International Studies, Alumni
Alumnus Profile; Reid Standish, International Studies
International Studies Alumnus Reid Standish (BA ’12) has a burgeoning career reporting on world events and international politics. Originally from Langley, BC, Standish recently accepted a position as Assistant Digital Producer at Foreign Policy magazine in Washington, DC where he started out as an intern in June of 2014. While at SFU, Standish wrote for The Peak student newspaper and helped launch The Hidden Transcript a multi-disciplinary, student-driven publication focusing on current events and international affairs. After graduating from SFU in 2012, Standish earned an MA in Russian, Central and East European Studies from the University of Glasgow in 2014 and garnered experience writing about political and international issues in Kyrgyzstan during his fieldwork.
Standish says an “eye opening” experience volunteering in the Ukraine with Canada World Youth piqued his interest in world affairs even before he decided to major in International Studies at SFU. Standish recalls that International Studies’ cross-disciplinary focus on critically thinking about international events and politics made it ideal for him. He credits Dr. Nicole Jackson and her courses on Central Asian politics and Russian foreign policy as influencing his interests, and in particular his concentration on the former Soviet Union.
Like many students who have a passion for writing, Standish got involved at SFU's student newspaper, The Peak. While he enjoyed writing for the student newspaper, Standish says he yearned for writing opportunities that weren’t strictly journalistic or strictly academic; he wanted to take on a style that fell somewhere in between the two. “Outside of my studies I loved reading magazines like The Economist, Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs, and I was disappointed there was no equivalent for students who were just starting out as writers. One day I said this to a friend and he agreed. From there things snowballed and it ended up with The Hidden Transcript magazine and its companion website. The idea was that students could explore the topics from class or foreign exchanges that really excited them, but in a more conversational way and get accustomed to pitching ideas and being edited.”
The experience launching The Hidden Transcript served Standish well as he entered the world of journalism, as did the extensive fieldwork he completed for his graduate degree. His MA thesis looked at drug trafficking in Kyrgyzstan, a small country in Central Asia that is also located in the “middle of a route between the world’s largest opiates producer (Afghanistan) and the world’s largest national market for opiates (Russia).” Standish says that, “combined with poverty, corruption and political instability, drug trafficking has become entrenched in the country. My research was to look at how this illegal, but very lucrative trade, had impacted the development of the country since the fall of the Soviet Union.”
Standish interviewed numerous people “on the ground” in Kyrgyzstan, including academics, diplomats, police, military, politicians and people involved with the NGO community and determined that the drug trade was an important political resource. He notes that the politics of the country had always been “notoriously corrupt,” with political leaders controlling the drug trade or taking control of the media to wield economic and political power: “the control of the drug trade changed after the country experienced its revolutions in 2005 and 2010 and the country’s power dynamics shifting (in the legal and illegal worlds).” He says the “cycle of competition between the criminal and political world blurred the lines distinguishing them and helped propel a culture of plunder among the political class, which in turn prevented Kyrgyzstan from developing an accountable political system.”
Researching and writing about such a complex geopolitical situation put Standish in a good position to take on an internship at Foreign Policy covering the war in Ukraine and the former USSR. He says the story he is most proud of is an analysis article about the future of the Eurasian Union that was published in January. Standish also covered the story of the flight MH17 being shot down over eastern Ukraine in July and was able to utilize his Ukrainian and Russian language abilities. He says knowing at least one other language is a “major advantage once you hit the job market”. When asked what other advice he can offer to aspiring political journalists, he says: “Start early, while you are still a student. Write for your college paper, find opportunities online, and don’t be shy about pitching stories to news outlets and getting rejected!”