#ElliottProud: Amirah Ismail

Amirah Ismail, MA Middle East Studies, Class of 2011, #ElliottProud Alumna

Amirah Ismail is a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State. She currently works in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs, advising the social media team. Amirah has focused on European and Middle Eastern affairs during her career, with assignments in Washington and abroad supporting U.S. relations with Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Egypt, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Poland, Romania, and Syria. Amirah holds an M.A. in Middle East Studies from GW’s Elliott School, and dual degrees in Global Studies and Justice Studies from Arizona State University. She has earned multiple Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards for her service and is a 2009 recipient of the Congressman Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship. Amirah speaks Arabic, French, and Russian.   

What is your current position? What have you learned since you began?

I’m a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State. It’s an incredible job with unparalleled opportunities for personal and professional growth. I’m so grateful to represent and serve my country, and to know that my work makes a difference and has an impact.

What professional organization, websites, or events would you recommend for students interested in your field, and why?

Check us out at https://careers.state.gov/!  We have an app and are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, too. There are so many career opportunities at the Department, including internship and fellowship opportunities for students. I also encourage you to contact the DC Diplomat in Residence—they can offer guidance and answer any questions you have about a career in diplomacy.

What was the most valuable thing you learned during your time at the Elliott School course?

Context matters, and contingency planning, too! Know your audience, think critically and creatively, and design goals that are specific, achievable, and measurable. Have back-up plans so you can adjust and pivot when needed.

What part of your career do you find most challenging and how do you stay motivated?

Sometimes things are beyond my control. Sometimes I’m working on a policy issue that is important to the United States but lacks consensus or support in the international community. Sometimes—even with the best of intentions and preparation—things don’t proceed according to plan.

I’ve developed resilience over time and learned to take ownership over tasks and outcomes that I can directly influence.  I love rotating to new countries and assignments every few years, which allows me to build and work with new teams, and acquire new skills and knowledge. The only constant in the Foreign Service is change—and for me, that presents endless opportunities!

What is your favorite memory from your time at the Elliott School?

My favorite memory from grad school is serving as team captain of the Model Arab League club. We had a fun and talented group, and participated in several diplomacy simulations. In the first tournament, we played the role of the Egyptian delegation. As an Egyptian-American, I was really excited to play this part and to arrange meetings at the Egyptian Embassy to interview Egyptian diplomats about actual foreign policy positions so we could accurately portray the Egyptian delegation. 

At another tournament, we represented Algeria—and won an award!  I had no idea then that many years later, I would move to Algeria to work as the Spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Algiers. My Model Arab League experience proved to be invaluable—both personally and professionally. Kismet, I suppose!

If someone wrote a book about you 10 years from now, what would it be called?

Life in the Foreign Circus: Sensitive but Unclassified

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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.