Shayla Watkins

International Experience Country:
South Africa
Cohort Year:
Home Institution:

Washington & Jefferson College

Heinz Programming Area:
Shayla is currently a student at Washington & Jefferson College where she studies Psychology. She plans to utilize her global world experience to pursue a master's degree in Social Work and become a licensed therapist. She has years of experience working for and with multiple non-profit organizations such as AmeriCorps KEYS program and The Asservo Project, which sparked her interest and desire to work to help others. This has led Shayla to join our 2020/2021 cohort, inspiring an initiative to represent her college, and our program proudly while abroad. 
International Experience Summary:

Shayla Watkins had the opportunity to spend six weeks virtually studying with the School for International Training’s South Africa Internship in Diplomacy, International Relations, and Conflict Resolution. During this time, Shayla participated in discussions regarding South African relations to the U.S., political risks, diplomatic career expectations, and current events of the South African state. Watkins was assigned to a partner NGO of SIT known as the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD), where she took part in researching the African National Congress’s (ANC) prior and current foreign policy. Through this research, she conducted a topic-specific blog post for IGD’s website discussing South Africa’s political interactions with Cuba, focused on how the COVID-19 virus affected these relations.

Due to the virtual format of Shayla’s experience, she utilized her spare time watching and reading News24, a national South African news station, as well as keeping a weekly journal reflecting upon her experiences throughout her internship. With this, she was able to practice real-world application of her classroom discussions through inspired conversation with friends and family at home, increasing both her own knowledge of worldly topics, as well as those around her. She developed a foundation of interpersonal skills and built a strong confidence in her ability to spark important conversations regarding diplomacy and international relations. Watkins utilized a surplus of resources provided by her program and partnered with an NGO to build upon her knowledge of worldly issues and develop her post for IGD’s website. The content of this post explored South Africa’s historical relationship with Cuba, as well as how recent global issues (e.g., COVID-19) have affected them regarding trade, foreign policy, and public opinion. Though the urgent developments of COVID-19 provided unusual circumstances, Shayla found a new appreciation for local travel through the duration of her program, and while global exploration is still a dream and priority for her future, she has learned that adventure comes in many different forms with the right mindset. She looks forward to representing both SIT and the Heinz Foundation as a woman in global leadership through her future endeavors upon graduating from Washington & Jefferson College this spring.

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

Think Globally Act Locally: A Review of Diplomacy, International Relations, & Conflict Resolution in Political Unrest  

As a member of the 2021 Washington & Jefferson College cohort, I co-created with my fellow cohort member Zivya Sutton, an in-person table promoting global and local political interaction. In addition to our table, we created and handed out pamphlets that outlined our personal experience interning virtually in South Africa. We also outlined what diplomacy and foreign policy consist of the major political events that occurred during the time span of our internship, and a set of questions for visitors to consider in relation to global and local involvement in said politics. Our goal was to provoke the thought of what being an informed and active citizen truly means, as well as what actions individuals can take to practice this meaning. Throughout the process of planning our CEE, Zivya and I ensured that we highlighted both our individual experiences and contributions to our programs, as well as a general overview of the academic resources we were provided throughout the summer. Through this, we were able to present the foreground of our program, alongside a comprehensive and informative overview of our experiences to those who came to our event. To connect these experiences to a local format, we created a list of questions to present to our guests relating to major political issues that have occurred recently in the United States. We used this as a stimulating tool to encourage the thought of how individuals can engage and aid in said issues based on their own personal experiences.

The goal of this format was to allow those in attendance to take away incentivizing conversation and a tangible reminder of the importance of being a global citizen. We also focused heavily on informing those in attendance about what occurred in South Africa this summer. In June of 2021, former South African president Jacob Zuma was arrested on account of corruption, which sparked massive riots and political unrest throughout the nation. As this related directly to the personal lives of our professors, as well as the content of our program, we were given an inside account of these events as they unfolded before us. Following providing this information, Zivya and I related this sort of political instability to that of the United States during times of the pandemic, controversy of race and the police force, and a multitude of other relevant topics. We wanted to stress the importance of being aware of what is going on in the world, and how it is not much different than what we see happening directly around us. We used this technique to spark an interest in local politics and encourage our community to be aware and encourage them to become involved.