I first learned about PLEN in my sophomore year at St. Lawrence University through a senior friend who attended a PLEN seminar before and served as the PLEN Ambassador in my school. I was so attracted to it, but I was hesitant to apply because I thought I was not ready to think about my career at that time in life. I thought it was too early. Then comes my junior year, and I thought maybe I should really start thinking about it, because I know I want to do something with international affairs in the future, but I was not sure where my passion in international work really lies. That’s when I decided to apply to PLEN thinking that I might explore some answers to my broad desire through amazing and powerful women who are experts in their field of global policy. Another reason I applied was obviously because the conference was held in the Capitol and I had never been to Washington, D.C. before, since I first came to the US to study at St. Lawrence.
That one week of the conference was more than I expected. PLEN helped me answer all my questions I had about building my career path in international affairs. I learned so much about career in global diplomacy and global policy. One thing I learned for sure was that any career path is not linear. There are women who ended up doing different things in life and contribute to make a difference in the world, even if they graduated from college with completely different degrees when they were at our age.
An amazing woman like former US Ambassador to El Salvador (2012-2016,) the Honorable Mari Carmen Aponte, had never done any diplomatic work and in her words, she “had never met any Ambassadors,” but because she was so passionate at what she was doing at the time fighting for women’s rights as a female Puerto Rican activist, the call to diplomacy work between the American people and the El Salvadorian arrived at her door and she accepted it. Based on her story and her personality after talking to her, I am sure she is dearly missed in El Salvador, especially among the community of El Salvadorian women, whom she helped throughout the violent time. She is someone I aspire to be like in the future if I pursue my career in global diplomacy or even in international development work.
The seminar helped us to navigate through a lot of opportunities to explore in global policy. Every session, from learning about global policy, the site visit to Mathematica Policy Research, the salary negotiation workshop, Diplomacy in Action panel, to networking with former female US Ambassadors and Senior Women at Department of State was magnificent. For me, the activities in the Department of State, especially during the simulation of International Nuclear Crisis between two made up countries of Aggravalia and Terranova with the assistance of other countries and international organizations such as the US, Landesia (a regional power,) and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) was very informative and eye opening about the complexity of global diplomacy work. The salary negotiation workshop was very edifying. After that workshop I told my mother that I am so prepared to be able to negotiate my salary when I get my first job.
Not only did the seminar help us navigate through the global policy world, it also showed us real life stories of building up a career in a male dominated field. Many of the women we met said the same thing about how hard it is to maintain their leadership when they are constantly contested in the workplace because of their gender. However, that did not stop them and will not stop them, which I found very inspiring and powerful. Like Honorable Mari Aponte said “In a workplace dominate with male, pale, Yale, remember that you can do it! You should advocate for yourself because whoever you are, you know the system. You must bring allies to create a strong voice. Women are need in Global Diplomacy work. If there is no chair for us at the table, bring your own folded chair to make sure that every voice is heard.”
All in all, I am thankful to be given the opportunity to be in Washington, D.C. meeting wonderful and inspiring women at PLEN including inspiring fellow PLEN students that I interacted with throughout the week. I was even able to see the portrait of a women I adore so much, Michelle Obama, at National Portrait Gallery. PLEN opened up a new world of women leadership in global policy to me and helped me narrow down my path in the diplomacy world and international development focusing on women’s health and women’s participation in policy making. Coming from a small country such as East Timor with very few young women’s representation in policy making, especially in the government and in the diplomatic work, I am determined and empowered to be one of the few to change that for the future.