July 18, 2013
In this Q&A, alumna Diana Manning, ICP ’09, explains how international travel changed her life and why it’s important for Mason Schar School of Policy and Government students to study abroad. Manning created The Manning Family ICP Summer Study Abroad Scholarship, which is awarded to a student who attends a Mason Policy study abroad course toward the fulfillment of the ICP degree.
What prompted you to design this scholarship?
It was the realization that the best part of the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government wasn’t the big ideas, but the people, professors, staff and the eclectic and unique students in the programs. Years after graduation, that’s what lingers. The rest is just tools. The colleague relationship deepens when you step away from the classroom, and travel amplifies this. While the study abroad program handsomely serves academic development, it serves double duty by linking us to the people we meet in our host countries and our own Schar School community.
Why is it important for students to study abroad?
I have a personal belief in triangulation. For me that means if you want to understand something you have to take at least three perspectives. The ICP program builds on each student’s professional knowledge by adding a second layer of academic or analytic skills. Shifting the ground underneath both of those by studying in another country—no matter how brief—vastly enhances that process in intellectual and very practical ways by creating that third perspective.
In your words, what is the connection between traveling and policy making?
Culture greatly influences the constructs of our questions and our endeavors. Travel forces us out of our comfort zone. With policy issues, taking a foreign perspective challenges us to accept other workable models beyond our own presets. Having some personal experience and the confidence that we can meet and work within a different cultural context other than our own doesn’t just improve our resumes and our career prospects, it means that we have access to a vocabulary and a narrative that helps us become a more valuable problem solver by expanding our range.
Describe your study abroad experience as a Schar School student.
I was a participant in two Study Abroad Programs—China in 2006 and South Africa in 2008—both wonderful. Our professor on the trip to China was the journalist Frank Sesno, who was an adjunct professor at the time. Let’s just say this was like a Study Abroad boot camp with mandatory debriefing at the end of each day. We were usually “trapped” on a bus with him as he interviewed us to see what we had really learned—and he was looking for original thoughts. There were no conventional textbook answers allowed. Plus Michal McElwain Malur made sure we took care of the enrichment part of the trip!
Personally, I arrived in China from New Delhi after living a year in India. The ability to see China from a South Asian perspective was an unexpected gift that opened my eyes to just how nuanced many of the emerging market issues are that economists still grapple with today. I arrived in China with preconceived ideas that were completely disrupted. I expected far more similarly predisposed national priorities, if not on a governmental level, at least on a business and trade level. It was a great lesson in how necessary it is to apply concepts uniquely, not generally. I completely recalibrated.
Take us back to the first time you traveled abroad.
What was it like? Surrey County area of England, the easiest sort of travel ever! I am a train hopper, and every day I pushed the limits of how far to go and what to do with just a direction in mind and a train timetable, which is very easy to do in southwest England. My background is large-scale construction, so I designed my own architectural and civil engineering tours. I’ve been back many times and had the opportunity to stay for three months once—long enough to get a library card and have a routine.
Where haven’t you been that you’d like to go? Why?
Impossible question! I have a professional list. A check-the-box list. A pleasure list. Today I would have to choose between Japan and Burma/Myanmar. Tomorrow it might be different. Why? I can’t think of any two Asian countries whose problems are more dissimilar. Why Asian? Even on demographics alone, what happens in Asia will be critical to us all. Why these two? The door has just opened a crack into a uniquely authoritarian, but resource-rich nation that has the lowest GDP PPP per capita in the non-sub-Saharan world. It shares borders with China and India—both important trade partners. Fascinating. Japan, on the other hand, has the task of proving that it is not engaged in a wicked end-game of blown-out fiscal experimentation. The challenges Japan faces defy simple analysis. Ideally I would like to visit both on the same trip just for the contrast! And the food would be great, too!
Where is one place on Earth you think all travelers should go?
Easy Question! Their nation’s capital! Mandatory!
Why was it important to you to make this gift?
There are many ways to support the Schar School of Policy and Government, but for me, living in an extremely competitive Asian country, the benefits of multicultural perspective in an advanced education doesn’t seem like an indulgence. It’s more of a necessity. Worldwide, economic literacy is low. The multilateral regimes and institutions that influence the governance of trade have been negatively affected by the economic downturn. Protectionist behaviors are affecting the human right to reasonable free movement and the movement of ideas. Many nations are regressing their visa policies and promoting non-transparent monitoring of electronic communications. Analyzing the possible effects of these trends is a sweet-spot of expertise for both Mason Policy and the ICP Program. Our school should be promoting more student mobility!
Study Abroad programs helps increase economic development literacy by creating a class of individuals who can address these global issues with insight. It should be a special part of Mason Policy’s brand to actively promote students to travel to further George Mason’s expertise. It was also important for me to let those that I traveled with know how much they contributed to my experience and development.
What are one or two of your most memorable travel experiences?
Oh no—probably not the answer you are looking for! The honest answer is a series of travels that inspired me to see that life is a series of itineraries. Between the ages of 9 and 13, I moved cross-country three times—each time driving. During those years I went from learning how to read maps, to becoming the family navigator and adventure designer. When I was 13 and we moved from DC to California (a 3-week summer road cruise), I was pretty much ready to be the driver—would have been fantastically illegal—but I in my head I was ready. Every other journey I have taken was incited by those trips! Beyond memorable. Life changing!