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Students of International Studies: Meet Our Majors

Majoring in International Studies as well as Chinese and International Economics (FLIE), Michael Di Girolamo has sought to combine his passion for foreign languages with the study of international commerce. Within the IS major, he has concentrated his studies in East, South, and South East Asia, with a thematic concentration in comparative politics and societies. The flexibility of the major has allowed him to study Chinese and pursue a minor in Italian, all while continuing to learn Korean. To that end, Michael previously completed an internship with the U.S. Embassy in South Korea through which he also gained insight into the field of diplomacy.

Through completing introductory coursework in international relations and Chinese culture, he has gained a deeper understanding of contemporary Chinese society and the history of its relations with the United States. Michael sees his studies in these focus areas as having been strengthened by his continued development of the Chinese language. As Michael explained, “learning a foreign language is one of the best ways you can familiarize yourself with another culture and prepare to work in an international environment.” 

On campus, Michael is an active member of the national service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, where he plans workshops centered around cultural diversity. This past summer he was selected to receive the College of Arts and Sciences Travel Grant, through which he was able to explore his cultural heritage in Italy. Michael has established a weekly Korean conversation table as well as worked with the UK Office of China Initiatives to coordinate a two week summer academy for students from China. Currently, he works as a research assistant for UK’s Bilingual and Biliteracy Research Lab. As such, Michael hopes to pursue a career in linguistic research, foreign affairs, or international law upon graduation.


Seeking to learn more about the global community and his Mexican heritage, Cesar Avila is currently pursuing a major in International Studies with a focus in Latin America and global development. As a native Spanish speaker, he has always placed great value on the propensity of language to foster connections between individuals of diverse backgrounds. As such, Cesar has also pursued his study of the French language and culture during his time at UK through both an education abroad experience and a minor in French. 

Cesar has consistently sought opportunities to enhance his knowledge within the field of global development both within and outside the classroom. He has studied under political science professor, Dr. Magda Hinojosa of Arizona State University, as well as completed an internship with the Daisy Alliance. In this role, Cesar developed surveys to assess students' awareness of nuclear deterrence strategies. Furthermore, he has attained substantial intercultural experience through education abroad programs in both Argentina and France. These exchanges have allowed Cesar to further develop his foreign language skills in an immersive setting as well as pursue his passion for forging cross-cultural understanding.   

On UK’s campus, Cesar has demonstrated his capacity to lead early on in his undergraduate career. As a sophomore, he has acted as Student President of the Society of International Studies where he sought to create a community that, “brings together International Studies majors for discussion, connection, and events related to the major.” For the College of Arts & Sciences, Cesar previously worked as a student ambassador through which he was able to share his experiences as an IS major with fellow students. Upon graduating in 2021, he hopes to build upon his intercultural experience through pursuing a career in the field of Public Diplomacy with the Foreign Service.


Rachel Wright is currently a senior at the University of Kentucky pursuing a dual-degree in International Studies and Political Science with a minor in Spanish. During her freshman year, Rachel completed coursework on Cuban-Latin American relations through which she was able to travel to Havana to complete a semester long research project focusing on agricultural policy. From this experience, she became greatly interested in political and economic relations within the region and thus chose to focus her studies as an IS major within the areas of global development and Latin America. 

Reflecting on her previous coursework, Rachel believes it has allowed her to analyze current issues in global development and international politics from diverse viewpoints. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the major, Rachel has been able to complete courses not only in political science but also economics, Latin American studies, and sociology. She explained that the knowledge and analytical skills she gained through her coursework has proven integral in completing her senior capstone research projects. This research has focused on the role of Mexican hometown associations in the development of rural Mexican communities as well as their role in fostering political participation among the Mexican diaspora in the United States.

Throughout her time as an undergraduate, Rachel has completed multiple internships, both within the Lexington community and abroad. Previously, she has worked with Kentucky Refugee Ministries in Lexington , El Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (CDH) in Ecuador, The Advocacy Project in Washington, D.C. and the Embassy of the Dominican Republic to the Kingdom of Belgium and the European Union in Brussels. When asked about these experiences, Rachel expressed that, “(they) have allowed me to advance my Spanish language skills in a professional work environment as well as apply the knowledge I gained through my IS coursework in quantifiable and impactful ways.” As she prepares to begin a fellowship with the Council of State Governments in Lexington, she is excited to begin her career within the field of policy research.


Combining her passion for the study of diverse cultures and languages, Sara Rastoder is currently pursuing a double major in International Studies and Arabic and Islamic Studies. Recognizing the value of foreign language skills in today’s society, she is also working towards a Spanish minor. Within the International Studies major, Sara focuses her studies in comparative politics and societies in Europe, from which she has gained a comprehensive background in the areas of diplomacy and international peacekeeping.   

As a senior at the University of Kentucky, Sara has continuously sought to utilize the interdisciplinary nature of the International Studies major to enhance her learning. She has previously completed coursework on War, Film, and Memory; Greek and Roman Sexuality; Theology and Law in Islam; and Jewish Thought and Culture. These courses have allowed her to place current developments in international affairs into historical and cultural contexts. Furthermore, they have not only expanded her worldview but also enhanced her ability to critically analyze the content and nature of scholarly writing.  

Pursuing her passion for the international community outside the classroom, Sara has completed multiple internships with Kentucky Refugee Ministries in both Lexington and Louisville. These opportunities have equipped her with a robust knowledge of refugee resettlement policy as well as cultivated effective cross-cultural communication skills. It is this background that helped prepare her to serve as Promotions Officer this past year for the university's Society of International Studies. Having recently applied to law school, Sara seeks to pursue a career in international or human rights law upon graduation. 


Seeking to acquire an in-depth understanding of international commerce, Julianne Stahl is currently double majoring in International Studies as well as Chinese and International Economics (FLIE). Due to her interest in the interaction between culture and governance, Julianne focuses her studies in the areas of comparative politics and societies in East, South, and South East Asia. Julianne came to choose the IS major as she became increasingly interested in the study of the development of global communities and the role that shared cultural values play throughout this process.

To understand the role of cultural values in the development of societal institutions, Julianne has taken courses centered around Chinese culture and language as well as Asian Philosophy. Through these courses, she has gained insight into the thought and scripts at the center of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other philosophical schools of thought present within Asian societies. Not only has her coursework within the International Studies major helped her understand the inherent curiosity of people, but also how culture shapes governing institutions and politics.  

From her work in these areas of focus, Julianne was able to participate in a research opportunity alongside a PhD student. This opportunity allowed her to enhance her Chinese language skills outside of the classroom as well as gain insight into various methods of analyzing data for social science research. Through her involvement with UK’s Society of International Studies, Julianne is able to come together with other students to discuss current issues in international affairs. The interdisciplinary nature of her studies and her engagement with the discipline outside of the classroom has equipped her with highly sought-after skills in today’s globalized society.