Making Your Major Your Own: Mehn Tala Norm's Interdisciplinary Academic Journey

a young man with dark hair and glasses
Mehn Tala Norm '24

Mehn Tala Norm ’24 had a longstanding interest in international studies before starting college, and at Rhodes he found the flexibility to customize his coursework to suit his academic vision. Not only is he minoring in both Chinese and economics, he has also worked with faculty across departments to make his international studies major more interdisciplinary and studied abroad to get hands-on experience in the field.

Hailing from Myanmar, Norm came to Rhodes with a deep investment in the politics and people of his home country. The international studies program shed light on interpreting politics and navigating policy, but Norm wanted to learn about the humanity behind legislation, and, with the guidance of professors, decided to substitute an international studies course with an anthropology course. “It covered similar issues, but from a completely different, human perspective, looking at how the individuals and communities react,” says Norm.

After that first substitution, Norm worked with his academic advisor, Associate Professor of International Studies Dr. Chien-Kai Chen, to further customize his coursework while still fulfilling the major’s requirements. “I wanted an interdisciplinary academic journey,” he says. “Here, you have the time and support to explore and learn. I've taken classes across so many disciplines.”

a young man stands in front of a large Gothic cathedral in Paris
Norm spent time traveling in Europe during his internship abroad.

However, Norm still felt like his skillset needed additional tools. He had already fulfilled his language requirement by taking French, but knew studying Chinese would be invaluable to studying Asian international relations. Since starting a research project on relations between Myanmar and China, he says, “I wished I could read news not only in Burmese, my mother tongue, and English, but also in Chinese as well. I felt like a whole perspective was missing.”

Seeking more experience with the language, Norm spent a summer in a Chinese immersion program at the University of Rhode Island. After that, he was committed to finding a way to study Chinese abroad. With funding from the Buckman Fellowship Award, he participated in the CET study abroad program in Taiwan. There, he took extensive Chinese courses, learned about Taiwanese history, met local students, and admired Taiwan’s thriving activism scene.

Immediately after completing the program in Taiwan, Norm began another immersive program over the summer, this time focusing on French in Paris. He worked at a nonprofit solidarity center, SOS Casamance, for immigrants and refugees and was able to brush up on his French while also seeing the impacts of global policy firsthand. “I got to see how diverse Paris is, and I got to hear the stories of people coming from very different places: West Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, and more.”

Back at Rhodes, Norm is preparing to graduate this May. He plans to attend graduate school in international studies and hopes to one day implement his expertise in Southeast Asia. Says Norm, “I want to get to a point where I can actually translate what I’ve learned into something that could be put into practice in terms of policies or change at the community level.”

By Hannah Meit ’25

a group photo of Norm at his internship in Taiwan
With funding from the Buckman Fellowship Award, Norm participated in the CET Study Abroad program in Taiwan.
a group photo of Norm at his internship in Paris
Norm interned at SAS Casamance, a nonprofit solidarity center for immigrants and refugees, in Paris.