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World Views: Landis on Syria and Egypt, Three International Graduates (Aug 20, 2012)
With casualty estimates as high as 17,000 in the Syrian uprisings, and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's resignation as Special Envoy to Syria, Joshua Landis provides an update on the political and social situations in Syria.

"The U.N. has abandoned Syria," Landis said.  "And that's largely because the international community is divided.  Russia and China have vetoed everything in the U.N.  But, what's really happening is Syria is melting down, and it's increasingly becoming a civil war along ethnic lines."

Landis said the U.S. is caught between its national interests in Egypt, where the military continues to play a strong role even after the election of new president Mohamed Morsi.

"The military has a strong alliance with Israel and Western aid, [but the U.S. must also be concerned with] the democratic forces," Landis said.

Classes started this morning at the University of Oklahoma, and school has been underway across much of the state for the past week. As many students begin their academic careers, three recent graduates talk with our former host Zach Messitte about their international ambitions.

Jordan Cannon earned his degree from OU’s College of International Studies in May, and continues his education in Egypt studying with OU’s Arabic Flagship Program.

By the time I return from Egypt I will be equipped with a very unique set of skills that most Americans don’t possess," Cannon said. "Not only with the language, but just with knowledge of the nuances of Middle Eastern culture. That’s a very important region of the world for the United States, both today and in the next century."

Jake Rupert earned a Fulbright Scholarship to study renewable energy policy at the Berlin University of Technology, and can see himself returning to Oklahoma to apply his skills to this state's oil, gas, solar, or wind industry.

""We have excellent resources for both of those energy sources, so if the industry continues to grow in the way that it quickly has over the last five years, then I could certainly see myself coming back here," Rupert said.

This program’s former research producer Jack Randolph takes America’s most popular sport to the Middle East…as a player and coach in the Israeli Football League.

"I don’t know how long I’ll be in Israel, but coming from a business background, and now being able to get my feet wet in international studies the past 18 months, this is my chance to go out into the field and practice," Randolph said. "Volunteer at the Peres Center for Peace between Israel and Palestine. Volunteer at an archeological dig and do something fun, but then also be looking into all the other NGOs and business opportunities abroad."


ZACH MESSITTE, HOST: Jordan Cannon, Jake Rupert, and Jack Randolph, welcome to World Views.


JAKE RUPERT: Thank you.

MESSITTE: You all are three recent graduates of the University of Oklahoma, and you are going to be working overseas, or studying overseas, pursuing your career internationally.  I guess my first question, maybe we’ll start with you, Jordan, is why?  Why did you want to have a career internationally?  You’re someone who grew up here, in the state of Oklahoma.  You’re from a small town in the northern part of the state.  Why did you want to pursue an international career?

JORDAN CANNON: Well, to be honest, it wasn’t ever something I sat down and concluded I wanted to do.  I wanted to work overseas.  I’ve actually had a fascination, since I was younger, with languages, and I decided to pursue that desire when I came to college.  I realized shortly that the only way to truly learn a language is to go and immerse yourself in that environment.  So I heard about the Flagship program my freshman year.  They started it at OU my…

MESSITTE: Tell us, what is the Flagship program?  What does that mean?  Because you’re not just studying a language, they’re sort-of working you 24/7, right?  You spent your summers studying Arabic language, right?

CANNON: What it is, it’s a federally-funded organization spear-headed by some very forward-thinking Senators, like [OU] President [David] Boren when he was in the Senate.  The purpose is to create global professionals specializing in critical languages that are spoken in critical areas in the world, especially the Middle East.  There’s Chinese, Korean, Swahili, Arabic, but at OU we have the Arabic one.  So it definitely helps students who have absolutely no experience with the Arabic language previously, to become pretty adept at it.

MESSITTE: Well, I want to get back to your story too, at some point, Jordan, to talk about what you’re doing next year, but Jake, you’re off to Germany next year, and you did come to OU with some knowledge of German?

RUPERT: Yeah, my interest in international affairs probably started in the 7th grade when I started taking German language classes…

MESSITTE: Why German?

RUPERT: I’ve always had an interest in World War II history, and I saw German as an opportunity to explore that interest.  But also, the German language program at my middle school and high school was actually very strong, and I had the opportunity to study abroad for a summer at a high school in Berlin in 10th grade.  That was also a big factor in motivating me to take German.

MESSITTE: So you came to OU and I know you gravitated toward European studies, and you kept your German language going as well, I assume, while you were here, right?

