A Transformative Degree
IE’s Master in International Relations
What is the best way to get the skills, experience, and contacts needed to launch a career in international affairs? Go for a master’s degree, of course. But what sort of program will offer the most suitable preparation and contacts?
It’s important to consider a school’s academic offerings, career services, and international alumni network. You may also want to weigh research opportunities, international field projects, language instruction, and regional studies. But underlying such basics is a less tangible, yet crucial, factor: a program’s potential for engaging your curiosity and opening doors.
Sara Barragán Montes, a policy and advocacy consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, got her start in a master’s degree program that provided a pragmatic new focus. The Master in International Relations (MIR) at IE School of International Relations, in Madrid, built on her humanities-oriented background and her interest in international service. The school is part of the IE University system, which also includes IE Business School.
"The MIR program offered me the advantage of studying at a center of excellence in international relations as well as business and economics,” says Barragán Montes, age 26. She benefited from being in a class of just 20 students from 13 different countries, and from the program’s close relationship with IE Business School.
"The program gave me access to a high-quality education and a way to think about the world by applying concepts from courses such as Game Theory and Conflict Resolution," says Barragán Montes. Other key courses focused on politics and development, Middle East studies, international finance, global terrorism, European Union affairs, and more.
The 10-month program includes a fieldwork visit to Brussels. Barragán Montes and her classmates did more than just visit the European Commission, European Parliament, and NATO and other organizations. For example, they also met with officials of those organizations and exchanged ideas on matters such as democratic participation and security concerns in the EU.
Barragán Montes, a native of Spain, says that a highlight of her experience was the IE Impact Weekend Competition. She teamed up with Aparna Bhat, a classmate from India, on a vocational project Bhat had initiated for teenagers living in the slums in India. Barragán Montes and Bhat worked on the business model for the project and analyzed options for expanding it. They presented their work and placed third in IE’s university-wide competition.
"We were competing with MBA students at IE Business School,” notes Barragán Montes. "We had to compete with financial and economic minds."
Barragán Montes first discovered her interest in international development at age 15, when she spent a year in the United States as an exchange student. She attended a high school in Detroit, lived with a local family, and participated in a Rotary Interact Club fundraising program for a project in Nicaragua.
Later, while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in journalism and audiovisual communication at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Barragán Montes volunteered with a Spanish organization for blind people. Then, while working toward her professional certification in journalism and communications, she chose to focus on a developing country for her final project. Barragán Montes volunteered in a children’s center in Bamako, Mali, and created a documentary about the living conditions for children there.
But how did Barragán Montes’s education, volunteer experience, and interest in international development lead to her work with the WHO? Part of the credit goes to the MIR program’s career strategy course, given by the IE Career Management Center. That is where Barragán Montes learned about an internship at the WHO that required a background in communications and international relations. She applied in the fall of 2012, heard back in February, and began the three-month internship a week after receiving her MIR degree in July 2013.
The internship eventually led to her current position as a consultant to the WHO in Venice, where she focuses on public health and immigration issues among migrants. She hopes to continue working in public health and development, with an eye toward eventually pursuing a PhD in public health and social policy.
Looking back, Barragán Montes finds that the Master in International Relations at IE did even more than just help her launch a career: "The program opened my mind professionally and personally."
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