University Students Dig on Diplomacy

The Prague Post

Lecture series brings Foreign Service professionals into the classroom

As the proverb goes, experience is the best teacher, but second best is probably being taught by someone with plenty of real world experience. For students studying international relations and diplomacy at Anglo-American University (AAU), a special program puts them up close and personal with some of the most influential people in the world.

The AAU Ambassadorial Series takes a two-pronged approach in educating their students about world affairs. The program brings in ambassadors, counselors, chargé d’affairs and other professionals working in local embassies and puts them in the classroom. The Foreign Service veterans either teach courses at AAU or hold guest lectures in which students and members of the public can learn more about the current affairs of a particular country. Hrishabh Sandilya is the associate dean of the school of international relations and diplomacy and coordinator of the Ambassadorial Series. He believes the timeliness of the topics discussed is one of the program’s main advantages.

“Diplomats always want to voice their opinion, and there’s always something going on. If there’s a particular region in the news, then we want to cover their country’s point of view,” he said. “We want to hear both sides, giving the students equal access to the issues.”

While spring 2009 marked the official “branding” of the program, AAU had been hosting diplomats for quite some time. Sandilya explains that as a private, internationally run university with many connections in the diplomatic community, AAU is able to bring in a wide range of people. Diplomats invited for guest lectures this past year include the Ambassador of Afghanistan H.E. Mohammad Kacem Fazelly and Israeli Ambassador H.E. Yaakov Levy. With both countries often in the news, Sandilya says the speakers drew crowds.

“The Afghan ambassador talked about the current state of the country and historic reasons for it,” he said.

Fazelly is a past member of President Hamid Karzai’s government, and with a background in history, he was able to offer attendees a unique take on the complex issues facing his country. Afterward, he took questions from the students.

Levy’s talk focused on cultural diplomacy and his experiences in the Foreign Service, while in another lecture, the deputy director from the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry talked about cyber diplomacy and how to use Facebook and other social media to promote your country. Sandilya says AAU will open a class focusing on the Balkans this year, and he hopes to have a representative from the region speak. He also plans to host someone from Southeast Asia, as well as a yet to be named representative from the U.S. Embassy to speak about social sciences.

The second, more in-depth part of the program places an ambassador in the classroom for an entire semester. The wealth of knowledge and first-hand experiences shared by the diplomats is extremely beneficial for students. Last fall, Mexican Ambassador H.E. José Luis Bernal taught a master’s level course on the Americas, and this fall the counselor from the South African Embassy, Wouter Zaayman, will teach Sub-Saharan African Politics and Culture.

It’s not all history and politics in these special course sections, though.

“There’s only so much you can teach about diplomacy,” Sandilya said. “People in the Foreign Service share their experiences, and it’s a far superior method of teaching than just teaching theory.”

Sandilya says the representatives share their observations about the career field itself, and how to learn on the job since the art of being diplomatic is very hard to teach. The personal contact is another big advantage for students, because they can receive referrals or possible internships from their diplomat instructors at embassies around the world. For students interested in pursuing a career in diplomatic circles, the resource is invaluable.

As Sandilya explains, “Here, they listen to hands-on experiences from diplomats; it’s the next best thing to actually working at an embassy.”