Onyinye “Onyi” Ijeh is a second-year M.A. candidate studying Global Communication at the Elliott School of International Affairs, with a concentration in Public Diplomacy. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from University of Virginia in Foreign Affairs, studying international relations theory. Before grad school, Onyi worked many odd jobs, as a legal assistant at a trade law firm, executive assistant at a French luxury hotel, as a host at a Michelin star restaurant, as well as an admin at a real estate agency. Currently Onyi works on the Communications team of Family Planning 2030 (FP2030), an initiative housed under the United Nations Foundation, where she provides support to the support team and manages digital communications. Onyi hopes to translate her broad range of experience into a career in public diplomacy or nonprofit management. During her free time Onyi loves to go running, spend time with friends and family, and travel.
What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you pick the Elliott School?
My path to grad school was due to a few circumstances: I studied Foreign Affairs in undergrad and needed a graduate degree to supplement my education to qualify for the career path I wanted. As a third culture kid, I always knew I wanted to do something related to International Affairs but needed to gain some professional experience to discover what my niche would be, which I did and worked in D.C. for a few years before applying. I am also a lifelong learner, and love being surrounded by a community of people who love to spar intellectually. And the final reason was a link sent to me by a friend to apply for the Rangel Fellowship, which I did not get unfortunately, but was a big push in narrowing down programs that would place me on my desired career path. I picked the Elliott School specifically because of its reputation and network, as well as an interest in the coursework itself. I found the courses fascinating, as well as the requirement of skills courses and Global Capstone, making it a great program to ensure that I would be more well-rounded and more prepared for leadership positions.
What has been your favorite course at the Elliott School so far and why?
My favorite course so far was my first semester, I took an international trade course for a requirement. I initially disliked that class because it was very challenging and not at all what I thought it would be. It was very heavy math and graph based and took a lot of my time, mostly because I could barely understand the homework. The reason I remember this class so fondly, however, is because I enjoyed how challenging it was and how I felt once I passed. I invested so much time and care into the class and it left me with so much invaluable knowledge, that mostly allows me to understand economics jargon in the news. The class also taught me to advocate for myself and set the tone for my experience in grad school so far. I worked so hard to get accepted to this program and was faced very immediately with a class that threatened my staying power and the fact that I doubled down my efforts and made sure I didn’t give up, was the confirmation to me that I needed to know that I was ready to face the journey ahead.
Where do you currently work and how does it fit in with your career goals?
I currently work for an initiative called Family Planning 2030 (FP2030) housed under the United Nations Foundation, as a communications coordinator. This role perfectly fits with my career goals because working in development has been a dream of mine since I could remember, specifically for the United Nations. I also always wanted a career where I could utilize my traveling experience. I was very fortunate to have been offered a position right at the beginning of my time in graduate school that perfectly matches what I am studying and provides me the opportunity to travel for work. FP2030 is the only organization that focused on family planning, championing for the rights of women to choose when or whether they want to have children. This experience, combined with my capstone coursework, researching the solutions to combatting the root cause of gender-based violence in West Africa, will provide me with the knowledge and experience I will need to grow in my current field.
Think of where you were when you applied to the Elliott School. What advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now, as a student?
I would tell myself to just chill out and maybe go for a walk to clear my head. But in all seriousness, I would tell myself that I might not see it now, but there’s a point where I’m truly happy with what I do every day. It is easy to forget when we’re working towards a goal to be happy with yourself as you are in that moment, because we put so much of our own ego value into certain achievements. I would remind myself that just because I am working towards something doesn’t mean that I cannot enjoy where I am now. I would also tell myself that all my anxieties about the “unsurmountable” goal of being a student again are not real and that it is normal at the bottom of a very large mountain to feel insanely overwhelmed, but every step will take me closer, and one day I’ll look up and it won’t seem so bad.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far at the Elliott School?
That I don’t know anything at all and to always remain even more humble as I acquire more knowledge and experiences. I am surrounded by so many intelligent, hardworking, and successful people and I get to listen to their insights and perspectives, and it just reminds me to listen. It’s so easy to feel like you know so much especially when pursuing knowledge is so important to you, but listening to other people’s ideas has been such a rewarding experience to me. And this has taught me more than anything to just listen more.
What is your favorite region that you’ve visited and why?
My favorite region to travel to is anywhere on the water, and preferably the Mediterranean. I realized over the summer when travelling in the south of France that I am subconsciously attracted to that part of the world. And not just in France, the last time I felt that at peace was visiting Bodrum, Turkey.