When I am not busy researching African politics and development, I spend my free time as treasurer of the International Relations Club (IRC). IRC is an organization that fosters discussion on international issues and current events, while promoting students’ academic and professional development. Last week, 15 IRC members – including Global Perspectives’ Bok Human Trafficking fellow Maggie Morgan – traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa’s (ASMEA) tenth annual conference. Though IRC travels to Washington D.C. every year, this was our first time attending this conference, and the experience exceeded our expectations.
Upon arrival, we had some time to explore the city before the conference began. We stopped by the White House, visited the city’s iconic monuments, toured the U.S. Capitol and even found time to visit a museum. For several students, this was their first time visiting Washington D.C., and seeing how enthralled they were was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
At the opening reception on the first evening of the conference, we quickly realized we were the only undergraduate students in attendance. We found ourselves in a room filled with academics, PhD students and diplomats, all networking and discussing their research. Though intimidated, we took this unique opportunity to meet professionals in our field. The keynote speaker at the reception was David K. Gacheru, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Kenyan embassy. He spoke about Kenya’s emerging position on the world stage, and I even got the opportunity to ask a question about Kenya’s current election turmoil.
Over the course of the next two days, over 40 different panels were presented on diverse topics, which included over 150 speakers. Panels included “Israel and the Changing Middle East,” “Progress and Problems in Post-Colonial Sub-Saharan Africa” and “Mormonism in Africa and the Middle East: Imaginaries and Engagements.” Unsurprisingly, I found myself attending as many panels about Africa as I could, learning about topics that I would have never otherwise thought to research. Presented papers ranged from water access in Kenya, to Tanzanian elections, to the impact of pan-Africanism on Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. My personal favorite panel was titled “Africa and the Agendas of Foreign Powers,”which focused on foreign military and development assistance across the continent. Throughout the conference, one of the things that struck me the most was the diversity of the panelists. When researching African politics, one of the things I often grapple with is that American and Western perspectives tend to dominate academic work on Africa. It was refreshing and insightful to hear the perspectives of African scholars, which is something I strive to be more mindful of whenever I do research.
The ASMEA conference was an incredible opportunity for our students’ academic and professional development. Each student was able to attend panels that related to their interests, be it Israel, women’s rights, human trafficking or terrorism studies. Regardless of how knowledgeable they were about the Middle East and Africa before the conference, each student walked away with valuable insight about the regions. Perhaps more importantly, we were able to see firsthand what it is like to present research at an academic conference. And, above all else, we made some great friends along the way.
Tags: Africa, Middle East, Washington D.C., Conference