as we were split into smaller classes and began our dissertations, the pressure undeniably increased, yet we bonded over our shared lack of sleep and found commiseration from our supervisors, and managed to power through. The sense that we were all there to help ourselves not only further our own education, but teach and learn from those around us, made the atmosphere of the programme stand out starkly as perhaps my favourite year of school thus far.
To me, the most surprising aspect of the course was how very little I wanted it to end – a sentiment shared by most of the class. Even stressed, even with knowledge spilling out of our ears, the classes continued to be interesting and engaging and the atmosphere never became unpleasant. We found support from the lecturers for things which happened even outside of the classroom and when emails were lost or signals were crossed, there was always a member of the department able to step in and lend a hand.
I’ve always found that all subjects can be made even more interesting if presented in engaging and relatable ways; the MA in International Relations certainly succeeds in doing so. For someone who used to want only to study European History, I left the MAIR with an enhanced love for my pre-existing areas of interest, as well as with a newfound desire to study US Foreign Policy. To all those involved in the program- thank you for a wonderful experience.