#IncomingElliott: Isaiah Nielsen

Isaiah Nielsen lived for thirteen years in Puebla, Mexico. His experiences bred in him a love for political science, international affairs, language, and security issues. He returned to his home state, Minnesota, in 2018 for his B.A. in Political Science and International Studies from the University of Minnesota Morris where he graduated with high distinction and honors in May 2022. He spent much of his academic time researching, working as a teaching assistant, and taking courses in international security and East Asian and Latin American politics. In the summer of 2021, he received the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to attend intensive Korean language courses in South Korea. Currently, he is an incoming M.A. candidate in the Security Policy Studies program at the Elliott School. Isaiah hopes to bring his established and newly acquired skills from the Elliott School to federal government service. 

What has been your most rewarding academic experience so far?

My academic experience at the University of Minnesota Morris was fantastic. I was blessed with the opportunity to work closely with professors at my small campus in Morris and my undergraduate research and teaching assistantships gave me a lot of confidence in my skills. That being said, the most rewarding experience was the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship program during the summer of 2021. I was awarded the opportunity to travel to Gwangju, South Korea to take intensive Korean language courses at Chonnam National University. Through classes and activities, I was able to immerse myself in a language and culture that, not only did I find supremely fascinating, but holds a place close to my heart.

What are you looking forward to about living in the DC/Maryland/Virginia (DMV) area?

There is much to look forward to in my case! I will be transitioning from a small-town campus in rural Minnesota to the wide-ranging DMV area. I am very excited to see the history and culture in the buildings, monuments, restaurants, and museums in the downtown DC area. I look forward to cheering on my Minnesota sports teams in different stadiums and arenas. Also, in a backwards way, I look forward to leaving the bustle of the city to hike and reminisce in the more rural areas of the DMV and the surrounding area.

Is your grad program related to your undergrad degree? If so, how?

My graduate program is closely related to my undergraduate degree, but the emphasis is a bit different. I completed my B.A. in Political Science and International Studies with a focus on international security and East Asia. Here at the Elliott School, I am pursuing an M.A. in Security Policy Studies with a specialization in U.S. National Security or Transnational Security. They are definitely related, but I was never satisfied with the depth on the security issues of my classes. I plan to use my electives to continue my study in East Asia and pivot towards Latin America, expand my professional skills, and take a deep dive on academic and practical knowledge in a more diverse pool of international security issues.

Why did you choose to commit to the Elliott School for your graduate program?

It was a perfect storm of reasons. Besides the blessings of fellowships, the Elliott School is perfectly positioned programmatically and geographically. Programs at other institutions, from my perception, tended to overemphasize the professional or academics. On the other hand, the programs at the Elliott School are a great in-between for fostering my academic interests as well as supporting my goals of entering the professional and federal government world. More specifically, the Security Policy Studies program satisfies my curiosity for international and national security issues which tended to only get a cursory glance in many of my previous undergraduate Political Science courses. Geographically, DC is unrivaled when you are searching for networking opportunities, jobs, and internships in both the government and private sector. Further, the Elliott School’s strong career and academic service record, emphasis on professional skills courses, and a wide array of fascinating, in-depth courses to choose from were all also big draws for me.

What is your favorite city that you have visited and why?

This is quite the difficult question because every home that I have had has its many pros and cons! When I lived in Puebla, Mexico, I resided in both the urban neighborhood of Momoxpan and in the agrarian town of Santa Maria Zacatepec. During my time there, I was able to visit diverse climates and environments in Veracruz, Morelos, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, Tlaxcala, Oaxaca, and Nuevo León. When I lived in Minnesota, I attended university in the prairie town of Morris, but my home address was Roseville, a first-ring suburb in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. When I traveled to South Korea, I got to experience both Seoul, the bustling capital city, and Gwangju, the hub of a more agricultural Jeolla province. If I choose a favorite based on nostalgia, I would choose my love of visiting and hiking the great outdoors of northern Minnesota with my friends or family. If I choose based on my favorite in the more traditional sense, I would choose Gwangju in South Korea. My experiences in Mexico and the U.S. are much more normalized since they are places I lived, but Gwangju gave me memories I will cherish forever.


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The #IncomingElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights newly enrolling students to answer common questions posed by prospective and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.

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