Background Guide- What Did I Learn?

During the first semester of my freshman year I was tasked with creating a background guide for the American University International Relations Society. It was focused around the South American drug trade and the steps which the United States and its global partners could take to quell it.

What did I do? I co-wrote a ten thousand word synthesis of research on three topics within this study. The challenging part: it had to be tailored to High School students. I couldn’t just write what I learned, I had to write it in a way that a younger student would understand and be interested in. Our goal in crafting the research guide was to spark further research and to give these students a strong foundation in a contemporary discussion.

So what? Unsurprisingly, the challenging audience combined with the daunting task of becoming well versed in a new topic area forced me to commit to goals and to take some risks that I wouldn’t have previously considered. For one, our biweekly topic deadlines meant that I had to research, research, research and commit to what I found since I didn’t have time to continuously second guess my understanding. My partner and I became skilled in the art of asking for guidance when we needed it and taking agency when we didn’t. We also learned to trust our colleagues and to collaborate effectively on a time crunch.

And did I mention our audience? Of course we had to be cognizant of our language and avoid assuming our audiences’ previous knowledge. The tricky part was writing so that they would be intrigued enough to do further research. It was a bit of a learning curve- relying on bad jokes and “relevant” slang only got us so far since that might keep them reading our report, but it did little to inspire future research. Ultimately, we learned that to make others interested we had to be interested. While our report was informational, by adding in a persuasive element of “this is why we found it interesting” kept the paper moving and distanced our work from a mere historical recount.

Now what? Do I plan on writing for High School students in the future? Not necessarily, but learning to gain the trust and intrigue of my audience empowers me to share my voice on a larger stage no matter the context. I also plan to continue learning confidently– to not question myself because I am a new to the conversation, but rather to take the opportunity to learn and grow. This guide took a lot of late nights and countless hours of work, however, it was an enriching hurdle to encounter during my first semester at American University.

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