Cassandra Bales has always had a passion for international relations and diplomacy. After two years at Cottey College in Missouri, where she was in the top ten of her class, Cassandra majored in international relations at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, which is located in Baltimore. She graduated summa cum laude.
While there, she seized the opportunity to participate in the Model Organization of American States, representing Venezuela one year and Brazil the next. The Model OAS experience operated through a semester-long course, where each student immerses him or herself in hemispheric politics, and particularly becomes an expert on the country to which he or she is assigned. Cassandra studied Venezuela and Brazil’s positions on a range of issues, learned how they would view certain policies, wrote sample position papers, and debated resolutions based on those countries’ points of view.
After preparing for a semester, the students were permitted a week for the hands-on work of diplomacy – for example, lobbying others to ensure their support for your resolutions. Cassandra also served as a leader as the head delegate for her school in the Model OAS, guiding and assisting her classmates.
Cassandra also channeled her love of international affairs into several trips abroad. She did a two week study abroad/service tour to Guatemala. She stayed in the town of San Lucas Toliman, and did community work in conjunction with a Catholic parish. Meanwhile, her group learned about human rights history in Guatemala, and met with civil rights organizations, women’s groups, and people who survived the bloody civil war.
While she was at Notre Dame of Maryland, Cassandra received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Indonesia – a program that sends American college graduates to teach English abroad. The program is also intended to be a cultural ambassadorship – participating Americans represent the United States and its culture to foreigners. Cassandra taught at a public high school in Surabaya, East Java – the second largest city in Indonesia.
Cassandra enjoyed helping to improve her students’ skills in English, but her real goals were to advance the program’s diplomatic mission. In particular, Cassandra worked to counter popular misperceptions about the United States. For instance, many of her students and people she met thought that all Americans were white. She helped to explain America’s ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, that we have people of all races and ethnicities who all live and work together.
Cassandra also traveled within the Indonesian archipelago, particularly to places where not many tourists ventured. Cassandra was actually the first American that many of these Indonesians had met. Many of the people were excited to practice their English skills and to take a picture with the first Westerner they had met.
After her work abroad, IWP was the only graduate school to which Cassandra applied. After studying other programs, she found that their curriculums were too broad: “I felt that if I went to any of those schools, I would have had to make my own program out of their broad course offerings. Why not come to IWP and have a curriculum already geared towards my interests?”
When asked what she wants to do in the future, Cassandra replies that she would like to work for the government. “But I want to go into government service to make a difference, and not to have a cushy job.
Cassandra’s true interest lies in the area of counterterrorism. Although she admires those who work to prevent terrorist attacks, Cassandra wants to work to prevent people from becoming terrorists in the first place. She wants to investigate the root causes of a person being so fanatical or so frustrated with the status quo that they will commit violence to change it. She also wants to work to change misperceptions about America that may lead people to resent our nation or commit violence against it.
Ultimately, Cassandra says, “I want to improve public diplomacy to correct misperceptions about America abroad and to help people who feel disaffected.”