Pursuing a Career in Foreign Policy: An Interview with Luke Drabyn
The Young Professionals Interview Series is geared toward undergraduate students and recent graduates interested in learning more about how YPFP staff members have broken into the field of foreign policy, and what advice they may have for their younger colleagues.
This week, Luke Drabyn, a global health intern at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. and recent Bowdoin College graduate, discusses his volunteer and internship experiences abroad, and gives advice to graduating college students who aspire to work in the foreign affairs industry.
Name: Luke Drabyn
Member Since: January 2015
- Global Health Intern, Council on Foreign Relations
- Blog Manager, Charged Affairs
- Government and Legal Studies/Russian Language (BA), Bowdoin College (2011-2014)
1) What did you want to do before you went to college?
Even before college I knew I wanted to study global affairs. A former high school English teacher of mine introduced me to David Sengeh, a Sierra Leonean native and co-founder of the non-governmental organization, Global Minimum, Inc., whose mission is to provide anti-malarial mosquito nets to villagers in West Africa. My best friend and I met him during a trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and left extremely inspired by what he had done. We spent the next year or so engaging students at our school and raised money to purchase new nets. That upcoming summer I was invited to participate in a distribution in Sierra Leone—and it was, and certainly continues to be—a defining moment in my life. I spent six weeks there with some of the most hospitable and welcoming people I have ever met. It was such a beautiful country, and everything was so novel to me. Having that experience at age 17 piqued my interest not only in advocacy work, but also in global affairs generally. I entered college that next fall already knowing that Bowdoin’s Government and Legal Studies program was going to be the perfect fit. Eventually, I settled on a comparative politics concentration.
2) How did your career choice evolve throughout school?
My interests actually didn’t evolve too, too much. I knew a job in the foreign affairs world was for me, but deciding what that job would ultimately be was the difficult part (and it is something that I am still grappling with today). My various internships have helped: on the one hand they can show you that you are particularly suited for a career; but on the other (and this may be equally helpful), they can allow you to realize that that job is not necessarily something you are interested in after all. For example, my experience abroad as a State Department intern showed me both the pros and cons of a life in diplomacy, and simultaneously exposed me to other jobs. I didn’t anticipate conducting an informational interview with a special agent from the FBI while there, for instance, but it happened and now I am considering that as a possible future career.
3) Did you receive any special training or schooling that led you to your current job title? And if so, what was it?
Since I have not technically graduated yet, I don’t have a full-time, paying job, but instead am spending the semester working on Capitol Hill for Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) as a legislative intern, and for the Council on Foreign Relations under scholar Thomas Bollyky as a Global Health intern. In college I worked as a reporter and editor for our weekly newspaper, The Bowdoin Orient, and gained valuable skills that have helped me in my current internships; I trust that they will help me in the job market down the road, as well. My classes in comparative politics gave me a great foundation of knowledge that has proven helpful. They have taught me to analyze issues critically and come to logical conclusions through extensive research. That said, being able to conduct research quickly and carefully has been a skill that has helped me in each internship I’ve had throughout my college career.
4) What area of the international arena interests you the most and why?
I absolutely love the history, culture, and politics of Russia and the former Soviet states. I took Russian 101 on a whim my freshman year because I wanted to learn a critical language, and immediately fell in love with it. Complementing my language study with classes in politics covering Russia and the history of the Soviet Union just strengthened my appreciation for the region as a whole. I spent my junior off-campus study in DC participating in American University’s Semester in Washington Foreign Policy program, where I had the opportunity to work closely under the guidance of a former Bowdoin professor writing a paper on the geopolitics of Ukraine. I finished right around the time protests were taking place in the capital, Kyiv, and the pro-Russian regime led by former President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown. I’ve loved being able to understand and comprehend most of what’s been going on in Ukraine now. And in my honest opinion, Russian President Vladimir Putin is reason enough alone to love Russia and the history of the Soviet Union.
5) Where do you see yourself a decade from now?
A summer internship at the State Department in Rome, Italy showed me how rewarding a career as a Foreign Service Officer can be. To me, the world of diplomacy is fascinating, and I’d give anything to have the opportunity to be a political officer working in Central or Eastern Europe—at the embassy in Prague, Budapest, Kyiv, or Moscow, for example. If the Foreign Service fails to work out, I’ve also considered working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defense, or as a national security advisor in Congress or the White House.
6) If you weren’t in the foreign affairs world, what would be your alternative, pie-in-the-sky dream job?
Since I love writing, editing, and reading, I have always considered becoming a writer in some capacity. Being able to get paid to work at home and write fiction all day would be almost equally as satisfying for me as being able to fly around the world as a diplomat every 2-3 years. Working as a reporter in Washington or New York has also appealed to me: gathering facts, interviewing various sources, and seeing one of my pieces on the front page of The New York Times would make me immeasurably happy. Finally, given that I’ve always enjoyed school, I could see myself as a university professor teaching and doing research at a liberal arts college.
7) If you could meet a deceased famous historical figure who would it be and why?
Vladimir Lenin. I would want to know his thoughts on the political trajectory of the Soviet Union after his death. My guess is that he wouldn’t be too satisfied, but I’ll never know.
8) What do you know now that you wish you could tell your undergraduate self?
Make sure to enjoy your time and have fun instead of focusing too much on a future career or what comes next. That is something that I always did, and I regret not relaxing more and taking more time to socialize, or attend free events offered by the college. You can always find another job or internship, but never again will you have the chance to live so closely and intimately with a great group of friends where your sole responsibility is to learn in a classroom. Take advantage of everything in college, and really relish your time there; take everything in, because before you know it, it’s over. That is the sad reality.
9) What should college students be doing while they are in college to ensure they get a job after graduation?
Internships are a great way to make contacts and secure a job after graduation. If you don’t have the opportunity to secure an internship, use your college friends and professors as contacts—they will inevitably know people who you may get in contact with about a certain career path or specific job. Constantly meet new people and speak with them about how they got to where they did, what they like or dislike about their jobs, and what recommendations they have.
10) What are your interests outside work/YPFP?
I have started my own personal blog, which remains a work in progress, and read as much as I can—books (Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order, Alexander Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory), newspapers and magazines (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Economist), and journals (Foreign Affairs). I am an avid Netflix watcher, and spend an inordinate amount of time pent up in my room watching House of Cards and The West Wing. And since I grew up in rural Vermont, I’ve really enjoyed traveling throughout the city, taking advantage of all the things offered: happy hours, food and drink festivals, sightseeing, etc.
Luke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and would be happy to answer any questions anyone may have. His Twitter handle is @LukeDrabyn.