Testimonials

Undergraduate: Conflict Studies and Human Rights
Graduate

Meghan Spilka O’Keefe - Alumni (2010)

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MA candidates, and those with MAs, are not representative of the social and economic character of the country; they are highly educated, engaged, and upwardly mobile. In a country where some segments of society have limited access to basic necessities and face significant barriers in even finishing high school, GSPIA graduates are Canada’s elite.

My experience at GSPIA was remarkable. I was surrounded by professors with strong values and firm moral compasses. The most important lessons weren’t learned from textbooks or PowerPoint presentations; they were from the experience of practitioners-turned-professors. At GSPIA, individuals with long careers of public service stand before you in the classroom and reflect. Drawing from theory, I listened as they reflected on their mistakes, their successes, their regrets, and their ideals.

During my two years at GSPIA, outside of the safe walls of academia millions of Americans lost their homes and livelihoods from the international economic meltdown, and civilians in all corners of the world remained increasingly threatened by on-going wars and civil crises.  Meanwhile, Canadian parliamentarians turned away from harsh international and domestic realities to play politics with prorogation. I think many of us students were happy to be safe inside of academia, studying all this misery and incompetence from a distance. Some looked at the outside world with great pessimism about our collective futures. Our teachers responded by instilling a sense of duty: upon leaving the Ivory Tower, our responsibility as graduates would be to leave Canada in better shape than we find it. Many graduate programs will give you the tools you need to succeed. GSPIA goes above this to direct your moral compass. What sets GSPIA apart is that its graduates come out with a sense of empowerment, rather than the sense of entitlement that often characterizes Generation Y.

Ian Anderson - Alumni (2009)

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A number of factors make the program at the GSPIA excellent and unique. The program recognizes the emerging linkages between public policy issues in the domestic and foreign domains. This increasing interconnectivity is a function of significant trends in global governance. The program prepares students to explore and understand these trends. This is possible due to the cutting-edge research its faculty undertake and the participation of students in supporting and assisting this research,

The program is guided by a distinct scholar-practitioner ethos that connects ideas to action. It encourages students to act as agents of change by empowering them to engage national and international forces. The global marketplace of ideas is becoming increasingly crowded – one’s ability to affect change in this environment is proportional to one’s analytical and communication skills. Administrators and faculty members understand this. Consequently, the students’ development of effective writing and oration is prioritized. Also, learning takes place in an environment of collegiality in which entrepreneurial students have made great contributions to student life at the School.  

The program boasts a number of faculty members with significant practical experience in their respective fields. Moreover, the School’s Senior Fellows offer students the opportunity to interact with and gain mentorship from some of Canada’s most exceptional leaders, who in turn impart life lessons and skills not found elsewhere.

But students with new skills need ways of exercising them. The program offers an increasing number and variety of opportunities outside the classroom to help students test theory through practice, gain experience, and connect to post-graduation job opportunities.

As a recent graduate, I’m able to stand back and reflect on the program and the impact it has had on my early career.

Immediately following graduation, I was offered a fellowship in international development management from the Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC). My posting is with the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP) in Kulob, Tajikistan. MSDSP is a Tajik-run non-governmental organization with an excellent reputation for its ground-breaking work in the field of international development in the mountainous areas of Tajikistan.

I work as an external consultant at MSDSP. I have conducted two large-scale surveys and two in-depth case studies regarding Tajikistan’s emerging system of local governance. Tajikistan, as a post-conflict and post-Soviet country, faces a number of specific challenges. First among them is governance and service delivery to its impoverished population. The GSPIA program’s focus on governance provided me with a valuable conceptual framework with which I approached this challenge.

I also continue my research and participation in Track II diplomatic initiatives relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was the focus of my master’s research, and I make periodic visits to the region. My master’s research explored the contributions to peacebuilding that Track II can make and Track II’s role in helping to resolve the conflict’s intractable issues. I plan to publish the results of my research in the coming months. The expertise and experience of the GSPIA faculty helped me gain experience in this field. Their support and guidance allowed me to focus my research, complete it, and find meaningful opportunities to continue pursuing my interests after graduation.

