Student Spotlight: Peace Corps alum Claire Harlan

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Name: Claire Harlan 

Program: M.S. in International Affairs

Anticipated Graduation Date: December 2020

Educational Background: 

ArtCenter College of Design
Bachelor of Fine Arts, Photography
Pasadena, California

Northern Arizona University
Bachelor of Arts Latin American History/Geology
Flagstaff, Arizona


  1. What brought you to the GPIA program at The New School?My undergraduate degree is in art. I was working in Los Angeles as a production artist while pursuing my personal art. I tried on the idea of graduate school many times but was not confident in my direction. I love learning and I missed the dynamic of being around people who challenged and inspired me in a learning environment.

    As an artist, I was trying to communicate ideas about the human impact on the environment, the psychology of urban spaces and issues around globalization and I was struggling.  I had returned to West Africa, where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer, multiple times to work on projects about enslaved people, about threatened architecture on the trans-Saharan trade route, and aspects of endangered traditions in cultures. In my most recent project, looking at changes in vernacular architecture and whether it was connected to issues like climate change and rural to urban migration, I became fascinated by the changes that I was seeing as a result of globalization. These changes were bringing new freedoms and independence, most dramatically to women, to a part of the world that had been previously isolated. I thought I had found an area that particularly excited me to go into a master’s program to explore and obtain the tools I needed to be able to talk about it in my work. I wanted to think critically about issues.

  2. How does your Peace Corps background shape your experience and course work?My Peace Corps experience profoundly changed the way I see the world. I served in a country where many people are subjected to incredible human rights violations and they struggle daily with acquiring fundamental resources that the Global North often takes for granted. I have found it difficult to talk about that as part of my responsibility in being a returned volunteer and in my art. At The New School, I have focused largely on taking courses pertaining to aspects of human rights, from its importance in global fashion to the environment. So much of the time we are focused on what human rights have been stripped away, but there is also the beauty in acknowledging the human rights that we all share. When I took Peter Lucas’ course on the Poetics of Witnessing, I felt a real connection to poetic filmmaking as a vehicle to talk about human rights in my own voice, which is through imagery.
  3. How does your photography experience translate to your International Affairs work and vice versa? Photography has always slowed me down and given me time to process what is happening around me. I think in order to understand the world, we have to go to the street level to see things from all sorts of perspectives and angles and appreciate the nuances. It is really hard to put distance between ourselves and something we don’t understand and to just let it exist as it is. A camera has always given me the space to observe and appreciate that the world is a constant wonder.
  4. In what ways do you feel the MS in International Affairs program prepares you for the future?I believe the International Affairs program has helped me to realize the value in my own voice and contributions. The world can feel very daunting right now and our impact can feel minor. The professors I have had in this program have helped me find my voice and have given me the confidence to talk about the issues that I think are important. We are responsible for receiving and processing so much information on a daily basis in the world today, it is critical that we can be skeptical and both hopeful and innovative in our approach to doing that. This program provides the framework for achieving that.


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