RUPERT: Right, I continued with a minor.

MESSITTE: And next year, you’re off to Germany on a Fulbright, is that right?

RUPERT: That’s correct.

MESSITTE: And tell us a little bit about what you’re going to be doing with the Fulbright?

RUPERT: Through the Fulbright program, I received a scholarship to do research at the Berlin University of Technology, where I’ll be working Dr. Johann Köppel, who is a leading expert in renewable energy policy.  My research project will focus on Germany’s federal renewable energy law, and I’ll be looking specifically at its wind energy component.  While I’m in Berlin, I’ll also be taking classes at the Free University on public policy and finance.

MESSITTE: So now, let’s get to our third panelist, Jack Randolph.  And people who are regular listeners to World Views hear his name often on the program, because he’s been the researcher and the booker for World Views here the last 18 months or so.  Jack, you are leaving Oklahoma.  You grew up here in the state as well, at least you’re leaving temporarily, to go off and explore a career in professional sports internationally.  Tell us a little bit about that.

RANDOLPH: That’s right.  I’ve been in Oklahoma 25 years, and now it’s time to move to Israel to play football.  Not soccer, but American football.

MESSITTE: But what led you to do this?  To want to pursue this kind of next step?

RANDOLPH: You know, it’s the last thing I thought I’d be doing growing up.   I was the most homesick mama’s boy you’d ever know, but I finally studied abroad during college, right after my senior year.  I was only in Europe for seven weeks, but it was far and away my seven weeks of my life.  And the reason is because I was stimulated from every angle – the language, the culture, the different people, the food – the things I was learning in the education as well, the adventures.  I just realized when I got back, this is a passion of mine, and I’ve got to taste more of this.  Israel’s always been a place that’s interesting.  I’m very interested in the conflict there, the policy there, and I think it’s just going to be a sort-of triple threat: career, personal growth, and adventure.

MESSITTE: So, let me ask you this, you guys are unique in some respects.  You’re interested in international affairs, and this isn’t true of all of your graduating seniors this year, right?  Many people are staying, of course, here in the country, or staying here in Oklahoma, or in the region.  Do you think people are having a hard time finding a job?  Your classmates, the people you’re graduating with, do you get a sense that there’s a struggle out there to find good, entry-level jobs?  I guess by that I mean you’ve got a college degree, you don’t want to go back and sort-of do what you were doing in high school to make ends meet, but the idea of taking an interesting first step in your career?  Are those jobs out there for people now who are 21, 22, 23 years old, graduating from college with an undergraduate degree?

RUPERT: Well, I think it’s definitely difficult right now, because our economy isn’t doing as well as it has in the past.  But I haven’t really applied for jobs, because I’m going to Germany next year, but I have many friends who have, and it’s been sort-of hit or miss.  I have some friends who have had a lot of luck, and multiple opportunities, and others who have worked just as hard but haven’t found the same results.

MESSITTE: What about you, Jordan?  Do you have a sense that your friends are out there, that they’re excited, that they feel optimistic about the next few years?

CANNON: Well, I think personally, almost every one of my friends is delaying finding a job straight out of an undergraduate setting.  I can’t think of a single one, to be honest, who is graduating now with a four year-degree and is going to find a job right now.  They’re all going to grad school, they’re all studying abroad, they’re all going to law school or med school.  So I think their hope, and my hope, is possibly with more education, and time, the economy will recover, and we’ll have a lot more opportunities to find a better job.

MESSITTE: Well, and in some cases, what each of the three of you is doing is precisely that, and I want to drill down a little bit and talk about your individual experiences, because you, Jordan, you’re going to Alexandria, Egypt next year, for a full year.  You’ll have an internship, if I’m not mistaken, while you’re over there.  You’ll be taking classes, and you’ll come away, the idea being, with fluency, or certainly near-fluency, in Arabic.  A critical language, both on national security grounds for the United States, but also in terms of opportunities for business and culture and other things.  So you’re really preparing yourself very uniquely for the job market.  What do you expect to happen next year?  How do you expect to sort-of improve your skills to such a level that then you do become marketable in a different way in the American economy?

