What English Learners can Teach Politicians

what-you-doToday’s lesson starts with a story (you can probably relate to it).

Often when I meet new people, they ask me what I do (normal, right?).

Sometimes this is kind of a difficult question to answer. If I’m not in the mood to go into a lot of detail, I just say, “I have my own company helping people learn English.”

Then often the next question is, “What did you study?”

I studied International Relations, and although the RealLife Community is composed of learners from every part of the world, what I learned at university hardly applies to what I do now.

Why am I telling you this?

Just the other day someone asked me if I use what I learned in college now, and why I did not pursue a job related to this field (I actually get asked this a lot ? ).

And it made me think about this topic of International Relations.

What are International Relations?

what-do-you-doWhat my degree was composed of could be summarized as a combination of the following:

  • Political Science
  • Culture
  • Economics and Law
  • History
  • Foreign Language

International Relations (IR) is an interdisciplinary major (meaning you study many different topics). However, it boils down to [is summarized by] studying how different international States interact. That is, the relationship between the governments of different countries.

But what this question got me thinking, and why it is important for you, is that while the above definition may have been useful in the last century, I believe that it does not honor what IR could be in a modern, connected world.

Just think about what the Internet does…

The Internet allows us to connect with people and information from almost anywhere… something that was impossible without expensive plane tickets just a couple decades ago.

The Internet is like a preview of our world without borders. And in a world without borders, by definition, there are no International Relations. Unless…

Unless we update the definition of IR!

International Relations should not be a study of the relationships between different countries’ governments.


International Relations SHOULD be a study of the relationships between different countries’ PEOPLE!!

This becomes clearer when we take a second to break down exactly what International Relations means.

one-planet-one-homeThe prefix INTER- means between or among.

A NATION is, “A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.” This last part about territory is not always true as there are many stateless nations.   

NOTE: Nation is NOT the same as a country. A country (or state) is a territory with a sovereign governmental body (for example, Canada or Spain). A nation usually refers to a group of people, who may or may not have a sovereign government (for example, Québécois or Catalans). 

A RELATION is, “How two or more people are connected.”

So, when we break down International Relations, it is:

The connections between different groups of PEOPLE (who have common history, culture, etc.).

Where in this etymology is there anything about relationships between governments???

Well, I sent out this text first as a newsletter to the RealLife Community (if you are not subscribed yet, and want to receive VIP lessons, just click here). And a couple of you helped me clarify this:

Governments are made of people, and (are supposed to) represent the people of their nation/country. However, although there are some wonderful politicians, as we probably have all experienced, the interests of the government often does not reflect the interest of the people it represents.

That is why IR needs to go much deeper, beyond the relationships between governments, and look at the relationships between nations–between people!

Governments are constantly changing. People and cultures live on.

My new definition of IR would include:

  • Language Studies ­– in a globalized world, it’s crucial that everyone is bilingual, even native English speakers. This is also important to deeply understand the next two…
  • Cultural studies – becoming competent at understanding other cultures and world views and why they are that way. From personal experience, I know it’s much easier to understand culture when you speak it’s language.
  • Empathy – how can we have relationships with other countries if we are not completely open to listening and understanding, before judging them (stereotyping)? I can think of at least a few politicians that could use a lesson in empathy ;).

That’s my list, but I want to hear from YOU!

What do you think? What would your new definition of IR include? Comment below!

Just to give you an example, I really loved this new definition that a RealLifer from Portugal sent me:


I’ve been thinking about what international relations are and I agree with you. The most common definitions are really focused on governments, foreign policy…but we are always talking about people and the relationships between them, I mean governments are made of people…I’d like to say something about empathy. I think there is a barrier that everyone should try to overcome and that is the way that some people look at the world! I think it’s very important to look at the world as a common place although we are “separated” by distance, language, beliefs, culture in general, we can come closer together if we look at our differences as an opportunity to understand the world from different perspectives!

So I guess international relations should be a field of study that focus on seeing the world from a global perspective that transcend boundaries, of course, knowing that there are differences between countries, an international relations professional should be able to understand those differences, facilitate and build better relationships between them.

That’s it for today’s lesson. Remember to comment below, and we would love it if you would JOIN OUR MOVEMENT:

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