Photo of Emma Briones ma International Relations student

Emma Briones

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a Filipino-American from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, USA. I completed my Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada with a major in Sociology and minor in Economics. After I completed my bachelor’s degree, I returned to California and worked as a Program Coordinator for the Bay Area Centre for International Trade Development for several years. My work experience includes counselling post-secondary students in international business and study abroad programs, managing federal grants, organizing events/conferences, working with local businesses ready to export goods, panelling hiring and scholarship committees, and accepting U.S. Passport applications for the U.S. Department of State.

What motivated you to apply for your course at Leeds?

After working for a few years of full-time work, I came at a point in my career where I needed a master’s degree to apply for higher management positions. I chose to study in the United Kingdom because of its relations with the United States and its location within Europe. What led me to choose the MA International Relations at the University of Leeds was the module selection, the flexibility students had in choosing a topic for their dissertation, and the student support system. A diverse student body also allows for more networking to occur and increases student engagement when discussing global issues.

What is it that makes you passionate about this area of study?

My passion lies within understanding the relationships between countries and how political decisions affect the individuals residing in that country. My previous work experience in education and business allowed me to see the effects of those relationships on my clients and students. International Relations is a discipline generally associated with politics and law, but it can influence disciplines outside of the social sciences. In our modules, we discuss the global issues that occur between sovereign states and try to figure out why things happen in the first place. Connecting traditional international relations theory to current events gives meaning to the political decisions and actions that occur around us.

What do you think of your course so far?

The MA International Relations course can be both stressful and time consuming at times, but the outcome behind the work is very rewarding. I am the type of person who likes challenging herself when working with others and enjoy being forced to think outside of the box. It is during those uncomfortable times where we grow the most. You can expect a lot of time spent reading academic literature and writing essays. If you and you classmates prepare for each lecture, you will have an easier time understanding the topics and have engaging discussions during the seminars. Those discussions are key to learning and are what I look forward to the most in this course. Because I chose modules that truly peak my interests, I have learned a lot more about the world and myself in the process.

Although studying international relations teaches you a lot about the world we live in and its history, it is not for the faint of heart. The discussions on war, terrorism, and human rights crises can be difficult to take in and can bring out strong opinions from you and your classmates during seminars. Luckily, your module leaders and tutors are trained to redirect and moderate the conversations. By participating in these discussions, you end up developing a thicker skin and a better understanding of why international relations is such an important discipline to study.

What has been you experience on the Civic Researcher module?

The Civic Researcher module aims to develop students’ research and teambuilding skills in a practical sense by having them work with a local organisation on a specific project. Our class was split into groups and worked with organisations such as East Street Arts, the Performance Ensemble, and Leeds Playhouse to name a few. There was a group who conducted surveys from artists, another group filmed interviews with performers, and one group even created curriculum for young students. For this module, I was paired with South Asian Arts-UK (SAA-UK) for the National Baithak Network. SAA-UK came to the University of Leeds to have students conduct research and formulate a sustainable business model that allowed classical Indian artists to perform across the country in small intimate social gatherings, known as Baithaks, and receive payments without accruing debt from travel expenses. Our research findings would then be presented to the UK Arts Council for further development. Like many of my classmates at the beginning of this module, the extent of my knowledge of South Asian culture comprised of Bollywood movies and Indian food. Classical Indian music performed in small intimate performances like Baithaks has stronger roots in South Asia and has not gained as much notoriety in the UK as Bollywood music.

The research for our project brief focused on understanding the South Asian Culture and the artist lifestyle. Our job was to create a model suited towards the artists’ needs. The lectures helped us create a project brief, conduct research, manage ourselves when working in a group, and develop a strong portfolio for the showcase. Our group was also introduced to the Business Model Canvas to help us formulate a model that fulfils SAA-UK requirements. Ironically, the project of developing a sustainable business model was given to a group of students who did not have a business degree. This added layer forced us to embrace business acumen such as cost benefit analyses and lean start-ups. Our tutor gave us crash courses on business and economics during our tutorial weeks. Our overall work comprised of reading academic literature from South Asian culture and music, undergoing ethical review, conducting interviews in a Gurdwara while wearing modest clothes and headscarves, designing various types of business models, perusing through census data, contacting local businesses for interviews, and presenting our findings directly to the organisation in a professional setting.

Group work can be challenging when everyone has a different schedule and you have to try to gauge the boundaries on how much work the group is willing to put into the project. However, these difficult times led to significant moments in Term Two when we started realising how we could incorporate our work into our daily lives. For example, someone who could not grasp the business model canvas in Term One was able to use the model to apply for external grants in Term Two. Someone who struggled carrying conversations in English was later able to conduct interviews with professional poise and structure formal emails, in English, to be sent out to local businesses. Our challenges with the project forced us out of our individual comfort zones and showed us how the skills we developed can be used outside the university.