The master’s program at the GSPIA opened doors for me. The study of public and international affairs in familiar contexts and through common paradigms can only take one so far. Public policy in post-conflict Tajikistan and Track II diplomacy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict each present unique challenges and opportunities. Engaging them effectively requires innovative approaches built on a foundation of intellectual flexibility, openness and curiosity.

The GSPIA’s program provided me with this foundation. It empowered me to understand these challenges, recognize these opportunities and contribute to them meaningfully. I now have the chance to address these issues using both theoretical and practical approaches, which is a positive, mutually reinforcing process.

Breanna Roycroft - Alumni (2010)

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How I Spent my Winter Semester: an intern’s first thoughts on the Canadian Foreign Service

My first month as an intern for the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi has proved to be far more fascinating than I could ever have imagined. When I first embarked on the journey I came prepared in the knowledge that I could never possibly be prepared; this was the best of all possible attitudes I could have taken, because let me tell you, I could never have dreamed what has happened to me in the last 4 weeks.

There are the inevitable shocks that come along with this being my first trip to the “developing world.” The intense poverty, the abysmal state of the infrastructure, the flexible nature of the rule of law, and the limited reach of the political system, no matter how well intentioned: these are all concepts I have studied and yet had never experienced up close. While I came here with my backpack and my Lonely Planet guide, this certainly hasn’t been your typical student trip to India. As an intern at the CHC I have the opportunity to get a glimpse of life in the Canadian Foreign Service, and wow, what a stark difference to my student living in Ottawa!   

I won’t bore you with the details of dinners at the Club and Happy Hours where they serve duty-free drinks, or the private tennis lessons, the swimming pool, the personal trainers and the private drivers: although these are all nice “perks” to the job (now don’t get a head of yourself, I am just an intern, so I don’t have a driver). But that isn’t why I came, nor is it why most of the people I have met chose this career path. We came for the work; we came for the job of representing Canadian interests abroad and the responsibilities and expectations that come along with this enormous task.

This is my third internship with the Federal government, and I have never felt so appreciated, so needed, or so well utilized before. There is clearly a surplus of work for an overstretched team here in Canada’s largest mission and it didn’t take long before I was thrown right in. A little over 12 hours after getting off a plane in the middle of the night at the Ghandi International Airport, I was at a conference with former UN Under-Secretary General, now the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, Dr. Shashi Tharoor where he was speaking on the state of peace and development in South Asia. The diplomatic car took us there through a sea of rickshaws, cows, wild dogs and monkeys along the dusty roads where the lines appear to be more of a suggestion than an indication of what side you need to stay on. The combination of jet-lag and culture shock were both exhilarating and overwhelming, and I am certain that the smile on my face did little to hide how keen and excited I was about pretty much everything… although, let’s be honest, that’s nothing new.

I spend my days in my office, working to update political and economic portfolios between the other tasks that change daily . I have done my fair share of envelope stuffing and reception organizing, tasks you would expect to be passed to the intern, but I am always invited to the conferences and the events, so I have no complaints about paying my dues at the bottom of the ladder. India is a political hot-spot at the moment, and is viewed as an emerging center of power in a world that has undergone significant changes to global dynamics in the past two years. As I type, Premier Jean Charest is being escorted into the building and down the hall we are preparing to host the Right Honourable Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin in the coming weeks.

I have been a student of Canadian and International Politics for the past six years and an avid consumer of world affairs, and the opportunity to do more than just watch and study has been a beyond valuable learning experience. I may still be young and more than a little naïve, but every day in the city, in this country, and in this job my eyes are being opened to another side of the world. I feel incredibly privileged to have this chance to be a part of establishing what will hopefully become a long lasting and mutually beneficial partnership between the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

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