#WeAreElliott: Justin Berry

#WeAreElliott: Justin Berry

Justin Berry is a first-year master’s student and a recipient of the Elliott School’s America 2050 Fellowship Award. He is pursuing an M.A. in Latin American and Hemispheric Studies, with concentrations in political science and economic development, and plans to join the State Department’s foreign service upon graduating.

Justin is a captain in the U.S. Army with over seven years of active duty service as an intelligence analyst. In 2015, he deployed to Uganda for 12 months to provide intelligence support for the Kony 2012 mission, which he describes as one of his top two favorite experiences in the Army.

Justin is a proud HBCU alumnus, graduating in May 2013 with a B.A. in Spanish from North Carolina Central University. His wife, Kerstin, who is also an NCCU alumna, is a doctor of osteopathic medicine. He and his wife have two Zuchons named Korin and Zygo.

What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you pick the Elliott School?

I always knew that I would go to graduate school at some point, but I never knew exactly when that would be or what I would even study. My participation in the Kony 2012 mission, where I witnessed firsthand the importance of diplomacy and multilateral relationships, had a profound impact on me and the direction I decided to take my life and career. I wanted to continue doing meaningful work at the international level and, after some research, decided that a career in the U.S. State Department would allow me to do just that. Because I would be entering a new field, I felt it would be best to get my master’s in an international affairs-oriented program before joining the foreign service. The Elliott School became my first-choice graduate school because of 1) its location in the heart of D.C., which would allow me to easily network with the city’s vast international affairs community, and 2) its commitment to equipping future international affairs leaders with the professional skills needed for success through its LEAP Initiative. It also helped that my older brother, Chaz, who earned his master’s from GW’s Milken Institute School of Public Health and is currently working as a GW strength and conditioning coach, absolutely loved his experience at the university as a graduate student.

What has been your favorite course at the Elliott School so far and why?

Surprisingly, after completing my first semester at the Elliott School, the Quantitative Analysis for International Affairs Practitioners course has been my favorite. After completing the course, and even while I was taking the course, I started noticing the statistical terminology and information that I was being exposed to daily while I perused world news from various media outlets. What’s more, it gave me an ability to empirically validate the information being shared and the conclusions being drawn. I remember performing poorly in a statistics course during my undergraduate studies (I have zero shame in admitting this publicly lol) that was oriented to students with math and science majors. But the Quantitative Analysis course, which fulfills the research methods requirement at the Elliott School, was primarily conceptual in that it was more concerned with teaching the underlying concepts that led to the development of certain statistical methods and ensuring we understood how to apply them when appropriate. I highly recommend incoming students to consider taking this course.

Where do you currently work or intern and how does it fit in with your career goals?

I’m currently completing a summer internship at the Embassy of Peru in Washington, D.C., working alongside the diplomat that leads their political department. The experience has been absolutely incredible and has provided me with an opportunity to observe the inner workings of the U.S.-Peruvian bilateral relationship firsthand. It has also enabled me to expand my knowledge in the nuances of some Peruvian dialects, which has challenged my Spanish language skills in a way that would be difficult to accomplish without traveling to the country. As far as how this internship fits in with my long-term career goals, knowing how to effectively communicate with foreign officials in a professional environment is one of many major aspects of working in the foreign service. Having this experience prior to officially joining the State Department will help ease my transition into life as a U.S. diplomat.

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?

If you’re considering applying to an Elliott School graduate program, then it’s likely that you’re already aware that it’s perceived to be a top graduate school for the study of international affairs by scholars in the field. After starting my first semester, that point seemed apparent as I began learning of my professors’ and classmates’ extensive experience in international affairs. One of my professors served as Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2007 to 2013; another professor served as a two-term senator in Paraguay as well as the ambassador of Paraguay to the Organization of American States; many students have served in the Peace Corps, military, and other internationally oriented organizations; and some students are Pickering Fellows. Despite this, it may surprise you with how many Elliott graduate students have experienced/continue to experience imposter syndrome during their studies, including myself. Something that has helped me is remembering a mantra created by one of my favorite authors, Brené Brown, which is “People. People. People.” Take away our experiences, accomplishments, titles, level of education, net worth, and any other variables we try to use to objectively measure our self-worth and we’re all the same; we’re all just people. So, my advice would be to keep that in the forefront of your mind as you go forward and simply be your true, authentic self.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far at the Elliott School?

TALK TO PEOPLE! If any of my friends are reading this, they might laugh because they know how much I stress this to them. This isn’t something I learned while at the Elliott School but being a full-time student again has definitely reinforced my thoughts about this. Unpopular opinion: grades are not the most important aspect of graduate school. It does no good to lock yourself away at home or in your favorite study spot- turning down unique opportunities to socialize and make friends- with the empty goal of maintaining a 4.0 GPA. For a lot of us, a master’s degree is the highest level of formal education we will ever receive, meaning grades will not matter once our studies conclude. That being said, of course you need to pass your classes, but if you’re sacrificing social engagement opportunities to simply maintain a perfect GPA, then I respectfully say that your priorities are not properly ordered. In my opinion, the most important aspects of graduate school are gaining career-relevant knowledge through your course work and making lifelong friends with those that work/will be working in your career field or adjacent career fields. GET OUT AND SOCIALIZE!

What is your favorite place in DC to enjoy reading a book?

My favorite place in DC to enjoy a book is the National Mall. I personally love listening to audiobooks because I find them to be more efficient- enabling me to multitask- and I retain the information a lot better. When I go out for solo runs, I’ll typically listen to an audiobook and the best place to do that is the National Mall because there’s a lot of energy from all the activity in the area- whether early in the morning or later in the day- and I don’t have to worry about crossing streets. It’s also my favorite place to exercise in general. If anyone ever needs/wants an exercise buddy, let me know!

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The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students 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.