SIUE grad broadens academic interests overseas


Sean Severson, a 2014 SIUE graduate, attends Zhejiang University in China where he is pursuing a master’s degree in international relations. Severson earned a bachelor’s degree in history at SIUE. (Photo courtesy of Sean Severson)


SIUE alum Sean Severson takes a visit to the Tibetian Plateau in the Qinghai Province in western China. (Photo courtesy of Sean Severson)

A special SIUE travel-study program may have steered Sean Severson toward a career in international security studies. Severson, a 2014 SIUE graduate, took part in an SIUE travel study program in China headed by Mass Communications professor Jason Yu and Foreign Language professor Tom Lavallee in the summer of 2013. Severson and eight other SIUE students made the journey to Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang province in the central east coast of the country.  Severson said he enjoyed the five-and-a-half week course so much that he applied to Hangzhou’s Zhejiang University to pursue a master’s degree in International Relations.

“I think I’m getting to the point where I’ve found my niche,” Severson said. “I really like the international aspect – especially solving international problems. In my opinion, having good fluency in different countries is a good way to do that.”

The 23-year-old studies a broad range of topics at Zhejiang that he hopes will prepare him for a future career in international security and hopes to earn position working for the United Nations or perhaps as a military officer.

Following his study abroad trip to China, Severson went on another program studying for six weeks in Rome where he attended John Cabot University to study the History of the Roman Empire.  The experience inspired Severson into looking into the possibility of a career in international relations and security studies.  His six week course in Rome completed his degree in history with minors in geography and Asian studies.

“I’ve always had a deep passion for history and once I graduated [from SIUE] and went to Rome and China, I got a good sense of what it was like in Europe and Asia,” Severson said. “So I thought if I get a master’s in China, it would be a great opportunity to get a good one to two years of living and studying in a foreign place where I could take that knowledge and information with me to a job or whatever I wanted to do.”

Severson said studying at the Chinese university has given him a broader perspective on international relations and understanding different cultural points of view. Severson attends classes with students from Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey and China. Class discussions center on topics such as key theories in international relations. Students also discussed foreign policy and the Iraq War, as well as international relations in the Asia-Pacific region among China, Japan, and North and South Korea. Severson’s thesis is on the Angolan Civil War and how small arms weapons impacted problems caused by the war.

“It’s just a very rich environment that you can discuss these issues with,” said Severson, an Edwardsville native. “That’s probably one of the most rewarding things, it’s the connections I made over there. It’s the diversity of the people there, and they all have their different ideas and their own opinions about things. When we discuss about policy or discuss about an issue historically currently unfolding. It’s very interesting, the dynamics. You get an idea of what that culture or what that country, what is their perspective and what’s their point of view on something.”

In addition to his studies, Severson, along with two Chinese students, formed a consulting service, where he helps tutor Chinese students with their English and writing. Severson is also learning to speak Mandarin independently. Severson said his time in China has given him well rounded skills and a more worldly view of relations between foreign nations. He said understanding different cultural perspectives can be crucial when it comes to interacting with people from different countries.

“[Studying at Zhejiang] just showed me how many opportunities are out there,” Severson said. “It was something that not many people in the U.S. do. It gives me a lot of advances in many fields just by having the experience. It’s not so much the degree, but it’s the experience that comes with it that will probably be even more marketable.”

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