Alexandra Caplan

Please tell us a bit about yourself, where you are from, your background etc?

 I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona in physiology and Middle Eastern Studies. My route onto my MA programme at Leeds is probably a bit unconventional, as my initial academic and professional backgrounds are in healthcare. However, I have always had an interest in Middle Eastern language and culture, and after studying abroad in Jordan and working for an NGO that helped resettle refugees (primarily of Middle Eastern origin), I decided to learn and researching contemporary Middle Eastern politics and culture was my passion.

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

I knew that I wanted to study for a master’s degree specifically related to the Middle East and was drawn by the strong focus Leeds offered in this area. The course’s core modules allowed me to acquire in-depth knowledge of contemporary Middle Eastern politics whilst the wide range of optional modules allowed me to specialise in related areas such as security and development and intra-state conflict. As an international student, I was also drawn to both the university’s strong academic reputation and its large international student body.

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

The news these days seems to be preoccupied with what’s going on in the Middle East, but the media usually portrays this region in a negative light. One reason why I signed up for my course was that I wanted to acquire a more holistic picture of the region, not just the one of conflict and inequality that the media paints it to be. The Middle East is rich in history and culture, and studying the politics of this important region can provide intriguing insights into a part of the world that is so different than the one I come from. I am particularly passionate about analysing the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically cooperative efforts at the grassroots level and how these interactions are dictated by the broader political, economic and social contexts they occur in. I believe that the promotion of dialogue and cooperation at the local level is the first step in breaking down the barriers of mutual mistrust that characterise the current political climate, and that evaluating local cooperative efforts is crucial to promoting a sustainable peace.

What do you think of your course so far – what aspects of the course have you enjoyed the most or are looking forward to the most?

First and foremost, I really enjoyed the level of expertise of my tutors. All of them are clearly experts in their fields and brought interesting insights to each seminar through sharing their personal experiences of working in the region. The high quality of each lecture promoted stimulating dialogue in my seminars and getting to interact with students from literally all corners of the world allowed me to acquire new perspectives. I had classes with students from the UK, US, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Oman, Russia and Zimbabwe, amongst many others! Every day I was immersed in an open, friendly, and multicultural academic atmosphere that encouraged me to share my own opinions whilst opening my eyes to new ways of looking at them.

What would you say about the learning facilities in the School and at the University in general?

The School’s learning facilities are unparalleled. The School has a study space dedicated specifically for POLIS students with computers, group meeting rooms and an atmosphere conducive to working. The University’s libraries are great, with lots of study space and extensive resources. The numerous computer stations scattered throughout campus provide students with even more places to work!

How do you find the student support in the School?

The School has its own student support officer dedicated to responding to the needs and concerns of POLIS students. Whilst I didn’t personally require his services, many of my friends who did found him quick to respond, friendly and helpful. Also, each student is assigned a personal tutor, with whom I regularly met with to discuss how I was doing inside and outside classes. My tutor offered advice on how to become more involved in university life and was generally a great person to go to if I needed to be pointed in the right direction. Additionally, faculty are flexible in their office hours and will never hesitate to make alternative arrangements. The School, and the wider university, in general, were incredibly supportive in helping international students adjust to life in the UK, hosting regular events like the Global Café and trips to sites in and around Leeds to help students become more familiar with each other and their surroundings. The School was also great at advertising the many workshops hosted around the university; from mindfulness and mental well-being sessions to workshops dedicated to improving research skills, there was always something going on to support students both academically and personally.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself? (e.g. Clubs & Societies/activities in the School).

LUU hosts dozens and dozens of societies – from sports to cultural to political to food, there is always something to involve yourself in outside of academics. The university also hosts regular trips to areas around Yorkshire, which are a great way to see the beautiful Yorkshire countryside! The School is always putting on fun events as well, from hosting guest speakers to organising pub runs, there are a lot of ways to take a break from your studies and make new friends.

What do you think about Leeds as a city?

Leeds is a very exciting, compact and student-friendly city to live in! Coming from a place where I needed a car to get anywhere, I was initially hesitant about not having one here. However, as soon as I arrived in Leeds I was amazed by how easy it was to walk or take the bus to wherever I needed to go. The city centre has fantastic bars, restaurants and shopping and is very convenient to get to from campus. There’s always something on for everyone, whether it’s a concert, an art show, a food or drink festival, or a cultural event. The atmosphere of the city is vibrant and exciting, but if you’re like me and occasionally need to get away from it all, Leeds is filled with beautiful parks and green spaces. The numerous historical sites and beautiful outdoors of Yorkshire are also easily accessible from Leeds!

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

I would say: ‘you’ll always regret what you don’t try, so just do it!’ My course has proven to be academically enriching and was everything I was looking for in an MA programme. The faculty in the School really do care about their students’ well-being and will always go out of their way to make sure each module meeting is exciting and academically stimulating.

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

I plan on either pursuing a PhD on nonviolent joint initiatives in Israel-Palestine or working for either an NGO or a think tank conducting policy analysis of the region. Ideally, I would like to work in a setting where I am able to directly help people in the Middle East, whether it's through an NGO that provides humanitarian relief or advising policymakers whose decisions have a direct impact on the region.