Saturday, December 14, 2013

Student Spotlight: Julian Palma

For this post, we’ve interviewed Julian Palma, a first-year SAIS M.A. student from Colombia concentrating in Conflict Management. After graduating from Lynn University in 2007 with a degree in business, Julian spent time working for Merrill Lynch, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Centre for Human Rights in South Africa.

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What made you want to pursue international relations professionally, and what are your post-SAIS professional goals?
Watching Colombia transform from the brink of a failed state to an emerging market, in less than a decade, was powerful. I wanted to be part of the young and motivated group of professionals who were pushing for this change to happen. I started researching how post-conflict societies were shaping policy, implementing aid, and promoting growth. With this in mind, I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and my first assignment was in South Africa.

After SAIS, I would like to continue working with development in emerging markets. I’m specifically interested in exploring how entrepreneurship, in a broader sense microfinance, SME’s and social entrepreneurship impact employment creation and economic development.
When considering graduate school, what was appealing about SAIS?
  1. Academics—I was looking for a holistic education in an international setting that allowed me to find the intersection between economics, conflict management, development and foreign languages.
  2. Location—After working in Africa and Latin America, I wanted to experience international affairs from the center of political power. If you want to have an effect on international relations, Washington D.C. is the place to be.
  3. Faculty and students—At SAIS, having access to professors is having access to real-world practitioners. Similarly, the unique experiences students bring into the classroom are world-class.
  4. Research—Photography is one of my passions in life. I’ve always wanted to connect photography with international affairs, and The Protection Project, at the Foreign Policy Institute provided a space for me to use my photos for human rights awareness.
How has the support of COLFUTRO helped realize your dream of pursuing graduate studies at SAIS?
Before applying to SAIS, I was certain about two things: my determination to attend graduate school and the cost of tuition. Financing of graduate school is just as relevant as the application process. COLFUTURO is a private-public sector initiative aimed at helping Colombian students finance their graduate studies abroad. It was extremely satisfying to know that there were opportunities out there available to ease the financial burden of a U.S. education. COLFUTURO has been perhaps the most important tool in bridging the gap between my ambition and my reality today.
What advice would you give other prospects from your home country seeking to prepare for graduate study in international affairs?
My former boss once told me: the best things in life, take time. During the application process, there will be instances where you would want to give up. It happened to me, but doing your research will help materialize your process: talk to current students and alumni, engage with admissions, and if you can, attend information sessions. Have an open mind; apply to several schools; know that you will be fascinated yet challenged by the diverse student body. While the biggest constraint may be the cost, remember it is an investment you are making in yourself. Look out for opportunities with COLFUTURO, organizations such as OAS and other private fellowships. When telling your story, be creative and passionate, bring up something unexpected. For example, I linked how my photography skills were an empowering tool for international relations. Oh and read The Economist!
What are some of the courses you’re taking and skills you’re learning right now that will help you in your professional career?
My favorite course at SAIS this semester is Conflict in Africa Analysis. I’m also taking two of the requirements for the International Economics program: Macroeconomics and International Trade theory. This proves how SAIS prepares futures leaders with both, the necessary quantitative and analytical skills to succeed in any endeavor, be multilateral, public or private sector. Additionally, there are skills courses offered through career services and online in partnership with the Harvard Business School. This semester, I strengthened my excel skills and I participated in a consulting workshop with Joe Dougherty from Dalberg, which I found exceptionally beneficial.
Thanks for reading!

– Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions