The Catholic University of America

Nov. 3, 2010

CUA Sociology Students Talk to Foreign Policy Pros

 
Seniors James Loomis and Tyler Printz listen to the left of State Department spokesman David Bame.  

When 22 undergraduate and graduate students from International Organizations 337 and 537, two sociology courses taught by Adjunct Professor Leszek Sibilski, went recently to the U.S. Department of State, many of them may have expected to learn about the importance of summit meetings and official state visits. Instead, they learned about the value of chatting up locals about soccer and current events. 

“I don't think I realized the extent to which the Foreign Service Officers engaged local citizens and participated in local culture,” says Elise Webb, a first-year graduate student in sociology from Springfield, Mo.
 
The field trip served as a primer on the Obama administration’s use of “smart power,” which seeks to achieve foreign-policy goals in part through building good relationships with local people. On the Oct. 27 field trip, David Bame, the director of public affairs and outreach for the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, told the students that the administration’s outreach to local citizens has produced positive results in the countries, according to Webb.
 
Hearing and learning firsthand from foreign policy experts is what separates Sibilski’s course from those of most universities, Sibilski says. His students do more than read and attend lectures about international organizations. With CUA’s campus located a few miles from downtown Washington, they take a short car or subway ride to the organizations and talk with foreign-policy professionals in person.
 
Besides going to the State Department, Sibilski’s students have also traveled this semester to the headquarters of the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where they met with a policymaker and spokeswoman, respectively. Trips to the European Union’s delegation to the United States and the United Nations Information Center are scheduled for later this semester.
 
“Whenever you teach a class, you’re going to buy textbooks that are outdated somewhat,” Sibilski says. “Publishing a book is a long process. By going to these organizations and talking with their leaders, we learn things right away.”
 
Sibilski has firsthand experience with international organizations. Born and raised in Poland, the 52-year-old was a member of the Polish national cycling team that competed at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Since 2004, he has served as an adjunct professor in the sociology department and also worked for the World Bank as a consultant.
 
“The world is shrinking because of the Internet, the movement of peoples,” he says. “The U.S. is not an independent superpower anymore. We have to turn toward international alliances and international organizations.”
 
Because of their reaction to the State Department visit, several of Sibilski’s students say that they are leaning toward working for international development.
 
Webb and Bauman both express interest in taking the federal government’s Foreign Service exam, a written test that is the first step for applicants hoping to become Foreign Service officers. “I’m much more encouraged to take the Foreign Service exam,” says David Bauman, a junior from Austin, Texas majoring in sociology. “I wouldn’t want to be stuck in an office in a foreign country. I want to go out and meet people.”
 

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