International Relations is a rather self-explanatory term – the way that countries interact – but many Cambodian students have no idea exactly what an IR student actually studies, or why it is important to Cambodia’s future.
As the Kingdom develops and becomes a significant part of the global economy and a respectable member of the international political community through groups such as ASEAN and the United Nations, it will be up to IR specialists to represent Cambodia to world leaders and diplomats around the world. IR students need to have a thorough understanding of current events as well as the historical context of those events, but just as importantly they need to have interpersonal and diplomatic skills to represent Cambodia’s interests while generating respect and friendships abroad.
Kao Kim Hourn, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as well as the rector of the University of Cambodia, said that as Cambodia becomes engaged with a growing number of foreign countries through political and economic ties, it desperately needs the people to manage those relationships and make sure that the country benefits from them.
Unlike majors such as biology or accounting, which require a specific set of skills and knowledge, IR students must have a broad understanding of the world, according to In Sophal, a professor of political sciences and IR at UC. “International Relations focuses mainly on international history, conflict, insititutions, economic markets, law, conflict resolution and other world issues,” he said.
Kao Kim Hourn said that the number of IR students at his school had grown from 13 to more than 200 since 2003, and the growth of the major at UC was representative of the growth nationwide. In 2005 the Royal Academy of Cambodia began the International Relations Institute of Cambodia as a think tank for foreign policy, and the
International Relations Exchange at the Royal University of Law and Economics has been steadily building academic partnerships with universities around the world for students to study IR abroad.
Phang Chandara Odom, a 21-year-old student in his third year as an international studies major at Pannasastra University, said he thought that IR was a good major because it not only taught you about world events, it required students to communicate effectively, speak properly and live peacefully.
One of his IR professors at Pannasastra, Chin Malin, agreed that IR taught students a broad range of skills and that there was a wide number of employment opportunities for IR graduates. “If students are interested in politics, they can work for the government,” said Chin Malin. “If students are more interested in social development, they can work with NGOs and civil society organisations.”
Some IR students are not quite as confident about the job market, despite their passion for IR. “Some people get jobs because of nepotism and NGOs recruit people who have a lot of experience,” said Phang Chandra Odom. “So how can we get a job?”
“People used to think that being a politician or diplomat is impossible due to nepotism,” said Chin Malin. But, as the demand for talented diplomats grows, he said people are “changing their perceptions”.
Kao Kim Hourn said that government institutions need talented IR graduates not only to cooperate with foreign countries, but to challenge them in the years to come.