Celebrating our graduates: Soukayna Remmal and Liam Bekirsky

November 20, 2020 by Owen Guo - Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy

In a packed lecture hall, Soukayna Remmal (MGA/ MPP ‘ 20) scribbled away as the Colombian President spoke before a collegiate audience at Sciences Po. During the same week, the leader from Costa Rica delivered a speech on campus. Just months earlier, Justin Trudeau and the Prime Minister of New Zealand held court, engaging students on issues ranging from climate change to democracy.

“It’s been thrilling to not only hear the heads of state share their experiences but also ask them questions,” says Remmal, recounting her time as a graduate student since she began her program in Paris in 2018. “The proximity to global governance is really amazing.”

This November, Remmal will be among the first graduating cohort of the dual Master in Public Policy (MPP) and Master of Global Affairs (MGA) degree program between the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto and Sciences Po’s School of Public Affairs.

When she arrived in Paris with eight other first-year dual degree students in the fall of 2018, seismic changes were beginning to reshape world politics. In Europe, policymakers haggled bitterly over Brexit and a refugee crisis. Across the Atlantic, the U.S. sparred with China in a protracted diplomatic feud that would ensnare other world powers. From Venezuela to Yemen and Myanmar, humanitarian crises continued to deteriorate.

“Starting a program in global affairs and public policy during such turbulent times only gave more relevance to the course content covered at both institutions,” says Remmal.

Understanding the ever-changing nature of geopolitics was one reason why Liam Bekirsky chose the joint degree after earning a Bachelor of Arts in French Studies and History at York University. “The world is so complex and changing so quickly. I just love reading the news,” he says, “I want to be at a place where we’re discussing and evolving with the system.”

Before starting the dual degree program, Bekirsky worked as a program coordinator at an education start-up in Toronto and Remmal completed a five-month stint in Brussels with Morocco's diplomatic mission in the European Union.

In addition to their passion for global affairs, both were drawn to the program because of its mix of academic rigour and real-world practice. With help from the Munk School, Bekirsky secured an internship at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. After representing Sciences Po in a case competition in Singapore, Remmal set off for Toronto to intern for a humanitarian NGO.

The joint program helps the students prepare for what Bekirsky says is an increasingly competitive and global job market. “Unless you’re looking for a local job, you’re ultimately up against the world,’’ he contends, adding that one’s future career success also hinges on understanding how the world works.

The dual degree is global in perspective and complementary in course design. Sciences Po’s MPP program focuses on the policy-making process, with eleven policy streams ranging from digital policy to global health. The Munk School’s MGA degree gives special attention the global system, offering a broad range of courses from global development to global justice and human right, and global innovation. At the Munk School, students also benefit from various professional workshops and staff dedicated to career development.

The interdisciplinary nature of the joint degree — with teaching staff consisting of both leading academics and policymakers — allows students to engage with global affairs from a wide range of perspectives.  Among the subjects explored: should global health priorities shift from communicable diseases to chronic ones? Does digitalization increase social inequality? And would the International Court of Justice have jurisdiction over atrocities committed by the Islamic State?

Both Remmal and Bekirsky took the opportunity to embrace Parisian culture and make new friends abroad. When she was not studying, Remmal took a painting class in Paris. Bekirsky, for his part, enjoyed his “unbeatable” drinks by the Seine, with one group of classmates “going off on German politics” and the next wading into education in different countries.

The two continue to dream big, despite the uncertainty of the pandemic. Bekirsky is pursuing a PhD at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, hoping to make an impact in the world as an academic. Remmal, who now researches the informal economy in Africa for the International Centre for Tax and Development at the Munk School, is pursuing a career in international development.

How does one make the most of the dual degree program? Looking back at his own journey, Bekirsky has some advice for future dual degree students.

“I have made an extraordinary number of professional and personal connections across Sciences Po, the OECD and Munk,” he says, “Be as open as possible to new encounters and new ideas. Take new opportunities. Say yes as much as you can to different things. You never know where it could lead.”

Congratulations to U of T's Class of 2020!

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