The skills we gained in this module can be translated into transferable skills for future employment opportunities. Our portfolio was a culmination of hours spent problem-solving, negotiating, learning, researching, and public speaking. Many Arts students have a hard time translating their skills onto a resume, so the Civic Researcher module addresses this problem by giving students the opportunity to see how their skills can be used in a real-life scenario with results that can benefit a legitimate organisation. MA students should take advantage of this opportunity if they plan on applying for jobs right after graduation.

How has the module helped you?

I originally applied for this course as a way to use the skills I gained from previous employment to transition back into academia. My experience working on a team with an organisation reminded me of all the projects I had organised before I moved to Leeds. Working with SAA-UK increased my cultural intelligence and cultural awareness. Being on a team strengthened my emotional intelligence and made me aware of others’ learning styles. This year’s cohort had varying backgrounds ranging from recent graduates with little to no work experience to individuals, like myself, who just came out of the workforce.

As an international relations student, I forget how topics like immigration due to globalization affects individuals’ values upon assimilating to the dominant culture. Art forms like Baithaks are embedded in the traditional South Asian culture and are not as widely accepted when performed to a different audience. After working with SAA-UK on this project, I realized that phenomenon is quite common amongst immigrants and their descendants. By formalizing these types of networks and bringing back traditional art forms, minority groups are able to reconnect to their roots and embrace their cultural identities. This module has made me realise that I truly enjoy working and managing these types of projects where the outcome affects something bigger than yourself.

What would you say about the learning facilities?

There is a wide variety of learning facilities available on campus that are there to help students succeed. The ones I use the most are the career services for resume review and networking, the Language Institute, Skills@Library for essay advice, and the Leeds Institute of Data Analytics (LIDA). It is unfortunate that many students do not take advantage of these facilities and their workshops. I believe that students should do a bit of research on the learning facilities on campus and visit the ones that they are interested in. Your department’s main office and personal tutor will also know more about the school’s learning facilities and help you choose the one that suits your needs.

How do you find the student support in the School?

The school takes priority in student support, mental health, and well-being to prevent any obstacles from deterring you from your education. Things can come up and can take a toll on your studies. Student support is available in the forms of a personal tutor, LUU counselling, department student support advisor, and your program leader. Start building a relationship with them at the beginning of the school year and go to them if you come across any problems. Take advantage of the various student support available.

What other activities have you got involved with outside of the course?

Outside of my studies I have taken advantage of the LUU weekend day trips to other parts of England. I have been able to explore nearby cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Chester, and Durham. Sometimes student accommodations will have day trips as well. Get Out Get Active will also host hikes to nearby areas such as the Lake District and Yorkshire Coast.

What would you say about Leeds as a city?

Leeds is an affordable city to live in as a student and it is easy to get around. I enjoy my morning runs to the River Aire alongside the trains leaving the Leeds station. I can shop locally grown, cheap groceries at Kirkgate Market. I have a list of coffee shops and cafes to go to whenever I do not want to study on campus. There is always something going on in the daytime or at night.  If I need to get away, I can always take a train to a nearby city or further out to London or Edinburgh. I can also take a flight out of Leeds-Bradford or Manchester Airport if I want to visit any neighbouring countries.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

Like any master’s programme, first ask yourself why you are applying to this course and what do you want to do after you finish. Write a list of career paths one may end up in with a MA International Relations degree or skills you want to develop as a student. Keep in mind that you would be investing a year of your time and money for this program if you accept your offer. Look into the course content, modules available, and check out the student support facilities on campus. Reach out to Leeds alumni who have completed this course. You can also contact the department leader or representative from the POLIS department. Look into the city of Leeds and imagine yourself living here. If this program can strengthen the skills you want to develop and put you a step closer towards your chosen career path, then apply to this course.

If you decide on this program, choose the modules that interest you and plan ahead. Utilise the resources that your program, department, and the university have to offer. Attend workshops, networking events, and explore your options. This course is reading and writing intensive so make sure you balance it out with an extracurricular activity or time for self-care. Do not be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Challenge yourself and engage in the seminars. The amount of work you put into the course will be reflected in your marks and your memories of this program. This year will go by fast and before you know it you will be submitting your dissertation.

What do you plan to do once you’ve finished your course?

Once I have finished my course, I plan on looking into jobs within England or back in the U.S. However, I am open to traveling to other countries for work. The Civic Researcher module made me realise that I enjoy managing projects that tackle global issues, so I hope to set myself up with an NGO or business in a management position.

Any other comment you would like to make?

People can find me on Linkedin if they have any other inquiries about my time in Leeds or my career.