Student Highlight: David Okun, Latin American & Hemispheric Studies

Hello! I am David Okun, a current Elliott School graduate student! I look forward to welcoming the incoming class during Orientation in August! I will be one of the orientation leaders so please do not hesitate to reach out ( should you have any questions as you make the transition to graduate school! Keep reading to learn more about me and hear my advice to new students.

I’m in the M.A. Latin American and Hemispheric Studies program, with concentrations in Securitydavidokun_photo and Economic Development.  At GW, I began my studies as a Brazil Initiative Fellow. I assist in promoting its mission to advance understanding of Brazil through research, coursework, and future capstone travel-study. I recently volunteered at the Initiative’s spring symposium, networking with and learning from thought-leaders, activists, and academics on all things Brazil.

The fall of my first semester, I interned part-time at Freedom House, an international non-governmental democracy and human rights organization. Part of a small team of only three full-time staff members, my work was substantive, challenging, and fulfilling as I witnessed the potential our portfolio of projects had on guaranteeing civil and political liberties throughout Latin America. The following spring I transitioned to interning at the Organization of American States, an inter-governmental organization, in order to gain experience in a sector with broad, country-based constituencies and work functionally as well as regionally. For the summer, I’m interning full time at the State Department, in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Office of Brazil and Southern Cone Affairs, helping to prepare for a major official presidential visit and learning the ins and outs of diplomacy and foreign policy. I’ll be staying on at State in the fall as a Pathways Intern.

Having previously translated and presented content to multiple audiences, I know that how we say something is just as important as what we are saying. And since so much of our education as graduate students is informed by peer-reviewed journal articles, I was interested in learning more about how one functions. I now volunteer as an Associate Editor for the GWU International Affairs Review, a graduate student-run academic journal. This provides me an opportunity to develop hard skills in content review, with dividends not only for the paper authors but also for my own writing.

I knew that my previous professional work experience as a classroom teacher through Teach For America honed valuable leadership, time management, and quantitative data skills; thus, I was eager to transfer these assets and partner my graduate education with industry-learning opportunities through internships. Part of the reason why I chose to attend the Elliott School is the emphasis placed on professional development. Advice for new students: Career/Professional Development: Attend GSCD’s Career Bootcamp, seek out individualized support, and do your homework & preparation (make a USAJobs federal resume, spend some quality time with your professional development action plan, be overall purposeful and intentional about your time in grad school). Also, never give up hope that it’s “too late” to find an internship if you don’t have one lined up by the start of the fall semester. I didn’t start mine until October.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of organizations/persons mentioned or the Elliott School of International Affairs. For more information, e-mail