5 Reasons To Study International Relations and Diplomacy

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In many ways, our world is more interconnected than ever before—evidenced, in part, by the amount of international travel that takes place each year.

According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, the U.S. is seeing rising travel demands—despite recent economic and geopolitical challenges. In fact, international tourism reached 80% of pre-pandemic tourism levels in Q1 2023, followed by 85% in Q2 and 90% in late July.

In the past several decades, multinational corporations have come to generate revenue that exceeds the GDP of some nations, allowing these organizations to exert remarkable influence over international politics. Technological innovation and the proliferation of social media have further connected global audiences in ways that were before impossible. And the advent of the 24-hour news cycle has made it possible to know what is happening virtually anywhere, almost in real time.

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Now more than ever, corporations and governments are seeking to hire individuals—skilled international relations and diplomacy professionals—who can help them meet the demands of this shift toward globalization.

If you are considering this type of career in international relations, diplomacy, or global studies, you may be wondering whether or not you need an international relations degree to advance. Read on to learn more about the industry and the top five reasons to study international relations and diplomacy.

What are international relations and diplomacy?

Because international relations and diplomacy both address global issues, the two fields are often discussed together (as they are here). It is important to note, though, that while international relations and diplomacy are closely related, the two terms do carry distinct meanings and implications.

International relations refers to a field of study and practice focused on understanding the unique relationships that exist between various nations and cultures. These relationships can impact everything from international politics, law, and economics to security, diplomacy, and governance.

Diplomacy is a subset of international relations that is typically focused more narrowly around the process of conducting negotiations between representatives of different nations or, in some cases, corporations from different countries.

Reasons to study international relations and diplomacy

1. You’ll gain transferable skills.

Most international relations and diplomacy programs are designed to prepare students for roles communicating across cultures. In addition to gaining specialized knowledge related to intercultural theory and approaches, students in an international relations degree program will typically develop and refine the following practical skills:

  • Research and analytical skills to help evaluate complex problems and synthesize data to tell compelling stories
  • Communication skills to communicate effectively across channels and mediums, from writing to verbal communication
  • Interpersonal skills to aid in building relationships and resolving international conflicts, which is especially important when working in a multicultural or cross-cultural setting

Earning an advanced degree will potentially prepare you for many career paths, as these are highly sought after skills, regardless of the career you pursue or the industry you ultimately work in.

2. It’s about more than politics.

While a degree in international relations and diplomacy prepares professionals for a career in politics, your career options are in no way limited to a political path. 

Because the skills learned in a global studies and international relations (GSIR) program are so transferable, individuals who study international relations go on to work in many different careers and industries, including international business, military intelligence and analysis, national security, activism, and more.

Of course, many students do go on to become diplomats who work on a broad range of topics in areas such as:

  • Environmental issues
  • Climate change
  • Conflict resolution
  • Technology
  • Science
  • Human trafficking
  • Global health
  • Preservation of cultural property

3. You can make an impact.

Many individuals who study international relations and diplomacy do so because they have a deeply personal motivation to make the world a better place, regardless of specific career goals.

Those who use their degree to work in politics (e.g., diplomats, activists, and ambassadors) can achieve their personal goals by developing and implementing related policies that have the potential to improve lives around the world. They may, for example, work to:

  • Coordinate counterterrorism efforts.
  • Provide aid during natural disasters and other crises.
  • Promote the rights of women and children.
  • Address issues like food insecurity and nutrition.

On the other hand, those who use their degree to enter the business world can similarly effect change. These professionals may help coordinate an organization’s charitable and strategic operations or lobby national and international governments to pursue particular legislation.

4. You’ll experience cultural immersion.

In order to be an effective international diplomat, ambassador, lobbyist, or business executive focused on a particular country or region, you’ll be required to immerse yourself in another culture. Part of the job is mastering another country’s language, culture, and traditions. In addition to making you more effective at your job, this can allow for deep personal growth and exploration, which many find incredibly fulfilling.

5. You’ll be part of a team.

International relations never occurs in isolation. Whether you are in a boardroom working to establish ties between your organization and others around the world or you are in an embassy or consulate, your job will be a collaborative one. 

Diplomats, for example, collaborate with many agencies and learn how to assemble people with a variety of skills to accomplish international goals. They work alongside colleagues from the military, intelligence services, commerce, trade, agriculture, law enforcement, science, and technology.

Choosing an international relations and diplomacy program

If you believe that earning a degree in international relations and diplomacy is your next step, it’s important you choose the program that will best help you reach your personal and professional goals. 

To ensure alignment between a GSIR program and your career goals, seek one that offers a concentration in the field you are hoping to eventually work in. The Master of Science in Global Studies and International Relations at Northeastern, for example, offers students four unique concentrations to choose from:

  • Global health and development
  • Conflict resolution
  • Diplomacy
  • International economics and consulting

Additionally, the program offers students an opportunity to gain real-world, hands-on experience through the International Field Study Experience, a program in which students can serve as consultants to help international organizations solve their current challenges. This is the type of experience that employers across industries are looking for.

Think this is the degree for you? Learn more about earning an MS in Global Studies and International Relations at Northeastern University, or download our guide to advancing your international relations career below.

Download Our Free Guide to Breaking into Global Studies and International Relations

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2019. It has since been updated for relevance and accuracy.