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My name is Aarti Betigeri and I am currently studying a Master of International Relations at the Coral Bell School.
After my undergraduate study in Arts majoring in politics and journalism at RMIT, I worked for a number of Australian media organisations, and later lived and worked in India as an independent foreign correspondent. There, I was exposed to the world of diplomacy and it fascinated me; it was so different from what I knew but seemed to be about resolving conflict or defusing tensions – the flip side to journalism, which focuses more on seeking out conflicts to report on them.
When I returned to Australia, I wanted to continue writing and reporting on Asia, but wanted more heft and knowledge behind what I wrote about. I know a lot of other journalists who have studied postgraduate international relations and knew it to be a useful degree. So even after a long and rewarding career in journalism, I decided to enrol in the Master of International Relations program. I chose The Australian National University (ANU) out of proximity as I’d moved to Canberra in 2017 after almost nine years in New Delhi. I have to admit I didn’t do too much research in advance; friends told me it was the place to study IR so I trusted them.
It turned out to be very sound advice: I have loved my time at ANU and while I studied part-time over four years – and still counting, thanks to Covid – I would be happy to keep lurking around the corridors of the Hedley Bull building for a long time. I never really understood the idea of a building being hallowed, but that’s how Hedley Bull feels, even though it doesn’t look the part. You step inside and immediately you feel the vibrations of dozens of excellent brains cerebrating simultaneously.
While studying, I have continued to work as a journalist, and also branched out into related areas like government communications, media training and podcasting. I am the Canberra correspondent for the London-based magazine Monocle and I also write for a wide range of Australian and global publications, including the New York Times, Time magazine, the ABC, Australian Foreign Affairs and others. I am a regular contributor to The Interpreter by the Lowy Institute, which is usually an op-ed take on something going on in India or elsewhere in the subcontinent. I’m pleased that I’ve had the opportunity to continue writing about South Asia, more than four years since I lived in the region. It’s a very poorly-covered region from Australia, both by the media and academically. It’s an enormous oversight, particularly as Australia’s bilateral relationship with India is becoming closer and stronger.
I have now been at Coral Bell for four years, although most of 2020 and 2021 were conducted online due to Covid. Despite the frustrations of remote learning, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my subjects – particularly the electives – and can recognise that a large part of this comes from the faculty, who regularly come across as passionate, deeply invested in their learnings and teachings, invested in their students, approachable, relatable, and very importantly, never condescending nor belittling. A particularly memorable course was International Relations Theory with Mathew Davies – when someone is so energised by theory, it cannot help but rub off. I’ve also enjoyed being able to delve deeply into courses such as Gender, War and Justice with Maria Tanyag, and The Politics of Aid and Development in the Pacific with Kerryn Baker. While I have often found the theoretical elements to be difficult to grasp – journalism is only ever about the empirical – doing this has stretched the boundaries of my brain and I feel much richer for it.
In particular, I’ve enjoyed subjects where there has been a high degree of interaction. I loved Ethnicity and Conflict with Ed Aspinall, where seminars were held not in a lecture theatre but in a smaller room around a table, with the 20-odd students all from different countries expected to debate and interact. I realised in this class that this was everything I wanted from my ANU experience: to be in an international community talking animatedly about issues and ideas. I deeply missed this during online learning, and while there have been similarly animated discussions via Zoom, it’s not the same.
A course that really stands out is Negotiation and Conflict with Claude Rakisits, a series of lectures culminating in a two-day UNSC simulation, where we role-played solving various conflicts. A lightbulb went off in my head during this course, and it was the first time I could visualise doing something else other than writing.
At this stage, my plan after graduating from the Master of International Relations is to keep doing what I’m already doing, but just to do it better – and to do more of it. My degree has given me the ability to speak and write about foreign relations and diplomacy from a position of knowledge and assurance. I realise now that a big part of international relations is not just knowing the concepts, but being able to speak about them authoritatively in the language of IR. It’s given me more confidence and skill in what I’m doing.
I’d certainly recommend the Master of International Relations degree at the ANU, however based on my conversations with other students and my own experience, I’d urge students to be sure that IR is the course of study for them. The theory component is pretty heavy, and sometimes students find it challenging to self-motivate. Nonetheless, it is a well-rounded degree, with a good mix of foundational subjects and interesting electives (and it’s possible to do pick subjects from other relevant schools and areas of study, which is a definite bonus), and one that will challenge and reward students in many ways.