Medlir Mema, a professor in BYU-I’s Department of History, Geography and Political Science, gave his thoughts about how the education we receive changes how we understand and shape our world and country:
“I think probably the most important act — political act — that we take in a democracy is learning.”
Learning, Mema said, helps us understand why people make the decisions they do. And even if we don’t agree, we will understand, ” … that person is not bad. They just have a different view than you do.”
According to Mema, this is especially important when each decision we make is ultimately a political decision.
“Be careful and be an informed decision-maker, whatever it is that you do,” Mema said. “Whether you vote for somebody in political office or whether you vote with your pocket — what business you’re going to favor — or whether you’re voting by choosing a major, right? Each of those are, in a way, political choices.”
Mema’s spark of interest to be more informed came from the global political scene of the 90s, at which time he was growing up in Albania.
“So there’s a lot of things that are happening around the world,” Mema said. “And you try and make sense of it all. And so that’s where my kind of intellectual curiosity comes in, is trying to understand relations between countries.”
At 18, Mema began studying more about international politics at Ricks College and eventually went on to earn his Ph.D. in International Relations from George Washington University. Before coming to BYU-I in 2022, he taught international relations at Tokyo International University.
Explaining how his education and interest in various aspects of the world progressed, Mema categorized the different parts of his life by decades.
“There’s the 20s … when you’re learning; you’re like absorbing as much as you can and you’re trying to become a fully formed person,” Mema said. “The 30s for me was a period of experimentation. Where you’re trying crazy things … get involved politically, socially, religiously, academically, because you have the energy, right? It’s the 30s. And then your 40s, that’s when you have to settle down academically a little bit, whatever your profession is, try to make a name for yourself and also try new things.”
It was at that point of trying new things that Mema started a podcast called “On Air: IR in the age of AI” with co-hosts Chris Lamont and Young Diogenes. At the time, he was interested in developing countries and how AI could be used to optimize the developmental processes in these countries.
The podcast features guest speakers and explores various AI-related topics on the stage of international relations.
“I thought, ‘How can I learn more about this stuff?'” Mema said. “What better way to learn than to ask people questions, and there’s no better way of asking people questions than by actually doing a podcast. So this has been my education for the last three years.”
Referring to the podcast as a way to learn more for himself while also teaching, Mema again emphasized the importance of being well-informed. For Mema, the podcast and his career as an educator are some of the ways that he is engaging with society. But each of us has our own ways that we will make an impact.
“You don’t have to do political science to be involved in the political kind of world,” Mema said. “Wherever you are, you can actually make a change.”