Class Highlight: U.S Foreign Policy

One of the most interesting classes I’ve taken in my years at WashU has been a class I’m taking this semester, U.S Foreign Policy. As an International and Area Studies major, I already had an interest in foreign policy. However, the format of this class makes the topic fascinating regardless. The simulation exercises that take up the bulk of the class are useful for learning about the practical application of foreign policy theories. They also make class time enjoyably challenging. I would recommend this class to anyone intrigued by foreign policy or anyone who likes experiential learning.

At the beginning of the semester, we received our assigned roles and learned about a specific foreign policy scenario. None of our roles were too high-ranking, to give us a sense of the specific challenges lower level bureaucrats go through. My role is special assistant to the White House Chief of Staff. In that role, I’m a part of the National Security Council. This means I meet with other students at a table set up on one end of the room to discuss sensitive information related to the scenario. We can also get information from sources not at the table by sending emails to the professor, Dr. Caddel.

At the other end of the room, students playing Congressional staffers, members of the press, and non-governmental organization members try to gain information from those of us at the NSC table. At the end of each session, the NSC members have to vote on a response to the scenario. Then, we write debrief essays. These describe how what happened in the simulation relates to the theoretical readings we did outside of class.

Learning through simulation experience gives me a sense for how the theories we’re learning about connect to the real world. It’s also taught me about the motivations of the people who have these jobs and the stresses they’re under. Handling congressional staffers’ demands while working with other NSC members to agree on a compromise is not easy. I have a greater appreciation for that now. When it comes time to vote, it’s interesting to see how much sway each member holds. That’s given me a better sense for how the world of foreign policy really operates. I’m not sure if I’d want a job like this in real life, but at least I have a better understanding of what it entails thanks to this class.