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Communications Intern Investigates the Lines between Conflict and Peace during Study Abroad

Communications Intern Investigates the Lines between Conflict and Peace during Study Abroad

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Valerie Snaman Communications Intern

Spring 2016

American University, 2016

By now, I’m getting pretty used to being thrown into unique situations. From my high school study abroad in South Korea to my newest position as the sole communications intern at START, I’ve become pretty comfortable with terrifyingly new experiences. Much of it is due to luck; however, by allowing my experiences to mold who I become, and not being afraid to fall flat on my face in the process (sometimes literally)!

For 17 years of my life, my comfort-zone was in my three-bedroom ranch house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I wanted to become a lawyer and stay in the area. Despite having my life mapped out, I applied to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea through a program called the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). In the summer of 2011, I first sacrificed certainty for the appeal of the unknown. I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with my four new host family members—and none of them spoke English. Little did I know that the comfortable life I lived would be the opposite of what I want now!

Study abroad was life-altering. I never knew how important language study was until I mixed up the word for “shoe” and a swear word at a local shop. I never knew I would be stared at wherever I went-- including the public baths. I never knew the importance of cultural sensitivity before my study abroad experience, and that I’d be getting my first taste of global conflict.

One particular day, my host father and I were having a conversation that I’ll never forget. He told me that his father was in North Korea and he would never be able to see him again. Seeing the tears in his eyes, I realized then how much the tension between north and south on the Korean Peninsula mattered. A simple line divided him and his family forever. A line divided a Peninsula into two countries. A line allowed the people of the South to live democratically, while the North faced oppression. These figurative and literal lines exist everywhere and are the same ones that lead to tensions that eventually can boil over into terrorism.

I spent my college career at American University studying these trends majoring in Foreign Policy and National Security. I even got to spend another eight months in South Korea studying foreign policy through the Korea America Student Conference and my Study Abroad. I was able to dip my feet into the issue, delve deeper by discussing my research with their Defense Secretary and Ambassador, and then put it all into action with my current position here at START.

I have only worked for three days and it is apparent that studying terrorism isn’t as glamorous as my favorite show, ABC’s “Quantico.” Despite this, working with the Global Terrorism Database has shown me how numb I have become to terrorism instances globally. By writing the #OnThisDay tweets for our Twitter account, I have come to see how other countries deal with the effects of terrorism every day. I think we often take the relative security of the United States for granted when it comes to issues of terrorism, and this experience has already opened by eyes to how terror affects the broader global community.

I am excited for the rest of my semester at START and the possibility of my work being seen by a wider audience. In particular, I was grounded by how genuine my supervisor, Jessica Rivinius, was about the vast knowledge and opportunities I could gain from START. Surely, there will never be a day that I’m not learning something or doing important work. I also look forward to the opportunity to highlight the efforts of those around me. Never have I been surrounded by so many inspiring people, and I hope to benefit from their knowledge and expertise.

Be on the lookout for intern spotlights in START’s monthly newsletter - my fellow interns have great stories to tell.

I’m excited to see where START leads me and my fellow interns, of which there are nearly 100! Luckily, as a communications intern, I can make sure that this won’t be the last you hear from us.