Engagement with different cultures leads to an international affairs career

January 31, 2023

John D. Ciorciari’s journey to the field of international affairs began with a trip by his high school soccer team to play against teams in Japan in the 1990s. Ciorciari was “fascinated” by his observation that while Japan was as wealthy as the United States, its society was organized very differently.

While in college, Ciorciari studied abroad in Singapore and again saw a different model than at home—a more tightly controlled government with a greater relative emphasis on community well-being than individual liberties. He also built relationships with students from across the region. His volleyball team included a student from Myanmar, then governed by a repressive junta, and he played basketball with a Cambodian student who had survived the Khmer Rouge genocide.

After earning a law degree, while working at a firm, Ciorciari did pro bono work for asylum clients, including a Tibetan Buddhist monk and Somali and Nigerian refugees.

“It all follows a similar script,” says Ciorciari, associate dean for research and policy engagement at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “I got interested in individual human beings and I wanted to do something to help them and their families and societies.”

The benefits of a career in international affairs include its staying power, because there will continue to be demand for people who can work across cultures, Ciorciari says.

"There has never been a day when I have been bored with my career choice. I have learned a lot about myself by engaging with other societies around the world. We want the students to be entrepreneurial and to craft programs that excite them in a similar way. International affairs is endlessly intellectually fascinating and energizing,” he says.

Ford School students have the opportunity to create their own version of Ciorciari’s journey by designing projects that are part of the two-year curriculum for the school’s flagship Master of Public Policy. Two examples of these projects:

  • One student is researching the effects of multilateral sanctions on ordinary residents of Afghanistan.
  • Six students visited the US-Mexico border to talk with officials, aid workers, and migrants in adjoining Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, which were trying to manage the flow of immigrants in the absence of action by the US government. 

Inspired and prepared

As a Rangel Fellow, Ford School student Radhika Arora, 26, from Chandler, Arizona, will join the Foreign Service after graduation. Inspired by Professor Shobita Parthasarathy for her mentorship, approach, and personal journey, Arora says, “She has challenged me to think critically about how to identify policy issues and questions, and then evaluate which method(s) will best advance understanding of that issue and its possible solutions—a necessary skill for me to have as an emerging diplomat.”

“The Ford School’s MPP program is helping me develop into a more polished and capable Foreign Service Officer through its combination of hands-on, experiential learning opportunities as well as critical thinking and analysis frameworks and tools,” says Arora.

This feature appeared in Foreign Policy magazine.