What’s senior Liam Karr’s secret to juggling three majors, writing a thesis, and still finding time to practice and perform with the Notre Dame Glee Club?
A little time management and a lot of love for what he does.
“I just totally do the whole ‘study what you love’ thing, and don’t really care if my schedule looks a little busy,” he said. “Because if I’m enjoying what I’m doing, then it doesn’t feel that hard.”
A self-described “history nerd” with an interest in politics, Karr quickly discovered how much natural overlap there is between his first two majors. Deciding to pursue a third major was more of an unexpected development.
Having studied Spanish in high school, Karr wanted to branch out and explore something new in order to fulfill the Arts & Letters foreign language requirement. Arabic, he decided, would complement his history and political science majors and help him better understand a region that is crucial to U.S. foreign policy.
“After my first few classes, I knew I couldn’t call it quits — I wanted to become proficient,” Karr said. “I ended up really liking the professors and the department, and the class sizes are really small so you get to know everyone that’s at the same level as you.”
“I just totally do the whole ‘study what you love’ thing, and don’t really care if my schedule looks a little busy. Because if I’m enjoying what I’m doing, then it doesn’t feel that hard.”
‘I was so immersed’
His desire to improve his Arabic skills led him to the Summer Language Abroad program through the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures after his sophomore year. Following a Glee Club tour of Europe, Karr flew to Amman, Jordan, where he spent two months living with a host family and taking classes at the Qasid Arabic Institute.
While he was initially nervous about life in a new country, he was quickly put at ease by his host family’s hospitality and the opportunities to explore another culture.
“My home stay defined my time in Jordan, and a lot of my fondest memories are with them,” Karr said. “We’d go to the market or downtown together, and I got to see way more of the general life and culture of the city because I was so immersed in it while living with them.”
His time in Amman also sparked an interest that has now evolved into his senior thesis — the relationship between Islam and democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring. Karr first wrote about the topic in an essay for a political science class during his junior year.
“When I started checking out books, I did deep reads of everything, even though I really didn’t need to do that much,” Karr said. “It was just such interesting stuff, and that paper was probably one of the best papers I’ve ever written just because I loved what I was writing about so much.”
At around the same time, Karr joined the Notre Dame International Security Center’s undergraduate program to expand his interest in foreign relations. Advised by Michael Hoffman, an assistant professor of political science, his NDISC capstone thesis will explore Islamist political parties and under what conditions they form pluralist and anti-authoritarian regime outlooks that are friendly to democratic transitions.
“I didn’t want to write a thesis just because I had to, so I’m glad I found a topic that I’m really interested in,” he said.
‘No problem too big’
Karr also studied abroad in London during the spring semester of his junior year, and while the program was halted early in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, he’s grateful for the time he did get to spend there.
“I was definitely drawn to London because I wanted to experience a big city and the program offers World War II history courses that I really wanted to take,” he said. “It was the best two and a half months of my life. I absolutely loved it.”
While very different from one another, both of Karr’s study abroad experiences pushed him outside of his comfort zone, which he believes is essential to self-improvement.
“Going to Amman where I didn’t speak the language and lived with a host family was obviously a huge growth experience for me, but I still learned so much in London and had growth there too,” Karr said. “You grow through a culmination of everything that happens there. It just makes you a better more well rounded person in probably every aspect of your life.”
After graduation, Karr is considering attending graduate school or pursuing a career in the private or public sector that is focused on foreign relations. Karr feels confident that he will find an opportunity that allows him to do what he loves, just as he has done throughout his Arts and Letters education.
“Arts and Letters provides the opportunity to develop diversity of thought — it gives you different ways to think about things and attack issues,” he said. “I’m lucky that I’ve chosen a variety of majors that promote different ways of thinking about things. There’s really no problem too big, because you learn how to tackle a variety of different challenges and think about them differently.”
“Arts and Letters provides the opportunity to develop diversity of thought — it gives you different ways to think about things and attack issues. There’s really no problem too big, because you learn how to tackle a variety of different challenges and think about them differently.”