Conference on Diversity in International Affairs
Since high school, I have always wanted to contribute to improving US-Russian relations. More recently, I sought to pursue a career in foreign policy in which I could have the opportunity to do this. As a young person of color, getting into the higher echelons of US foreign policymaking is a difficult feat, to say the least. That is why I was delighted to be invited by Professor Earl Carr to attend the 5th Annual Conference on Diversity in International Affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations. The conference aims to connect professionals and students from underrepresented backgrounds with career opportunities in international affairs. The conference hosts plenary and breakout sessions led by senior-level officials in the international affairs sector, many of whom come from backgrounds of color.
Although the conference took place in Washington, DC, I was surprised to see that many the participants made the trek from New York to be there. I had the opportunity to meet not only senior-level officials in the government and private sector, but young professionals such as myself, searching for ways to bring positive changes to the world. It was an inspiring opportunity to see people who look like me in leadership roles, but humbling in that it made me very aware of the work I had to do to get where they were.
After the conference, there were two interactions I will never forget. First was my meeting with former US Ambassador to Malta, Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley. She is a close friend of Professor Carr and offered great advice on facing adversity in life. She mentioned that throughout her professional life, she was fired from her job twice. She said that we all will face adversity and even failure, either in school or professionally, and that you must have your brief pity party to release all your negative energy, and afterwards, keep things moving, not losing focus of your goals and the big picture. As a person who has been denied competitive internship, fellowship, and job opportunities but still managed to continue climbing towards success, this resonated well with me.
The second interaction came when I presented a question to a panelist, Alina Polyakova, director of research on Europe and Eurasia at the Atlantic Council, a leading foreign affairs think tank. Drawing on the time I lived in Russia in the summer of 2016 while completing the US State Department-sponsored Critical Language Scholarship, I asked Alina how it was possible to have a more nuanced relationship with Russia. I asked how the US could strike a balance in its relationship with Russia, holding Russia accountable for its nefarious activities within and outside its borders, while simultaneously exploiting all opportunities to cooperate with Russia on issues of mutual interest. Although the question did not have a simple answer, Alina was very encouraged to see that young persons of color were not only interested in Russia, but able to speak the language. After the panel, Alina and I had a brief conversation in Russian and she encouraged me to apply for a fellowship at the Atlantic Council. I was very motivated by this interaction and felt that the skills that I have been acquiring over the years, such as my Russian language, will pay off.
Regardless of what racial or ethnic background one may come from, I highly recommend attending the Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. It was a very rewarding opportunity, and I am glad I took time away from my finals and thesis to attend. I am hopeful that the connections I made and skills I learned there will be most crucial to my ability to have a positive contribution on US foreign policy and US-Russian relations further along in my career. I am indebted to Professor Carr for inviting me.