Beyond the Bluff: Sophia Notter ’21

Sophia Notter

Major: International Relations

Next Step: Applying to Grad School

Sophia Notter’s time at LMU was defined as much by her time off the Bluff as on it. During her four years, Notter went on Alternative Break (AB) trips to Cuba and Tucson, as well as BCLA Global Immersion trips to Bosnia and Croatia as well as Berlin. These trips were motivated by a fascination with other cultures and governments, an interest that is also responsible for her international relations major. She wanted to learn about how others experience the world and how sovereign nations can come together within the international community to promote cooperation and fundamental human rights. “The trips that I was able to take at LMU were particularly influential in pushing me to study international human rights specifically. My first AB trip to Cuba instilled in me the importance of the human and personal aspect of international relations.”

In addition to studying theories, systems of government, and international security, she she desired to know more about the people in these countries who would be impacted by these policies. She knew about the U.S. embargo against Cuba, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Bay of Pigs, but she was shocked to learn how the relationship between the U.S. and Cuban governments affected Cubans’ everyday lives. Notter recounts how this realization became especially evident on her last day of the trip as she waited to board a plane back to the U.S. “While we were waiting, a domestic aircraft crashed back into the runway shortly after take off, killing everyone on board. While at the time we didn’t know what was going on, we later learned that the plane was much too old to be flying, but was still in use because the embargo limited the number of airplanes used for domestic flights. As I boarded my very modern aircraft back to Miami, I thought of all of the lives that had just been lost because of government relations that had soured decades ago, and why the people of Cuba were the ones paying the price.”

Notter credits her liberal arts education for expanding her experiences and interests beyond the classsroom. “BCLA has really emphasized the importance of always learning and connecting with people.” Notter explains. Being an LMU tour guide provided another unique opportunity for Notter to meet and engage with a broad range of people. “Coming to LMU, I was so shy, and rarely wanted to talk to strangers or even about myself. Being a tour guide really helped me come out of my shell and enjoy meeting new people. It also helped me learn how to talk about my accomplishments and experiences in a succinct and interesting way. Attending LMU was such an important decision for me and I’ve really enjoyed helping other people come to that same decision.”

After graduation, Notter plans to apply for M.A. programs in International Relations, with a focus either on international human rights, or international organizations. She also plans to use it as an opportunity for more travel – she is exploring options in Brussels and Germany. Notter is primarily interested in studying migration policies of European Union member states. Notter credits her mentor, Professor Jennifer Ramos, with pushing her to gain the academic confidence she needed to apply for grad school. “When I first started college, I was terrified of research, the research process, and the thought that I was going to have to conduct my own independent research study for my senior thesis,” Notter explains. “However, in my junior year Dr. Ramos reached out to me and offered me a job as her research assistant over the summer and into my senior year. This gave me the experience of working on a research project and being a part of a research team before I had to start my thesis and made me much more confident in my research skills. Dr. Ramos always pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone and because of her influence I feel prepared for graduate school.”

While Notter’s post-grad plan has come together, she also emphasizes how important it is to take time and explore options before making a decision. “It can be a really scary process and at times it can seem like everyone around you has a concrete plan. But there are so many opportunities out there you can take advantage of and so many paths you can take, you don’t want to limit yourself by going straight to grad school or law school. Take full advantage of all of the resources LMU has to offer, not only Career and Professional Development, but also your professors and the Office of National and International Fellowships to see what other opportunities are out there.” Her advice for incoming college students is similar. While managing your time is important, so is enjoying it. “I was so concerned about what exactly I wanted to do with my degree from the very first semester, but now I am on a completely different path.” To this end, she recommends staying open to new possibilities. “Say yes to as much as you can at LMU, take advantage of as many experiences as you can, because each one will change you and guide you a little more on what path you should take.”