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After COVID-19 canceled Peace Corps plans, International Relations grad rethinks future

Tajah with Globe

Tajah McCray ’20 is fascinated by other cultures. When she chose to study International Relations at York College of Pennsylvania, she imagined someday working for the United Nations. “I felt like it was a major that would allow me to really make an impact in the world,” McCray says. “Having a better understanding of the world has made me a more well-rounded person.”

International travel fed McCray’s curiosity for other countries. As a child, she would visit Trinidad, where she’d meet cousins, aunts, and uncles on her mom’s side of the family. As a Caribbean native with deep Creole traditions, from the music to the food, McCray still carries the early fascination of learning her family’s heritage.

Study abroad

As a college student, that curiosity spread to other cultures. While she loved exploring new foods and traditions, McCray uncovered a passion for research. During a trip to Cuba in June 2019, she researched current events written by Cuban resources. “It was interesting to learn their perspective on things that were going on in the United States,” she says. The trip inspired her senior seminar paper, in which she analyzed U.S.-Cuba relations in the post WWII era and conducted a quantitative analysis of the Cuban economy, comparing pre- and post-Cold War era conditions.

But, Cuba wasn’t the only place she’d visit as a student. She spent December 2019 in India, volunteering in a children’s orphanage. Everything from the distinctive clothing the women wore to the vegetarian diets fascinated McCray. She took note of the difference in infrastructure, from highways to bridges, and even bathrooms. The month-long trip was not long enough, she says.

Rethinking the future

Hoping to expand her roadmap, McCray was ready to check Benin, Africa, off her list. She planned to teach English to middle school students with the Peace Corps following graduation when COVID-19 canceled her trip. “I was certainly bitter and disappointed when I first found out I wouldn’t be going,” she says. “I had to think about what was next for me.”

That’s when McCray decided to apply for graduate school. She was accepted into the MA in Diplomacy and International Relations program at Seton Hall University and will begin in the fall. It may not be where she planned to land right after graduating from York College, but it’s another step closer to her career goals–and one she’s excited to take.

“York College gave me the opportunities to learn about places and people,” she says. “I made great memories during those trips, but I also learned to try to understand how and why those countries operate the way they do. It gave me a deeper appreciation for our differences and similarities. And even though I can’t travel now, I plan to get back out there as soon as I can.”