Geneva is the hub of world politics and Northeastern students are there learning how negotiations happen on a global scale

Group of students posing for a photo outside in Geneva in between rows of flag poles.
This summer marked the 15th year students visited Switzerland for “Dialogue of Civilizations: Geneva,” making it the longest continuously running Dialogue course at Northeastern.

Denise Garcia spent years living and studying in Geneva. As a professor of political science and international affairs, much of her research is also focused there. So it only made sense when she joined Northeastern University’s faculty in 2006 that she found a way to go back with students in tow.

Garcia started a Dialogue: “United Nations in Geneva” the year after she began teaching at the university. The course brings students to the hub of world politics for a month where they meet with diplomats, U.N. personnel, and other international organizations and get a glimpse of how global issues are resolved.

The Dialogue has brought students to Geneva every year since 2007 (with the exception of 2020 and 2021 when the pandemic prevented international travel), making it the longest continuously running Dialogue of Civilizations course at Northeastern. This past summer marked the 15th time Garcia has run the course.

“Geneva is the premier diplomatic city in the world where the most important negotiations on peace and humanitarian aid take place,” Garcia said. “I have to be there for my own research. I love to have the students there with me. If I can expose them to how Geneva international works and how it can serve the world, it’ll be worthwhile.”

There’s no such thing as a typical day in this course: Students spend several weeks meeting with an array of ambassadors and representatives of international organizations like the World Health Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization. They also meet with at least four Nobel Peace laureate organizations and people.  

During these private encounters, students get the chance to ask representatives questions about national issues and working in international affairs. 

A highlight from this year’s course for Nathan Cideciyan, a third-year student studying international affairs and international business, was meeting with Scott Miller, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland.

“It was really interesting to talk to somebody who had a very strong political affiliation to a certain country,” Cideciyan said. “We sat in a big circle, so it was very conversational. It was…really interesting to feel like we were included in the creation of new ideas.”

There’s a couple reasons why this Dialogue is so sustainable. Spending a month in Switzerland during the summer doesn’t hurt. Garcia said the city is remarkably safe, while students who’ve taken the course rave about its food. The itinerary leaves room to explore Geneva and the surrounding area, whether it be paddleboarding on a lake or taking a weekend hike in the Alps.

But the Dialogue also has a universal appeal. Garcia said she has students apply from every college at Northeastern and brings in students studying everything from neuroscience to music.

“It’s really a meeting of the minds,” she said. “They look at the same problem from a different angle. We have very fascinating conversations while we’re there.”

Over the last few years, the United Nations focused on artificial intelligence in the international relations sphere and sponsored events focused on using AI for good. In 2023, the Dialogue was set up to explore this subject and how AI can play a role in global politics.

This was a huge draw for Rajiv Iyer, a second-year computer science and business administration student with a minor in robotics and an interest in AI. Iyer applied due to a lifelong interest in geopolitics and a desire to explore something new. What he got from it is a new perspective on his major as he met people involved in the realm of AI. 

“In computer science, you don’t really get exposed to the impacts and applications,” he said. “Within the first two years, you’re mostly learning about good design practices and how to code. The DOC had me get the standpoint of how the software and what we’re doing impacts people.”

Armaan Agrawal, a second-year computer science major, had a similar experience after enrolling in the Dialogue to learn more about autonomous weapons.

“I used to just be focused on the product,” he said. “That’s mainly the goal of computer science. Once I went on the Dialogue, I started to think about the effect (my products) will have on the world…It just makes you think about the underlying effect on a global scale.”

In the past, students in the course have gotten to sit in on negotiations that lead to treaties, such as the Arms Trade Treaty and a treaty regulating autonomous weapons. 

Getting to see these negotiations and meet with people on the frontlines has an impact on students. Garcia said co-ops and careers are born out of this Dialogue, and when she goes to Geneva, she usually meets former students who work there because of that course. There was recently an anniversary celebration on the Boston campus to mark the Dialogue’s long-running success and bring former students together.

“It’s a very transformative experience for them,” Garcia said. “It exposes them to an in-depth look at situations and conflict and diplomatic processes…I am always willing to do it again. It’s an incredible amount of work for me to organize this, but…if I take 20 students every year, the multiplying effect for the world for peace is enormous.”

Erin Kayata is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on X/Twitter @erin_kayata.