Andrea Kirk (IIPES 99) received a master’s degree in liberal arts from the University of St. Andrews in 1999. Today, she is working as a writer/editorial coordinator for Caritas International in Rome. She is also the recipient of The Phillips Foundation Fellowship; she will be writing on the topic of points of convergence and divergence in the social and foreign policies of President George W. Bush and Pope John Paul II. She also works as a freelance writer and has been published by Inside the Vatican, The University Bookman, Human Events and United Press International. Before her work in Rome, Kirk worked with the Middle East division of the International Republican Institute, the Victims of Communism Foundation and the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.
Although Kirk has had a variety of impressive international academic and professional experiences since her time at IIPES, her participation in IIPES is still incredibly meaningful to her:
“Years after attending IIPES in Greece, I am still amazed that the program lasted only three short weeks, and yet the time spent there has influenced me and my future in ways completely unanticipated.
“In my final year of university in St. Andrews, Scotland, I heard about the program from Dr. Antony Sullivan, one of the Institute’s professors and a source of great encouragement to my growing interest in the Middle East. The program really sounded too good to be true: three weeks studying politics and economics in Olympia and Athens with renowned professors and students from countries I had only hoped to visit someday. The reality of the program did not disappoint my high expectations.
“Though I had studied in a foreign country for four years, I felt somewhat parochial next to the globe-trotting IIPES students who were already veterans of international youth conferences and seminars on such topics as security, peace-building and economic globalization. I soon discovered, however, that even for them IIPES was a unique experience not soon forgotten.
“The life-loving spirit of youth infected the group from the very start. Even though many of the students came from war-torn countries and had experienced more hardship than the average twenty-something (or perhaps due to this), very little time was spent on melancholy but rather on dancing, joking, swimming and general merriment. Though the three weeks could easily be described as giddy, they were not without their serious moments of political discussion and heated debate. As usual, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took center stage in almost every discussion, sometimes causing rifts in the otherwise laid back environment.
“One of the most significant things about these political debates, however, was that they occurred at all. At the time I was not able to fully comprehend how unusual it was for young people from warring countries to have a neutral space where they can attach a name, a face and an affection to an otherwise stereotyped “enemy.” In the group emails which followed the summer, one student said exactly this – that she will always think of a particular person, a friend, when she thinks of another country. And that makes a difference in how we think about the world and how well we are able to understand and work together.
“Over the past four years, many friendships from IIPES remain, and others I know can be reinvigorated with a short email or phone call. So far I’ve visited with IIPES friends in Rome, Michigan and Israel, with many outstanding invitations waiting to be fulfilled. Life becomes relentlessly busy, and the years have changed each of us, but for some reason I still haven’t quite figured out, a bond of friendship and openness to dialogue has remained for a group of young strangers who spent three short weeks together in the summer of 1999.”