A certificate program at the School of Foreign Service offers theoretical knowledge and practical training for aspiring diplomats.
By Vicki Valosik
According to Ambassador Barbara Bodine, Director of Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD), the skills needed by today’s aspiring diplomats haven’t changed significantly since the days when she was preparing for her own long and successful diplomatic career. “On one level, they will need the skills diplomats have always needed: the ability to understand and shape policy, to work comfortably globally, to be able to analyze a large amount of information, and—critically important—the ability to write,” she says. “At the same time,” adds Bodine, who served as Ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001, “twenty-first century diplomats also need to be able to manage large amounts of data and comfortably move from a known issue, a comfort-zone issue, to something new. They need to be able to extrapolate from past experience to a new experience without rigid templates.”
These are the types of skills that ISD’s Graduate Certificate in Diplomacy seeks to engender as it prepares students for careers in diplomacy and other fields that “demand an understanding of the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.” The certificate, which is open to any graduate student in the School of Foreign Service, requires a foundation class, two electives, an internship, and a final capstone course.
Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi, one of six Master of Arts in Arab Studies (MAAS) students currently pursuing the certificate, says he sees value in studying diplomacy for a wide range of future careers. “Diplomatic studies are essential to the building and sustenance of relationships between countries, regions, and communities to realize development, political, economic, and social objectives.”
Amy Davis completed the certificate and graduated from MAAS in 2017. Now a management consultant supporting the U.S. Treasury Department, Davis says the certificate gave her “a valuable perspective on working internationally,” which has been helpful when communicating with her counterparts from other countries.
“The diplomacy certificate also allowed me to apply my Arab studies knowledge in new and different ways,” says Davis. “I had the chance to compare my knowledge of the Arab world and ways of thinking about politics and society to that of students coming to diplomacy from other disciplines.”
Helping students “think adaptively” by expanding their disciplinary and regional expertise into new areas is a key goal of the program, says Bodine. In addition to taking at least one elective outside of their programs, certificate students must complete a major capstone project that requires both deep research and close collaboration with their graduate colleagues from across SFS, mimicking the kind of collaborative projects they are likely to work on during their future careers.
“Whether they work for an NGO, an international organization, or a government,” says Bodine, “they will need to be able to bring in different perspectives, different equities, different resources, and coordinate them toward some common goal.”
MAAS alum Lea Thurm who completed the Graduate Certificate in Diplomacy in 2017, found the capstone project to be a great way to meet and work with graduate students from across the School of Foreign Service. “We had so many different approaches and areas of expertise coming together to work on our policy paper,” says Thurm. “That made the process more challenging and required a lot of work, but learning from and ‘being diplomatic’ with one another helped make the end product even better.”
“The certificate helped me get a clearer picture of what diplomacy actually is and what it means to be a diplomat,” continues Thurm. “One of the most important takeaways from the program is that diplomacy is hard work that requires skill and endurance, and that diplomacy can take many different forms, especially today with social media.”
To Bodine, this type of realistic perspective is critical. “What we’re looking for are pragmatic idealists,” she says. “You’ve got to believe that the world can somehow be made better. Yet you have to be very pragmatic about how you go about it.”
Vicki Valosik is the CCAS Multimedia & Publications Editor.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 CCAS Newsmagazine.