CANNON: I believe that by the time I return from Egypt I will be equipped with a very unique set of skills that most Americans don’t possess.  Not only with the language, but just with knowledge of the nuances of Middle Eastern culture.  That’s a very important region of the world for the United States, both today and in the next century.  Personally, I’m not worried about my job prospects.  Once I return, I feel like my main worry is doing something I enjoy, not finding a job.  Personally, when I return I want to go to law school and do something with international law, so I’m still a ways away from finding a job or a career.  But when that time comes, I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to figure something out because of what I’ve chosen to study.

MESSITTE: You’re listening to World Views on KGOU, and we’re talking with Jordan Cannon, Jake Rupert, and Jack Randolph – three recent graduates of the University of Oklahoma who are pursuing careers in international affairs.  Jake, so you’re going to Germany next year, you too will come back with this greater knowledge of both renewable energy, and federal policy in Germany, and German language and understanding of the country.  How do you expect this will further your career?

RUPERT: Well, like Jordan, I also plan to return and go to law school, and I think that with my international credentials through the year in Germany, but also focusing specifically on public policy issues like renewable energy, I’ll be better prepared to hit the ground running when I finish law school.

MESSITTE: This is interesting, and I don’t know if you all know this, but applications to law school are way down the last two years.  I mean significantly down, 10-20 percent down across the country in terms of the number of people even applying to law school.  Because there aren’t jobs in the traditional way, that lawyers who’ve graduated from school are able to find, in big firms, with billable hours and so forth.  But what I think I hear both of you saying is, yes, I want to go to law school, but I want to go for a very, very narrow, specific reason.  I’m coming in with a different set of skills.  I’m not just your regular graduate who’s looking to find whatever the next step is in the career.  You’re going because you’re interested in Arabic language, national security issues, and law.  You’re going because you’ve got this interest in environmental issues and Germany and public policy.  That’s very different in some respects than the average person going to law school. 

So Jack Randolph, your story is a little bit different.  I assume you’re not going to Israel to try to become a first or second round NFL draft pick, right?

RANDOLPH: No, although that’s the old dream, you know?  But I really am using the football as a way to make friends, have fun, but also build my network in a way that I can discover possibilities for what I’ll do with my life afterwards.  I don’t know how long I’ll be in Israel, but coming from a business background, and now being able to get my feet wet in international studies the past 18 months, this is my chance to go out into the field and practice.  Volunteer at the Peres Center for Peace between Israel and Palestine.  Volunteer at an archeological dig and do something fun, but then also be looking into all the other NGOs and business opportunities abroad.

MESSITTE: So, the three of you are all going to rather interesting places, and places that have been in the news, particularly in the past year, but in some cases much longer.  Jordan, you’re going to Egypt, and in fact, the program that you’re going on, at one point within the last couple of years, they had to move the program from Egypt to Morocco because of political unrest.  I hope your folks aren’t listening to this, but if they are…

CANNON: They’re aware.

MESSITTE: …they’re pretty aware.  So are you nervous about that at all?  Is there any sense that here you are, a young American studying Arabic in a country that isn’t necessarily pro-American, and that there’s been a lot of political unrest in, have you thought about that?

CANNON: I’d be lying if I said I haven’t.  Of course you wonder what are the possibilities, what could possibly happen to you when you go to a country like this that’s experiencing such unrest.  But I have a lot of American friends who are there right now, and I’ve spoken with a lot of them about this issue.  They’ve pretty much said, “If you’re smart, you’ll be fine.”  Alexandria is where we’ll be staying, and there’s no real danger there.  Cairo, you should watch yourself.

MESSITTE: So they’re giving you advice?  The program is telling you, “Don’t go out.  Don’t go into marches, don’t go into big demonstrations, stay away?”

CANNON: Right.  There’s actually a two-day orientation in Washington, D.C. which we have to attend before we go.  It’s a crash-course in being safe when you’re over there.  I mean, I’m not worried about it, to be honest.  I think I’ll be able to hold my own, and generally Egypt is a huge country.  There’s a lot of people, and I think by and large, it’ll be fine.  We’ll be safe, but of course there are cities in the United States where you know not to go to certain neighborhoods.  It’s the same anywhere, even in Egypt.  But it could get worse, and if that happened, we would be evacuated.  I trust the judgment of the American consuls and the State Department.  If anything bad were to happen, I think we’d be OK.

MESSITTE: So Jack, you too are going to a country that has had political unrest in the last few years, and there’s always sort-of a constant drumbeat of political danger or international danger when you go to Israel.  In fact, sometimes it’s even hard here at OU to get significant numbers of people to want to go study in Israel because of the image that it’s difficult to study there because of potential violence.  Is this something you’ve thought about at all?

RANDOLPH: I’ve thought a lot about it.  Whether or not I wanted to, my parents made me think a lot about it.  The people that care about it made me think a lot about it.  But I’ve spoken with a lot of people that have a lot more knowledge than I do about the security and the shape of the country.  They’ve all said, “Jack, you’ll be safe.”  Like Jordan said, you have to watch where you go, and you don’t necessarily go getting yourself into trouble.  But for me, I know that’s part of what my career is going to be.  It’s going to be sometimes being in a place that’s a little more risky.  But at the same time, getting a certain level of fulfillment out of that situation as well.

MESSITTE: Well, and Jake, it’s a slightly different story going to Germany than it is going to the Middle East, and yet, you hear these stories all the time, and certainly some of this is dated, but 20 years ago, when Americans would go study abroad in Europe, or live abroad in Europe, there was a reticence about showing your American-ness – having an American flag on the back of your backpack was generally thought of as not a good idea, right?  You had to be a little more careful in Europe about how you showed who you were.  Do you have any sense at all of the way Americans are perceived in Germany?  Is this something you’ve thought about?

RUPERT: Well, like I said, I went to Germany in 2010, and when I was in Germany then, I certainly felt that sort-of animosity.  But what I did then is what I’ll do now.  I represent myself, and dispel the stereotypes and continue to represent the nation well.

MESSITTE: So let me ask a final question to the three of you.  You’re all three Oklahomans, is that right?  You’re all three from here in the state.  Will you come back?  Do you want to come back?  Let’s say you go out and see the world, and do these various things, and build your careers, and you want to have this international vision.  Do you want to have that international vision from Oklahoma, or is that just not possible?

CANNON: To be honest, I wouldn’t.  I grew up here.  I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life, so I have no problem with Oklahoma.  I feel like what I want to do with my life is just not possible.  To really flourish with that dream in Oklahoma…

MESSITTE: The international dream?

CANNON: …right.  I feel like that’s in some way going to take me to the coasts, or to another country.  But I have family here.  All my family lives here, so I’ll definitely be coming back regularly, but I don’t see myself starting a career here.  Nothing against Oklahoma, I just don’t feel like the opportunities are here.

MESSITTE: The opportunity internationally to do what you want to do.

CANNON: Right.  If you’re in oil and gas, go for it.  But I don’t feel like international law is exactly a large sector of the Oklahoma economy.

MESSITTE: What about you, Jake?  You are doing something that involves energy, do you see yourself coming back to Oklahoma at some point?

RUPERT: I could certainly see myself coming back to Oklahoma or Texas, because of course I’m interested in public policy and renewable energy.  Oklahoma and Texas are really two of the leading states in renewable energy, specifically solar and wind.  We have excellent resources for both of those energy sources, so if the industry continues to grow in the way that it quickly has over the last five years, then I could certainly see myself coming back here.

MESSITTE: And this is because energy itself is becoming an international issue, right?  These are issues that are no longer state or regional or national.  Everything is interconnected in terms of renewable energy.

RUPERT: Certainly.  I think the importance that natural gas has even played in Oklahoma in the last five years plays into that same issue, which is that eventually the United States, in the next 10-20 years will hit peak oil, and when that happens the price of conventional energy sources will rise, and then you’re going to naturally look to a medium-term fuel, like natural.  And a longer-term, like renewable energy.

MESSITTE: Jack, what about you?  Do you see yourself eventually see yourself coming back to Oklahoma and launching an international career?

RANDOLPH: You know, I have really, really loved Oklahoma.  I’ve loved the University of Oklahoma even more.  I care a lot about this state.  I have so many friends and family that make me want to care more about this state.  There are some things that I would to help this state grow in, and some of those are the industries that aren’t really there for Jordan.  Some of that maybe is the perception of Oklahoma.  I see probably the next five to ten years of my life being, well, who knows where I’ll be?  I want to be where I’m learning the most.  But should I settle down with a family, I’d very much consider being in Oklahoma , especially if I can be pursuing these international dreams still from Oklahoma, and that’s going to be the challenge, is how to do that.  But I’m always a believer, so you can tell me I can’t do it, but I’ll find a way.

MESSITTE: Well, Jordan Cannon, Jake Rupert, and Jack Randolph, we wish you well, and best in your career, and stay safe.


Copyright © 2012 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.

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