#ElliottProud: Jim Giguere

#ElliottProud: Jim Giguere

Him Giguere, M.A. International Affairs, 2013, #ElliottProud

Jim Giguere graduated from the Elliott School in 2013 with an M.A. in International Affairs and a concentration in U.S. Foreign Policy. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Boston College in 2008, and then traveled to Gifu City, Japan where he lived and worked for two years.  He moved to Washington, D.C. and began his graduate studies at GW in early 2011. While studying abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo in 2012, he was a Fellow with Polaris Project Japan, a non-profit organization committed to ending human trafficking in Japan.  He completed an internship with the U.S. Department of State in late 2012, and was employed as a contractor with the Department of Homeland Security until 2014. Since then, he has resided in Tokyo and currently works as the Instruction Department Manager at AGOS Japan.

When did you realize you wanted an international career?

I lived abroad for a year when I was four—just about too young to remember—but I didn’t do much traveling after that. I grew up in a small New Hampshire town, and I wasn’t particularly interested in traveling outside of northern New England for most of my early life. That started to change during the summer after my sophomore year of college. That summer, I visited my uncle and his family in Mexico for about a week, then did a road trip down to Savannah, Georgia. After these experiences, I began thinking about looking for jobs outside of Boston (where I was an undergrad student) and even outside of the United States. I had studied mostly Spanish in high school and college, so I started looking for jobs in Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America. Eventually, I broadened my search, and randomly applied for a job teaching English in Gifu, Japan. They hired someone else at first, but when that person couldn’t come at the last minute, they called me. I asked them if they could wait a week until I graduated, and then booked a flight the day after my graduation ceremony. It was less than two weeks between that call and my departure for Japan, and during that time I had to acquire a passport, get an international driver’s license, quit my part-time job, and say goodbye to all my friends and family. It was a whirlwind, but within a few months, I felt like I had made the right decision. I suddenly had an international job, and it wasn’t too long before I started considering forging a career abroad.

What is your current position? What did the path look like to get there?

I am currently the Instruction Department manager at AGOS Japan, a school in Tokyo for (mostly) Japanese students who want to attend grad or undergrad programs in the United States or elsewhere abroad. The path to get here was a bit circuitous. I first moved to Japan in mid-2008, shortly before the global economy imploded and job opportunities became scarce for people with little prior experience. When that happened, I decided to spend a second year teaching in Japan, this time further south in Kakogawa. During that time, I took the GRE and began applying to graduate schools. I was waitlisted and then accepted into the Elliott School for the Fall 2010 semester, but deferred my admission and began in Spring 2011. During my time at the Elliott School, I continued studying Japanese and spent a semester abroad at Waseda University. By the time I graduated in 2013, I had begun a full-time job as a contractor at the Department of Homeland Security. Through a connection in Tokyo, I learned about the MEXT Scholarship program, which offers full scholarship and stipend packages to international students to study in Japan. I applied for this scholarship, and was accepted into a Ph.D. Program in Tokyo. Within a few months of arriving in Tokyo, I met my wife through a friend and also began working part-time as a teacher at AGOS, my current company. Over the next year or two, I gradually realized I was enjoying my work more than my Ph.D. studies, and eventually left the program when I was offered a full-time position with AGOS. I have been there ever since, and really enjoy my work.

What part of your experience at the Elliott School best prepared you for post-grad career?

I appreciate that the Elliott School had a foreign language requirement for graduation, which kept me constantly studying Japanese while I was living in D.C. The Japanese classes I took there were also fantastic, and I was able to make connections with people who I still occasionally meet here in Tokyo. In addition, I appreciate the Elliott School’s emphasis on practical experience. Several of my instructors had day jobs at the Department of State, Defense, or Treasury, or had fascinating private sector careers. Whenever I submitted a paper or gave a presentation, I could be confident that the feedback I received was actually relevant to the jobs I would soon be applying to. And while my classes provided a solid background in IR theory, they never became esoteric or lost sight of the conversations that actual policymakers were having. This was in contrast to some courses I took when studying abroad, which made me value the Elliott School’s practical focus even more.

What advice do you have for prospective students who are considering a graduate degree in international relations?

I recommend diving deep rather than keeping your focus broad. When I entered the Elliott School, I wanted to be a generalist, so I took classes in a wide variety of subjects rather than specializing on any particular topic or region (aside from my language requirement and study abroad experience). I learned a lot that way and certainly expanded my world view, but now I wish I had chosen a more specific focus and developed my expertise in that particular direction. I didn’t want to narrow my options by honing in on one particular area, but in retrospect, I think it would’ve been better to dig deep on one subject, region, or specialized set of skills. I think your career options will be clearer if you take that path.

What did you value most about living and studying in D.C.?

I didn’t know what to expect when I moved to D.C., but it was a really exciting place to live and I learned a lot while I was there. It may also be the best place in the world to study international affairs. It seemed like every other week, I had opportunities to visit the White House or the State Department and meet with prominent people there. There are also countless opportunities for internships and networking events, and there is always some event where you can see prominent authors, policymakers, and politicians discuss and debate the issues of the day. For example, I was able to take an internship with the State Department at the Foreign Service Institute, which is where they provide training (particularly language training) to Foreign Service Officers before they ship off to posts abroad. As a part of that internship, I was able to hear the Secretary of State speak to a small group of State Department employees, visit the White House grounds to see the Vice President speak, and attend a brown bag lunch with the Ambassador to Syria to discuss the increasingly tumultuous situation there. Needless to say, all of these experiences, and many others, would have been highly unlikely anywhere other than D.C.

If you would be any type of food/drink, what food/drink would you be?

When I was around eight years old, I heard through some friends about a new soda called OK Cola. It had a toll-free number you could call (1-800-I-FEEL-OK) which consisted of a labyrinthine automated voice system filled with absurd options (“Press 6 for bird sounds.”; “Press 7 if you feel okay.”) and ironic jokes that kept me entertained for hours. And, while I don’t really remember what it tasted like, I remember being thrilled to finally find a few cans of OK Cola stocked in a local general store in my hometown in New Hampshire. So, because it was kind of amusing and light-hearted, I think I would choose to be OK Cola. Unbeknownst to me and my friends at the time, OK Cola was actually a failed experiment in “anti-marketing” by Coca-Cola that I fell for hook, line, and sinker. So, on second thought, maybe I’d be Moxie.

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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.