By Peggy McInerny
July 24, 2014, UCLA International Institute — UCLA students interested in studying specific world regions should consider the multidisciplinary programs of the UCLA International Institute. These programs, offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level, cultivate in-depth knowledge of international issues and how they apply to specific world regions.
Perhaps the most appealing feature of these programs is their flexibility. Within a framework of basic requirements, a student can map out an individualized course of study tailored to his or her individual interests. For example, a student who wants to pursue a Latin American Studies major could focus on the art, literature, culture, history or politics of the region, while gaining a foundation in humanities and social science methodologies.
Many UCLA students double major in an area studies program and a language, or a discipline such as history or political science. Other combine an area studies minor with a science major.
The International Institute encourages all areas studies students to participate in UC Education Abroad, UCLA Travel Study and international volunteer programs, as well as to gain mastery of a foreign language.
The degree programs of the Institute work closely with all of these campus units, as well as with the Institute’s own centers and programs, which support teaching and research on major global regions and issues. These centers all run active public events programs that feature lectures on topical and historical issues (open to the entire campus); some centers also offer language and research fellowships, together with work-study and internship possibilities.
Undergraduate majors. One of three undergraduate programs offered by the UCLA International Institute, the International & Area Studies Program offers four undergraduate majors:
• African & Middle Eastern Studies
• Asian Studies
• European Studies
• Latin American Studies
The area studies program is designed to give students a foundation in humanities and social science disciplines, then progress to area-specific courses in tandem with upper-level disciplinary courses that impart the skills they need to analyze the cultures, social structures, polities and histories of their region of choice.
Most of these majors are broad in scope, yet in Latin American Studies, Asian Studies and European Studies, it’s possible to concentrate on a single country or subregion. In the first case, for example, a student might focus on Mexico or Brazil; in the second case, on Japan, China, South Korea or the subregion of Southeast Asia; and in the third case, on the United Kingdom, Germany, France or Central and Eastern Europe.
My curiosity to learn more about the complexity of Latin America is what led me to choose this major. I craved a closer cultural connection and deeper understanding of my ancestors' history. I was exposed to different cultural forms, the intricate relationships between society and culture, and inspiring people along the way. . . [M]y UCLA experience definitely challenged me to grow into a critical thinker, a lover of artistic and cultural expression, an idealist, and more! LAS also allowed me the opportunity to discover many interests, passions and goals, and to better understand the complexity of a collective people. —Jessica Salgado (UCLA 2010/ Latin American Studies)
The coursework for these majors consists of a total of 6 preparatory and 12 upper-level courses, distributed among area studies and two major themes (international politics and markets, and international societies and cultures). Upper-division, area-specific courses are split between the humanities and the social sciences (3 courses in each), plus one elective. Study of a foreign language through the intermediate level (generally, the equivalent of six quarters) is another core program requirement.
All majors culminate in a senior capstone seminar and attendant project, which focuses on either a specific region or a theme that spans regions.
Both the faculty program chair of the International & Area Studies Program, UCLA Associate Professor of Political Science Mike Thies, and academic counselor Magda Yamamoto are on hand to advise students on how to meet program (and UCLA undergraduate) requirements. An online alumni and current student directory gives potential students a window into the activities of their peers and the professional avenues open to them with an International Institute area studies degree.
[M]y undergraduate studies in East Asian Studies at UCLA have definitely shaped me significantly. . . I am fluent in written and spoken Korean and have learned Japanese since my freshman year in high school. I am also learning Mandarin Chinese, and have taken language coursework for both Mandarin and Japanese at UCLA. —Grace Yoo (UCLA 2011/ East Asian Studies)
To get an idea of the possible coursework for an area studies major, see the .pdf file at the bottom of this page for two different examples.
Students interested in completing an areas studies major must complete six required preparatory courses, plus at least an elementary year of a foreign language, by the end of the fall quarter of their junior year (maintaining a minimum GPA of 2.0 in those courses).
Undergraduate minors. The International & Area Studies Program offers an even broader range of undergraduate minors, which can be pursued in conjunction with any undergraduate major at UCLA:
• African Studies
• African & Middle Eastern Studies
• European Studies
• East Asian Studies
• Latin American Studies
• South Asian Studies
• Southeast Asian Studies
All minors require three preparatory courses: the mandatory “Introduction to International and Area Studies,” plus two courses under the theme “International Societies and Cultures.” With respect to the latter, students can choose from a selection of courses in anthropology, comparative literature, economics, ethnomusicology, geography, history, political science, sociology, and world arts and cultures. Five upper-division area studies courses are then required to complete the minor (two in humanities and the arts, two in the social sciences), plus an elective.
Fulfilling a minor in European studies through the UCLA International Institute gave me the ability to specialize in an area I was already interested in, yet was outside of my major, cultural anthropology. Since the minor spans many departments — including geography, history and the arts — I was able to build a broad knowledge base on Europe. All of my professors were extremely knowledgeable in their fields and were able to recommend conferences and lectures at UCLA and throughout Los Angeles. I'm really happy that I chose this minor and met so many amazing professors and students along the way. —Kalena McElroy (UCLA 2014)
See the .pdf file at the bottom of this page to see an example of what coursework for an area studies minor might look like.
Students interested in completing an areas studies minor must complete three required preparatory courses before formally declaring the minor, after consultation with the academic counselor for the International and Area Studies program.
Students at a presentation of research papers at the UCLA
International Institute, May 2013. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)
Graduate area studies programs
The UCLA International Institute offers four master’s degrees and one doctoral program in area studies, some of which offer joint professional and/or articulated degrees:
• African Studies MA
African Studies MA/ Public Health MPH
• East Asian Studies MA
• Latin American Studies MA
Latin American Studies MA/ Public Health MPH
Latin American Studies MA/ Urban Studies MURP
Latin American Studies MA/ Business Administration MBA
Latin American Studies MA/ Master’s in Librarian and Information Sciences (MILS)
• Islamic Studies MA and PhD
All Institute graduate programs are designed to give students a rigorous advanced interdisciplinary education in either a specific region or Islamic Studies. Most require intensive language study and a research thesis for graduation; some programs have an option of a comprehensive exam in lieu of a research thesis.
Like their undergraduate counterparts, graduate area studies programs work closely with the individual centers and programs of the UCLA International Institute, which offer both language and research scholarships to graduate students. A considerable number of these students travel abroad to do language studies and/or thesis research.
In spring 2014, the UCLA International Institute hosted its first campus-wide graduate student conference. The brainchild of Erik Pena, an MA student in Latin American Studies, the conference brought together graduate students from numerous departments to discuss their research papers on international subjects. It is hoped that the conference will serve as an annual collaborative forum where graduate students from across campus can share ideas and develop solutions to real-world issues.
The requirements and length of the Institute’s graduate programs differ, especially if pursued in tandem with a professional or articulated degree program. To see the requirements of a specific program, click here.
Many graduates of these programs go on to work in the international sphere, whether in business, government, nonprofit organizations or multilateral institutions. Others pursue doctorates in a specific discipline and then teach at the university level, while maintaining a research focus on a given region.
I'm so happy that I chose to attend UCLA and study Latin American studies. The degree provided me with opportunities to examine the world from a broad range of perspectives. Because of the degree, I feel that I am a better teacher to my students. Most importantly, the degree made me feel enthusiastic about continuing to learn about the world. The UCLA International Institute provided me with skills I need to function and comprehend this rapidly changing and shrinking world.
—Karla Galdamez (UCLA 2003/ MA, Latin American Studies)