Diplomacy program leads alumni to DC along different paths

January 31st, 2022   |   SIT Study Abroad

Two young men smile toward the camera. There is a river in the background. The man on the left wears a black vest and black sweater; the one on the right has glasses and a red sweater.
Jesse Clarke (left) and Alec Monnie on program in Switzerland in 2019.

Jesse Clarke’s first extended trip abroad was off to an inauspicious start. His flight to Switzerland was delayed so he missed the airport shuttle bus taking his group into Geneva. He grabbed a taxi to the hostel, where he caught up with the others—students he didn’t know from schools throughout the United States who would spend the next semester together examining international studies and multilateral diplomacy with SIT.

“I was already behind. The program coordinator pointed at Alec and said, ‘Room with him.’”

That impromptu directive was the beginning of a friendship that continues today.

In fall 2019, Jesse was an undergrad at the University of Oregon and his erstwhile roommate, Alec Monnie, was from the other side of the country, studying at The College of Wooster in northeastern Ohio.

Today, Jesse and Alec are both in graduate school in Washington, D.C.—Jesse at George Washington and Alec at Georgetown. Both have promising internships aligned with their career aspirations. And they’re roommates once again.

Jesse started his master’s degree program at George Washington in August 2020. A year later, when Alec decided to attend Georgetown, he reached out to his friend, with whom he had stayed in touch since their semester together in Switzerland.

We caught up with the pair on a Zoom call—each on separate devices but only 90 feet apart in their Arlington apartment—to find out how their study abroad experience influenced their academic and career paths.

What drew each of you to Switzerland: International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy?

Jesse: I’ve always been interested in politics but being from Oregon it was hard to get an international perspective; I aspired to it from afar. I went on a trip to Europe in high school with my grandma and got interested in studying abroad. At the University of Oregon, when I started looking for study abroad programs, Geneva was interesting because I wanted to study international relations. So, I had bookmarked this program and tucked it away. I applied when I was a sophomore.

Alec: I studied international relations and French at Wooster. When I was looking at study abroad programs, I wanted to become fluent in French. My options were Senegal and Geneva. Then, when I chatted with my academic advisor, he talked about all the interesting opportunities available in Geneva, which helped me make my decision.

I did in-person interviews with a fellow at the Geneva Center for Security and Peace and with a guest lecturer of the program. I talked to people at think tanks in Paris and Brussels ...

Jesse Clarke

What were the program highlights for you?

Jesse: Beyond excursions—we went to Paris and Brussels as a group—my favorite academic part was the Independent Study Project. Alec and I were both lucky enough to be chosen to have ours published online in the SIT Digital Collections. It was nice to be able to settle into research at the library in downtown Geneva. My ISP was on Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and different diplomatic solutions. I did in-person interviews with a fellow at the Geneva Center for Security and Peace and with a guest lecturer of the program. I talked to people at think tanks in Paris and Brussels; I got lucky that I got good interviews.

Overall, the program confirmed my interest in international relations. I graduated from University of Oregon the following spring and then started my MA in international affairs at GW.

Alec: My ISP was on China’s Belt & Road initiative (BRI) in Africa—specifically, implications and paths forward for the U.S. My interest was in part due to lectures during the program by Chinese foreign policy experts. I had heard of the BRI in some of my undergrad courses, and it’s a nuanced situation. The more you dig into it, the less you know.

The program experience—and this might not be the answer you’re looking for—confirmed for me that I didn’t want to strictly pursue international relations. Studying the BRI sparked an interest for me in the economic end of public policy, which I am continuing to pursue. I recently started an internship in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which works closely with the World Trade Organization. During our time abroad we visited the WTO and got to hear from diplomats about the work they do there. That’s been helpful in contextualizing my position. It’s been an indirect path, but my study abroad experience has been helpful for me in orienting everything.

Going to Geneva sort of opened my eyes to a whole other world.

Alec Monnie

Were there any low points for either of you on the program?

Jesse: I had never traveled abroad for an extended period. This was a whole new group of people, everyone from different schools, so it was a social and cultural shock. But I got past that after a week or two.

I just went to Geneva over winter break and visited my homestay mom, a German lady who has been doing homestays with SIT for 15 or 20 years. We kept in touch after the program so when I took this trip to Europe with my brother and dad, I asked her if I could stop by.

Alec: It was a pretty blissful four months. I became a lot more open-minded while I was there and tried to roll with everything that came to me. I didn’t have any grand philosophical problems. Going to Geneva sort of opened my eyes to a whole other world.

Do you feel like your study abroad experiences have influenced your academic and career perspectives or paths?

Alec: Learning about the work of the WTO during my time abroad has been extremely helpful for me in pursuing career opportunities. 

My ISP has also already turned out to be impactful for me, career-wise. Recently, I helped to write a speech for a former U.S. senator, and I was able to directly reference the work I did in my ISP. If you had told me in December 2019 that I would be using my ISP in that way almost exactly two years later, I wouldn’t have believed it. That was pretty rewarding.

Jesse: I interned with U.S. Sen Jeff Merkley’s office. He’s on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and I got to work with his foreign policy team, so I got to do some cool memos for the team on Ukraine. Since that happens to be a hot-button issue in the news as of late, it was really rewarding to apply my past studies on Ukraine to contribute to a senator’s work.

I’m in my last semester of graduate school. I just started a graduate government relations fellowship, which will be working with people in the defense sector for the next six months, and this spring I will start applying to full-time jobs in the public sector.