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Globe-trotting student gets firsthand look at international politics

It’s not surprising that Karina Hoogstede ’12 is joining the Peace Corps after graduation.

Much of what she did at Willamette University seemed to lead her on that path — learning Arabic in Jordan; interning at a U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe; working with students from Bosnia and Herzegovina when they visited Willamette and later in their home country; co-organizing a student organization that raised money for Haitians after the 2010 earthquake destroyed their country.

The politics major relished her time on the Willamette campus — she competed on the women’s rowing team and played oboe in the university’s wind ensemble — but she also looked for ways to make her education extend far beyond Salem.

“I was attracted to studying politics because it’s about having a voice in your community, and being able to shape that community in ways that are meaningful and represent you,” she says. “And I love international politics because it shows the interconnectedness of seemingly very different cultures.

“The issues affecting people in Jordan, for example, such as water crises, can also be applied to people in the United States. The human experience, while it’s not universal, is relatable.”

From Africa to the Middle East

Hoogstede exudes fun and enthusiasm. She is quick to laugh and could be found wearing heart-shaped sunglasses around campus in the days before graduation. She’s popular among her rowing teammates, who selected her as team captain and “Most Inspirational.”

But she didn’t shy away from tackling quite serious topics in her studies, both in Salem and abroad.

At her internship with the U.S. State Department in Zimbabwe, she processed visa applications and interviewed Zimbabweans applying to leave the country — a job that sometimes put her in the tough position of having to reject applications after hearing people’s heartfelt appeals to start new lives away from President Robert Mugabe’s often violent rule.

“We couldn’t accept everyone, and it was difficult to be in that gatekeeper position,” she says. “I tried to be as fair and compassionate as possible.”

In Jordan, she interned with the International Organization for Migration in Amman, helping Iraqi refugees who were migrating or returning to post-conflict Iraq.

“Reading the case files about all these Iraqis — the businesses they’re trying to start, they hospitals they need to visit to see their relatives — made the situation personal,” Hoogstede says. “It was important to hear these stories, because it’s so easy to simplify conflicts or government policy to statistics.”

Hoogstede also learned about the personal side of conflict when she served as a discussion leader in a program that brought high school students from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Willamette to explore democracy and debate.

“I helped facilitate discussions with the students about how you heal a country that has just been through war and genocide,” she says. “Seeing their idealism but also their realism about the problems they want to address in their country was inspiring. But it was also sobering. They have a lot of work ahead.”

Continuing to Explore

Hoogstede’s next international journey will take her to Mozambique for two years as an English teacher trainer through the Peace Corps.

“The Peace Corps is something I’ve considered doing since high school, but it was Willamette’s dedication to service and volunteerism that helped me decide,” she says. “I want to use my knowledge and skills to help others help themselves.”

After her service, she plans to seek a career that melds her passion for politics and world issues — possibly as a Foreign Service officer or an ambassador.

“Willamette has prepared me immensely, not only because of the spectrum and quality of everything I learned, but also because I was encouraged to explore different options and ask questions,” she says.

“My professors taught me to pause, to see other points of view, to not assume, to ask why, and to try to understand the reasons behind others’ behaviors. This will not only help me have better interactions with the people I come across in my work, but also in my life.”