By: Alison Sutton
While studying abroad at the University of Amsterdam, I took one of the most influential courses of my undergraduate degree – completely by accident.
The course was called “Organizing Across Borders.” The original course summary was much different than the actual objectives provided during our first seminar of the course. Although surprising, this worked out to my advantage, as it has opened up many academic and professional opportunities for my future endeavours.
The course turned out to be about the inner workings, design, management, policy impact and effectiveness, and decision-making processes of international governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGO). Taught in a seminar format, with roughly 25 students, we met twice a week for two hours. Different than my experience at McMaster, the smaller class size allowed for meaningful interaction and collaboration between students and the professor.
Although daunting, or even uninteresting, to others, this was actually a dream course for me.
Since I hope to work for a Human Rights NGO in the future I had – quite literally – hit the jackpot.
Throughout the semester we essentially taught ourselves how to apply an organizational lens to analyze the internal operating dynamics of international organizations and relations between international organizations and their environment, through the use of three major case studies. The professor provided guidance, offering constructive critiques to our research questions. However, since each group was designing their own research study on the organization of their choosing, she could not offer much help, as she was not educated in each particular case. This ultimately forced up to find access to and use resources entirely on our own – a great skill to have.
My group decided to conduct our case studies on the use of Remote Sensing in Amnesty International as a method of identifying and exposing potential Human Rights violations; specifically analyzing Somalia and Syria. The research process was not easy, as there was little information on our chosen subject, which restricted access to documents and processes that we were meant to analyze.
While on exchange, I made a friend who worked for Amnesty International at their Amsterdam headquarters, and he requested that I send him our work upon completion. He reviewed our work with his boss, who praised our work for having a high level of expertise and professionalism; actually thanking us for providing them with information and analyses that they were unaware of.
Because of this I now have contacts at a potential future employer and now have experience in my field of interest that distinguishes me from my peers. I am using this experience as a major talking point in my master’s applications, and have been notified by potential supervisors that this course and the work that I did for the course will greatly aid my research process.
The class “Organizing Across Borders” changed my academic, and potentially professional, career.
This is what I think is so great about exchange – you are given such a unique opportunity to expand your horizons and skills by taking courses that are not offered at McMaster. Although this course was not what I initially expected, I am so thankful for the opportunity and the experience from it.
Do not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and take a course that you are unfamiliar with! The results and the impact of this opportunity was such a gift to me, that I highly encourage you to take advantage of incredible future opportunities that may come your way.
Alison Sutton is a student in Communication Studies and Political Science, Faculty of Social Science at McMaster University. She studied for a single term at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.