Salutatorian Giuseppe Spatafora Accepted to University of Oxford
Giuseppe Spatafora is from Palermo, the regional capital of Sicily, in the heart of the Mediterranean. He majored in International Affairs with minors in History and Economics. He was the Class of 2017 Salutatorian and also received this year’s International Affairs Academic Achievement award and Service to the JCU Community award.For three years he was an active member of JCU’s Model United Nations Society (MUN). He represented JCU at MUN conferences in Rome and Warsaw as delegate and in Menton, France as chair of a committee. He was coordinator of the JCU MUN 2016 Conference for high school students, and President of the Society for one year from July 2016 to June 2017. Giuseppe worked for two years as Orientation Leader, welcoming students from all over the world and helping them adapt to university life in Rome. He also worked as peer tutor in the Foreign Language Resource Center and in the Math Tutoring Center, teaching Italian, Spanish, Economics and Statistics.
How did you become interested in International Affairs?
My high school diploma is from a Liceo Classico in Palermo, and I had some exposure to international environments in the form of courses in Spanish history and literature and a five-week international exchange experience in Colombia. During my last year of high school I participated in my first Model United Nations conference in New York City, which introduced me to the world of international relations. I thus decided to study International Affairs at John Cabot University, where I also pursued minors in Economics and History to gain a cross-disciplinary approach to socio-political issues.
JCU’s motto is “Explorando Excello”: last year I decided to follow this motto and went to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea at a partner university. I had never been to Asia before, and the experience opened up a new world for me and led to my decision to specialize in the international politics of East Asia. For my senior thesis, I compared the alliance between South Korea and the United States and the one between North Korea and China, trying to assess whether these two alliances are bound to endure or to collapse. I also interned in the Asia Department at the Istituto Affari Internazionali, a Rome-based think tank.
Congratulations on your acceptance to Oxford! What attracted you to this specific program?
Thank you! It is a great honor for me to be the first JCU graduate to be accepted to Oxford’s International Relations MPhil. However, there are two other JCU students (Marialaura Grandolfo and Federico Giordani) who have been accepted to Oxford for the Fall 2017 semester, and this shows that JCU’s high-quality education prepares students to compete for admissions to prestigious graduate schools.
The two-year-long MPhil in International Relations attracted me because of its historical emphasis (its core course is the History of International Relations since 1900) and its focus on research methodology. During my time at JCU, I earned a minor in history in order to understand the modern historical dynamics that led to today’s international politics, and I took courses in Social Science Research Methods, Statistics and Econometrics to familiarize myself with different forms of research, from archival and textual analysis to quantitative methods.
Moreover, the MPhil will allow me to continue specializing in East Asian politics, because many professors at Oxford are experts on China and the Far East. I might also have the opportunity to spend some time in Asia during my second year to collect primary sources for the final, 30,000-word dissertation.
What did the application process entail?
The application for the MPhil requires a personal statement in which the applicant highlights his/her research interests and the ways in which he/she can contribute to the program. One needs to briefly answer this question: “What is your story? Where are you heading? And why is this program an essential step in your life goals?” Trust me, it is a very hard question to answer! However, I received very helpful guidance from Associate Dean Pamela Harris and Professor Michael Driessen.
The application also requires two writing samples, which I took from essays that I wrote for coursework at JCU, proof of English proficiency, and three academic references.
What are your expectations of Oxford?
I hope that the program will help me build a strong framework to thoroughly understand the past and current processes in international relations. I believe that East Asia holds important clues to understanding the future of world politics. At the same time, one cannot neglect the other regions of the world, which in the age of hyper-connectivity and globalization cannot be completely separated from each other. I hope that the two-year MPhil will provide me with this thorough background and training.
Also, as someone with a passion for history and tradition, I am thrilled to join the oldest university in the English-speaking world and, like 12th century French philosopher Bernard of Chartres, to “stand on the shoulders of giants!”
What is your career goal?
I hope to one day join the academic and research community as a scholar and professor. During my time at JCU, I took part in several conferences and I was a panelist twice: in November 2015 at the International Undergraduate Essay Conference in Utrecht, and last February at JCU in a conference organized by the Guarini Institute on “Trump and Asia: from Competition to Confrontation.”
As a scholar of international relations, I am also interested in a career in diplomacy or politics. Over the last few years, populism has been on the rise, and as a result, positions of power have been taken not by knowledgeable individuals, but by amateurish figures who pretend to represent the people’s true interests vis-à-vis the hyper-globalist establishment. While I agree that financial and economic globalization has caused much suffering and job loss, I believe that the rise of unskilled leaders is not the answer. Actually, I hope to see more experts and graduates in positions of political power in the near future. This is why I do not exclude the possibility of entering politics or becoming a diplomat.
Why did you decide to apply to John Cabot?
When I came across a JCU representative at a university fair in Palermo, I realized John Cabot was the place I was looking for: an international school where courses are taught in English and scholarships based on high-school grades would help with tuition, which would reward my previous work. For me, JCU represented the bridge between Italy and the world, the perfect place to build an international career.
Any advice for a new student starting out at JCU?
If you are about to start your adventure at JCU, you should take advantage of the many opportunities that the university offers. Participate in class discussions as much as possible and interact with professors, who will provide you with additional insight and inspiration. Don’t be scared to take classes that look difficult, because they are the most rewarding ones. Join clubs and get involved in student life activities, which will make you feel more integrated with the community. However, don’t think that you need to do everything at once: start with some activities in the first semester, then do something else the following term, and so on. Once you begin, opportunities will multiply along the way!
Read two articles that Giuseppe Spatafora published during his internship:
“Trump’s Foreign Policy in Asia”
“Geopolitical Dynamics and Regionalism in East Asia”