You may have seen David Western, Political Science, around campus, or you might be in his popular class, Peace and How to Achieve It. Either way, the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in Peace Studies has an interesting story—an attempted music career that eventually landed him in international relations studies.
The Terrace, British Columbia native was drawn to small-town Iowa because of its pastoral beauty. “Well, I grew up in the most beautiful place nature-wise with eagles and woods, you just had to be wary of the bears—but I was told Grinnell is a place you want to go,” Western said. “I wanted to go to liberal arts college and the Peace Studies program has the same approach to peace studies as I do with practical applications and questions that is not just focusing on political science but peace studies as multi-disciplinary.”
After 18 years growing up in the northwestern part of Canada, Western moved to Vancouver to pursue music. He picked up a guitar at age 14 and became obsessed and believed that it was his destiny to become a rock star and be a political activist like Bono.
Music was Western’s first love. He played in a rock band for four years during the early 90’s during the Nirvana, grunge music period. “It was a hard time, I had to sacrifice in order to live that life, going several days without food, but I wasn’t mature enough to make it,” Westerm said. “I didn’t want to be mature and professional, I wanted to make my music and be passionate about it.”
After working a range of odd jobs, from working at a video store to community service work, at the age of 25, Western realized he wanted to figure out a way to do more with his interests in humanitarian work which he had explored through his music. “I went back to school, but it was a natural progression because I had done well earlier in school,” Western said. “I decided to do a correspondence course then went to the University of Victoria which was an amazing environment of environmentally friendly people with lots of bike paths and public transit and natural beauty.”
Western ended up applying to the international relations program at Brown University for a Ph.D. “I hadn’t fully thought about what I wanted to do after completing my Political Science degree, but I was told to consider graduate school and pointed towards Brown by professors,” Western said. “I hadn’t even heard of Brown before I applied and when I got there I had a massive culture shock. Despite what people think—like that episode of the Simpsons where Bart calls Canada as USA Jr., Canada and the US are a lot different.
The 36-year-old two-year postdoctoral fellow is enjoying his time at Grinnell, though he says that being a vegan here is a challenge. According to Western, Grinnell is kind of like the Brown of the liberal arts colleges, except Grinnellians seem friendly and community-oriented. “Iowa reminds me more of Canada, especially the neighborliness,” Western said. “People stop to say hi and chat here. That’s a lot different than the East Coast.”