William Arrocha: Professor of Trade and Development

1) What is your job at the Institute?

I am a professor in the International Policy and Management program. I teach a diversity of courses from Global Politics, Intro to Development, International Trade Laws and Institutions, and U.S.-Mexico Relations.

2) Which courses are you most fond of teaching?

I’m most passionate about Global Politics: I helped ensure that we offer this course on political theory. And also my seminars - my creations - on US-Mexico Relations.

3) You are an academic, but you have extensive professional experience in the trade field. You worked on the NAFTA negotiations for the Mexican government. Tell us about your experiences.

I’m the typical example of a MIIS professor in that I’ve accumulated years of professional experience in different fields. I worked for the Secretariat of Trade and Economic Development (now the Secretariat of the Economy) in Mexico after graduating with a B.A. in international relations. As the chief advisor for logistics on the Mexican side of the NAFTA negotiations, my job was challenging. It entailed communicating with members of congress and key stakeholders in the economic sector. As a student of theory, it was my introduction to the political system.

4) How did this opportunity shape the next stage of your career?

I went on to work for the Canadian Embassy as an analyst/advisor in the political department. They were looking for someone who understood the Mexican government and its political players, and they were familiar with my work during the NAFTA negotiations. Connections can be important. The knowledge I acquired in my first job was an advantage. In the interview, for example, I was able to demonstrate my deep knowledge not only of political theory, but of the Mexican political system. In other words: How can we implement our projects in this specific political situation? That’s what we emphasize at MIIS: the intersection of theory and practice.

5) What’s one piece of advice you would offer students in the trade and/or development field?

The first piece of advice is patience. We live in a world that promotes instant gratification. It took great patience to not only build personal connections, but to understand that life oftentimes unfolds despite your plans, leading you in unexpected directions. We all have to be equipped with the willingness to embrace the unknown.

6) After your professional experiences, what led you to become a professor?

I was being groomed for certain professional connections through my PhD/Master’s degree. And I went through several interviews and programs, and I remember thinking on the train home, “No, this is not for me.” It was a gut feeling - not a rational one. And it was shocking, but I followed those feelings and pursued teaching instead. Follow your heart, that’s my second piece of advice.

7) Do you have any words of encouragement for students interested in PhD programs? What was the focus of your research, for example?

PhD programs have two dimensions - an emotional and academic one. It’s one of those moments in life when you’re doing exactly what you want to do. And you undergo hardships to produce your work. At least ideally, your thesis will take you to a specific academic position.

My research focused on the redefinition of Mexico’s security as illustrated by a case study of the Zapatista National Liberation Army. At Queens University in Canada, I had space to be critical about these issues. My research highlighted the interface between the rights of peoples - specifically indigenous rights - and non-traditional security threats arising from the international political economy.

8) Which books are you currently reading?

I’m reading La Voluntad y la Fortuna by Carlos Fuentes, Descent into Chaos by Ahmed Rashid, and Torture Team by Philip Sands.

9) In all honesty, you’re one of my favorite professors. You teach with such passionate energy - what motivates you to teach in this manner?

I have to be very honest with you: teaching is one of my dearest passions. It’s not just a job. It’s not about being in front of you - it’s about having this huge responsibility. I want to make sure, even if it’s one student, that we engage principles of social justice, human rights, and international law. My job, therefore, is to find the right formula to cover the coursework required and spark interest in these principles. I’m not here to be a preacher, but I’m not here to be a traditional lecturer either.

10) If you could interview yourself, what question would you ask?

Can I still find other environments where I can exercise my passion and principles? When you’re my age, and you’ve stayed in one place for awhile, the question is: Can I still go out and look for change?