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Internships in the Middle East and Washington, D.C., shape PLS major’s career plan

Author: Teagan Dillon

Sarah Morgan Red Sea 1200Program of Liberal Studies major Sarah Tomas Morgan stands near the Red Sea in Jordan in 2015.

Notre Dame senior Sarah Tomas Morgan has always had an interest in global issues.

And the College of Arts and Letters has enabled her to explore that passion through her coursework and a variety of international and internship experiences. 

Coming into her first year, Tomas Morgan intended on majoring in political science. But after completing a University Seminar in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS), her plans changed.

“I just fell in love with the classics we were reading and the discussions we were having,” Tomas Morgan said. “So I decided to stick with the Program of Liberal Studies and continue it as my major throughout the four years.”

An interest in international politics led Tomas Morgan to add a minor in peace studies.

“I wanted that present-day applicability to the issues I was studying in PLS,” she said, “and I feel like peace studies has really enabled me to do that and has focused my questions around more modern problems of peace and conflict.”

These disciplines, along with courses in Arabic, have opened several doors for Tomas Morgan to deepen her learning and to gain valuable international experience in the Middle East and North Africa.

“My Notre Dame education has definitely fostered my peace-building interest.”

Gaining firsthand knowledge

After her first year, with two Arabic classes under her belt, Tomas Morgan traveled to Amman, Jordan, for an immersive language-learning experience in the Summer Language Abroad program.

Sarah Morgan United Nations 1200Morgan working at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency refugee camp in Jerusalem.

“I didn't really know what I was getting into, but I really enjoyed Arabic so I decided to pursue it further,” Tomas Morgan said. “I went to class for four hours a day in Jordan, then had time to explore the city to get more exposure to people speaking Arabic. Because of this background and the language skills I gained, I was able to apply to other opportunities in the region.”

Eager to return to the Middle East, Tomas Morgan secured an internship with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in East Jerusalem the following summer, through the Center for Social Concerns’ International Summer Service Learning Program. UNRWA is an agency designed specifically to work with Palestinian refugees not covered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Tomas Morgan’s experience in East Jerusalem helped her see the real-world implications of issues and problems she had been studying in the classroom, while also helping her hone practical skills. In addition to attending various UN events, Tomas Morgan edited documents that had been translated from Arabic to English and got to conduct interviews and reporting for feature stories on Palestinian refugees.

“I loved it there, because it not only related to my interest in peace studies and in the region, but it also used my reading and writing skills from my PLS classes,” Tomas Morgan said. 

Fostering a passion for peace-building

These experiences, combined with her courses in the College of Arts and Letters, prepared Tomas Morgan for her most recent internship experience with the Global Center on Cooperative Security in Washington, D.C., last summer. There, she worked as a research assistant for Brookings Institution senior fellow Eric Rosand on “The Prevention Project: Organizing Against Violent Extremism.”

Sarah Morgan JerusalemMorgan walks past the Barrier Wall in Bethlehem in 2016.

The project emphasizes a whole-society approach to countering violent extremism, and Tomas Morgan worked specifically on engaging civil society actors in the project. The experience was her first encounter with a long-term research project, which she values as she develops her senior thesis on the philosophical grounding of human development projects.

“I felt well prepared in terms of the subjects I was researching,” Tomas Morgan said. “I had the basic knowledge of international relations and of countering violent extremism — which was the topic of my research over the summer — through projects I had done in my classes.”

Ultimately, Tomas Morgan’s time in D.C. helped shape her vision of her future.

“It made me realize that I really enjoy research, and I could see myself doing more of it in the future,” Tomas Morgan said. “I like the work of NGOs and the outside-of-government influence that we were able to have.

“But I also discovered that I would prefer to work in peace studies, rather than the field of countering violent extremism. I think my Notre Dame education has definitely fostered my peace-building interest.”

Looking ahead, Tomas Morgan hopes to continue her work on policy relating to refugees and immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. Before applying for graduate school, she hopes to gain more experience in the field by applying to the Peace Corps or other domestic service programs, or by taking advantage of the connections she made in Washington.

“The Global Center and the Prevention Project have a very strong mission that I wholeheartedly agree with,” Tomas Morgan said. “It made a huge difference going to work every day and really believing in the work that I was doing and knowing that the people around me were truly passionate about it, too. This really showed me the different aspects that I would like to search for in a potential future career.”