Josh Cobler '20
Majoring in Anthropology, Minoring in European Studies
I didn’t always know I wanted to study anthropology, and I didn’t really know what anthropology was until my first year. I entered Stanford knowing that I was generally interested in healthcare and politics, and I thought I would major in Human Biology with plans to go to medical school. In my freshman year, I took an intro to anthropology course and I fell in love with the discipline. I loved the methods of ethnography and participant-observation, the theory that social anthropology was built on, how it approached questions about society, and how an anthropological lens could be applied to issues like global health and politics. After really enjoying the fieldwork assignment in the course, I decided to major in anthropology the next quarter.
I first heard about Global Studies sometime around my sophomore year, when I was more seriously looking into different study abroad options through the Bing Overseas Studies Program. I wasn’t sure if I would end up minoring in anything, and I had actually bounced between a few different minors throughout my undergraduate degree—most seriously considering creative writing, economics, and Spanish. It was only after going to Oxford for the winter and spring quarters of my junior year that I very seriously began considering more about what I wanted to major in, and especially since I had grown very interested in Europe during my time studying abroad, I declared a minor in Global Studies with a concentration in European Studies over the summer.
Oxford and the Fraught Question of European Identity
I was never particularly interested in Europe until I studied abroad at Oxford in the winter and spring quarters of my junior year. I had expected to focus mostly on anthropology coursework, but I found myself in England at such a fascinating time politically that I started to really become interested in European politics. At the time, the former Prime Minister Theresa May was working on trying to get a Brexit deal through Parliament, and the European elections that took place while I was there in May mobilized all of my peers, including leaving through previous party allegiances behind in order to vote for pro-European parties in the European elections. At the same time as all this was happening, I was learning first-hand from Oxford students about regional divides within England, tensions between the four nations of the United Kingdom, and cultural and political divides there that only became stronger once Brexit brought out the often fraught question of European identity.
My thematic focus within the minor was European political institutions, which combined a mix of the coursework I had done while studying abroad at Oxford as well as the coursework I then did in Stanford, from Spanish classes that allowed me to study Spanish political parties to European studies classes that focused directly on the European Union as an institution.
What I loved most about the European studies program was the individual attention that it provided. I really appreciated how easy it was to set up directed readings on topics like Brexit and European party politics, how responsive staff and faculty were, and how flexible the program was so that I could get a mix of broad understanding of global and European studies, while also giving me the opportunity to focus on more specific topics. I would strongly encourage anyone considering the minor to really take advantage of the fantastic opportunities that The Europe Center provides its students—from internship opportunities to individual attention from professors. The only regret I have is that I didn’t declare a Global Studies minor in European Studies much earlier and could have taken advantage of even more of what the program had to offer!
From the Minor to a Master's program in European Politics at Oxford
I had really enjoyed my time studying abroad at Oxford, and I knew that it was a place that I wanted to return to. Especially since Brexit negotiations and European elections gave me a taste of European politics, I wanted to continue learning about European politics both upon my return to Stanford and after graduation. Sometime in the fall of my senior year, I began very seriously considering applying to Oxford for their two-year Master’s program in European politics, especially since that would be a great way to learn more at the graduate level about many of the questions that the European Studies minor opened for me. The European project is in many ways quite novel and could have a lot of potential for building a more democratic and just world even beyond the European Union’s member states. Its developments since the European Coal and Steel Community after World War II have created a fascinating cosmopolitan European identity—especially among young people who have grown up only knowing an integrated Europe where anyone could live, travel, and work anywhere in the EU—while also opening up space for populist and nationalist backlash against the very institutions that have helped Europe recover and thrive after decades of conflict. More than anything, I wanted to investigate why this is happening and what ramifications this could have, so I decided that graduate school would be the best way to really dive deeper into this line of inquiry, combining the methods I had learned through my anthropology major with the knowledge of European politics that I learned in the European studies minor.
Now that it’s been a few months since I’ve started the program, I can’t emphasize enough how much the European Studies minor really prepared me for graduate work in European politics. I was definitely nervous to be jumping into a new discipline since I hadn’t majored in political science or international relations, especially since the vast majority of my peers in this Master’s program had. But as I’ve learned since the beginning of this academic year, I was set up by the European Studies program to succeed, and I feel like I’ve come in with similar levels of background knowledge as other students.
I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing after finishing my Master’s degree here; it’s a two-year course, so I’ll be spending the 2021-2022 academic year working on my Master’s thesis, which is currently a comparative study of populist political identities in regions of Spain and England. I have been really enjoying research, including the year of methods training I have this year, and I have found myself incredibly motivated by the research “puzzle” I’ve been unravelling in this Master’s program, so I think a PhD could likely be in my future. I would love to have an impact on European and international policy as well, including working on democratic reforms that I hope could help European citizens feel more politically engaged, as well as more connected to each other and the world. Other than the more aspirational goals, I currently don’t have any plans to leave Europe in the near future. While I’d like to leave England sometime after graduating from Oxford, my hope is to get to spend time living and working somewhere in continental Europe, possibly in a country like Spain given how interested in Spanish politics and culture I’ve become.