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Pursuing a Career in Foreign Policy: An Interview with Benjamin Bodnar

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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, Benjamin Bodner, Media Analyst Program Manager at the Rendon Group, discusses his experiences in graduate school, interacting frequently with former ambassadors, and newfound fascination with foreign affairs in and around Asia.

Profile

Name: Benjamin Bodnar

Members Since: 2008

Current Job: Rendon Group Media Analyst Program Manager

YPFP Positions:

  • JobLink Director, November 2013–Present
  • Resume Bank Manager, January 2013–November 2013
  • STRATCOM Module Staff Member, January 2013–May 2013
  • JobLink Researcher and Writer, June 2012–January 2013

Education:

  • International Affairs major and Spanish minor (BA), American University (2004)
  • U.S. Foreign Policy, Transnational Crime concentration, American University (2006)

  1) What did you want to do before you went to college?

I wanted to serve as a member of the U.S. Foreign Service.

2) How did your career choice evolve throughout school?

When I arrived at AU, I already knew what I wanted to do for a career. The U.S. Foreign Service continues to be my career goal.

Going to AU only reaffirmed my goal of becoming a Foreign Service Officer. Whether it be the classes I attended, my study abroad experiences, or just the friends from different cultural backgrounds I made, AU only heightened my interest in the Foreign Service.

One semester at AU stands out from all of the rest. During the Fall Semester of 2003, I had a class with Professor Anthony Quainton, who served as director general of the Foreign Service as well as an ambassador. In addition to the class, Professor Quainton also served as my internship adviser during my time as the editorial Intern at the Foreign Service Journal, published by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA).

From the exposure I had to both Professor Quainton and the staff at AFSA, I knew the Foreign Service was the career I wanted to pursue.

3) Did you receive any special training or schooling that led you to your current job title? And if so, what was it?

There was no specific training required to become a media analyst, though it was helpful that I had Spanish language skills and thirst for learning more about current geopolitical events 

Moving from the analyst position to the managerial position required training on composing operational reports and other administrative tasks.

The informal training of having served for a long time on the media analyst team before I took it over was invaluable. Understanding how people respond to working overnights, weekends, and holidays is critical to the position. Having walked in my staff's shoes before them allows me to relate to what they might be going through and help identify capacity levels of how much they can or can't do on the job.

4) What area of the international arena interests you the most and why?

As I am required to be fluent in current events globally for work, all areas have important issues with global ramifications that interest me.

One area specifically that I have developed an interest for is Asia. From developments related to the Modi administration in India, to the Korean Peninsula, to Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, to territorial claims across the region, it makes for a fascinating region to watch.

5) Where do you see yourself a decade from now?

Ideally, I will be serving as a Foreign Service Officer wherever my services are needed.

If not, I would like to continue to have the opportunity that I have in my current position to effect positive change on U.S. foreign policy. This can be done through either a federal government position, a position in the private sector, or in the non-profit space.

As you become more knowledgeable about the actual way foreign policy is created and carried out, you realize there are different ways you can participate in either the creation or implementation processes.  

6) If you weren't in the foreign affairs world, what would be your alternative, pie-in-the-sky dream job?

Either an operatic or concert tenor singer. I  studied voice my senior year of college and performed a 13-song, six-language vocal recital before graduation. Music has been and continues to be a passion of mine.  

7) If you could meet a deceased famous historical figure who would it be and why?

It would be great to meet Thucydides.

When analyzing geopolitical issues, I will reference back to what he wrote in the Melian Dialogue on how the Athenian empire interacted with the island of Melos. The interaction of powerful states with states of inferior power and how both sides work to gain leverage in their interaction is something we continually analyze in today's world. Thucydides was one of the first well recorded writers on this type of analysis, and listening to what he would have to say about some of the conflicts the world faces today would be fascinating.

8) What do you know now that you wish you could tell your undergraduate self?

I would have told my undergraduate self to do more internships and build out practical skill sets. When you graduate with two liberal arts degrees for your BA and MA, you need to have tangible skills that get you into an entry-level job.

That being said, I think it was important as well that I did focus on my music when I did. College is there to hone your focus on what you would like to do for your career, but it is also there to try things out that you are passionate about as well.

9) What should college students be doing while they are in college to ensure they get a job after graduation?

I don't think there is one guaranteed way to get a job after graduation. I believe building out practical skills through internships, language training, and/or volunteering is helpful to obtaining a position.

An additional way is to keep your professional networks strong by attending as many alumni-student events and working with your career adviser to facilitate those connections if they are not readily available. Finding a mentor and conducting yourself in a professional manner with them can go a long way to helping you secure a job in your field.

9) What are you interests outside work/YPFP?

Outside of work and YPFP I do Tae Kwon Do around three to four times a week along with running and swimming. I also like spending time with family and friends as well as traveling.

It's critical to have a healthy balance in your life. While working hard and striving for the next professional goal is important, you do have to relax, exercise, and have a fun time on a regular basis.  

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.


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