A History major from Smithtown, NY, Jessica Ewald ’12 played varsity soccer for Saint Anselm College and apparently caught the intelligence analysis bug while she was here (or is that a secret?). Jessica just completed an MA in International History at the London School of Economics. The History Department has stayed in touch with Jessica, and not long ago, One Thing after Another asked her about her experiences.
Q: You’re from NY. What was it like to come to college in New England? What brought you to St. A’s?
A: When I was applying to colleges, I knew that I wanted a small, liberal arts school in New England with high academic standards, so Saint A’s suited me perfectly. I’ve always liked the region – the scenery, the history, and the people. Saint A’s couldn’t have been a better fit for me.
Q: Tell me something memorable about one of your classes at St. A’s (doesn’t have to be history!).
A: The most memorable history class that I took was Professor Pajakowski’s reading seminar on Nazi Germany. World War II is my favorite time period, and being able to study this particular aspect of the period was incredibly fascinating. I’ve been able to apply much of what I learned in this class to my studies during my semester abroad, as well as during my time here at the London School of Economics.
Q: You played soccer, right? How did you balance athletics and academics? What advice would you give to other student athletes?
A: I found it quite easy to balance my time between soccer and schoolwork because it was something that I had been doing for as long as I can remember. I was particularly close with a well-known soccer trainer on Long Island who constantly reminded his players that, in playing soccer in college, we would be “student-athletes,” not “athletic students.” School always came first, and while I have always placed a premium on academics, those exact words were never far from my mind. I think that playing varsity soccer actually made me a better student in that I had to make sure to meet deadlines with time to spare as we did travel a fair amount, sometimes even taking weekend trips. Likewise, knowing that I was caught up on assignments made it easier to give my undivided attention to soccer when I was out on the field, so it was a win-win.
Also, I was invited to join the Honors Program but was unsure if I could handle both the soccer schedule and the demands of the Honors work. I spoke with Dean Cronin during the summer advising session, and he encouraged me to play soccer and be part of the Honors program because college was about my entire experience, in and out of the classroom. He was right–I graduated Magna Cum Laude.
The best advice I have to offer other student athletes is to keep the foregoing thought in mind: you are “student-athletes.” School must always come first. In doing so, you’ll find that you will become a better student and a better athlete.
Q: What drew you to history? Did you start out as a history major? If not, when did you declare and why? Tell me something memorable that you read in a history class.
A: I loved math in high school. In fact, I remember going back to visit my former Calculus teacher who I studied with for three years, and he was shocked that I didn’t choose to major in the subject! The history department at my high school presented the material in an intellectually stimulating fashion which sparked my interest.
There was never a doubt in my mind that I would stay with history as my specialty. It is a huge field and offers more opportunities than most other areas of study. I have found that, as a history student, I have developed skills that I may not have acquired in pursuing another subject. Critical thinking, as well as analytical and research skills, allow history students to explore a great variety of topics, allowing them to pursue endless opportunities and intellectual endeavors.
For me, the most memorable book I read was assigned here at the LSE, Tapping Hitler’s Generals: Transcripts of Secret Conversations, 1942-45, written by Sönke Neitzel. I read this work for my Secret Intelligence class, taught by Professor Neitzel himself. As I’ve mentioned, World War II is my favorite time period to study, and having taken Professor Pajakowski’s seminar and studying Nazi Germany more closely, Professor Neitzel’s book was of particular interest. It discusses the British monitoring of conversations among German prisoners of war at Trent Park, and just how much knowledge about the Holocaust British intelligence was able to acquire. It was interesting to learn what MI6 was able to learn, and then to discuss in class whether or not they should have acted on this knowledge.
Q: Briefly tell me something about your semester abroad.
A: I studied in Salzburg, Austria in the spring of 2011. I wanted to study in Central Europe because of my deep interest in modern European history, particularly the World War II and Cold War periods.
My time in Salzburg changed my life. I was able to travel to nine different countries and see things that I had only previously read about in textbooks. What struck me most during my four-month stay was the overall value placed on history in Europe. History was ever-present in every city I went to, in one way or another. Cities like Rome and Athens preserve the ancient ruins, while cities such as Paris and Barcelona revere the arts and architecture of some of the greatest creative minds. War memorials are widespread in London, Vienna, Prague, and southern Germany. Concentration camps are frequented by thousands each and every day. Granted, the United States is young compared to these European countries, but the way in which Europe keeps history alive is truly astounding. Had I not studied abroad as a junior, I’m not sure that I would have found myself at the LSE.
Q: Tell me about the program at LSE. What are you learning? Can you briefly tell me about your classes at St. A’s prepared you for graduate school? How is grad school different? Any ideas about what you’ll do when you are done?
A: I am currently completing my Masters in International History at the London School of Economics. I am taking courses in Crisis Decision-Making in War and Peace (1914-2003), Secret Intelligence in the Twentieth Century, and Presidents, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy from Roosevelt to Reagan (1933-1989). The international history department here is geared heavily towards the Cold War period – some of the professors at the LSE are the most renowned historians in the field. It is a great privilege to be able to study with these individuals and read their publications.
Saint A’s prepared me well for graduate school. As the years went by, I fine-tuned my research and writing skills, as well as my critical and analytical thinking. I also developed more confidence in my thoughts and seminar contributions, which has been tremendously beneficial in my classes at the LSE.
Yet, on the other hand, graduate school is quite different from undergrad–especially in the United Kingdom. Essentially, it is an independent study system. The syllabus for each class lists a number of books, and we are expected to come to class prepared for discussion. When I am not in the classroom, I am in the library. It is also different in that each term we are assigned a non-assessed essay in each class, and only have one exam per class, which takes place in the summer term. 100% of my grade will come from that exam. I also have to write a dissertation, which is comparable in length to an undergraduate senior thesis.
Q: How do you like living in London? What do you like most?
A: I love living abroad, and can’t think of a better city to study in than London. I find that it is very similar to New York City in a number of ways–busy streets, crowded sidewalks, and the “on-the-go” lifestyle.
What I do find to be unique about this city is the respect for and awareness of history and culture. Many of the museums here are free, and those that are not offer student discounts – a feature not commonly found in the States. I also love that war memorials can be found throughout the city, and there is a small church not far from the LSE that was bombed during the Second World War and still has the markings. “Remembrance Sunday” is a huge deal here, and some people wear poppies year-round to honor those who served Great Britain in the First and Second World Wars. Perhaps people are more aware of history since Britain was directly impacted; I admire their respect and reverence.
I also love the international feel of Central London. I don’t hear as much English during the day as most people think I do – there are over 140 different countries represented at the LSE. Even when I am not on campus, I hear so many different languages on my fifteen-minute walk to school every day and that always amazes me!