International Relations Is the Focus for High School Students

Rising juniors and seniors spend a few weeks in July learning international relations from some of Tufts' leading faculty

"Participants are immersed in everything that Tufts can offer and get a real taste of what it’s like to be an undergraduate at Tufts,” said Vickie Sullivan, the Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science.

The world is increasingly interconnected—we see that every day from business to health to politics. At the same time, international relations has become an increasingly popular undergraduate major. For some high school students, there’s a way to get a leg up on their studies in the field.

The Tufts University pre-college intensive on international relations in July will help rising high school juniors and seniors earn college credit and create a path toward future academic and professional goals. Led by Tufts faculty and guest lecturers, students will analyze current global issues and be immersed in college-level foreign language training. 

Vickie Sullivan, the Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science, helped create the program a few years ago, incorporating important components from the undergraduate international relations program.

The Tufts international relations program is distinctive because it requires eight semesters of a foreign language to complete the major,” said Sullivan. “We want to make sure students have language competency and really understand a foreign culture. Because that’s such an important part of our major, we thought it was important to include the language component in our summer intensive as well.”

During the pre-college intensive, students will train in one of seven languages. The Tufts language faculty had the challenging task of figuring out how to teach languages like Arabic and French for two weeks in a substantive and valuable way. “I was really impressed with how eager, conscientious, and enthusiastic the language instructors were. They enjoy engaging with the high school students,” she said.

Tufts Now recently sat down with Sullivan to learn more about the summer intensive in international relations and what students can expect from the program.

Tufts Now: Aside from foreign language training, what will students learn over the two-week course?

Vickie Sullivan: The program is focused on international relations and global affairs as they are taught at Tufts. Each day is part lecture and part discussion with a different faculty member presenting on his or her research. Students will encounter faculty from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, from various departments in the School of Arts and Sciences, and also from the School of Engineering—one faculty member from Engineering presents on cybersecurity, for example. Graduate students from Fletcher and recent graduates and advanced undergraduates in the International Relations Program serve as teaching assistants and mentors.

Students also work directly with Tufts staff such as writing experts who can help them to formulate their ideas more effectively and librarians who advise them on research. Participants are immersed in everything that Tufts can offer and get a real taste of what it’s like to be an undergraduate at Tufts.

They are in dorms—there’s a commuter option for locals—and they eat their meals in a dining hall. There are some activities that they can select from in the evening. They have work to do, but they also have options for socializing and de-stressing, and they have to make the same choices around time-management that college students have to make.

What types of students usually attend the program? What are their passions, interests, and qualifications?

The program attracts students who are really interested in what’s happening in the world and follow political and cultural affairs. Tufts is known for that area of expertise generally, and it tends to attract those types of students.

The participants meet other students from all over the world who have the same intellectual commitments as they do.

The program has a wonderful diversity of students who are all extremely intellectually curious, well-informed, and eager to learn more. The classroom discussions are very vigorous.

What do you hope that students walk away feeling and thinking at the end of this program?

At the closing dinner for the students and faculty, it is quite evident that the students have formed genuine friendships with others from around the country and around the world based on their shared intellectual interests.  That is a very gratifying thing to witness.

Students also will walk away with better language training—they might have started learning Arabic, for example, or they arrive with very good knowledge of French or of Spanish but have improved their reading and speaking ability.

They gain real insight into the ways that different disciplines contribute to the study of international relations and global affairs.

I would like them to get a sense of what it is like to be a college student in a very intense, academically challenging environment. And I hope they learn more about what they want to gain from the college experience as they’re approaching the time when they will be applying to colleges.

Applications for the pre-college intensive in international relations are being accepted now through May 1.

Angela Nelson can be reached at

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