Like many students at the Clinton School of Public Service, Joshua DeBruyn entered the school with strong interests in foreign policy and a year of professional public service experience on his resume. Unlike most, DeBruyn’s college education began on a path to medical school.
“I started by undergrad career as a biology major planning to go to medical school,” DeBruyn said. “I wanted to study neurodegenerative disorders. Then I got to organic chemistry and thought, ‘Maybe I don’t love medicine as much as I used to.’”
He went on to earn his degree in psychology from Grand Valley State University. He was still considering a career in medicine as his undergraduate experience was ending.
“When I was studying for the MCAT, I decided that I didn’t really want to go into medicine anymore.” DeBruyn said. “I took a year off. I did some traveling in the Middle East and Northern Africa, got my head straight, and figured out what I wanted to do.”
After his experience abroad, DeBruyn decided to take the State Department’s Foreign Officer Test. While taking a year to study, he applied for AmeriCorps and landed a position in Austin, Texas, doing literacy training for students in Spanish schools.
It was there that he first heard about the Clinton School and, specifically, how its international component could help him work toward a career in foreign policy.
Can you describe your time abroad in Africa and the Middle East?
I started in Turkey, stayed for a couple weeks, and then I moved on to Egypt. From there, I went to Jordan and to Morocco. Then I came home.
The main reason I went abroad was because I had friends who were doing Peace Corps. They had just finished their service in Botswana and were traveling through Africa. I thought I would do a solo trip by myself in Turkey and then would meet up with them in Egypt, go to Jordan, fly to Morocco, and then they would go somewhere else and I would go home.
It was really nice. I love the Middle East. It’s the area I want to work in when I finish here.
I came back to the U.S. and decided to do a service year in AmeriCorps while I studied for the State Department’s Foreign Officer Test. I put my application on the AmeriCorps website and got a gig in Austin, Texas, doing literacy training for students in Spanish schools. I thought this would give me an opportunity to improve my Spanish, live in a new place, meet new friends, and get a new environment to cleanse myself.
How did you hear about the Clinton School?
While I was there, Alex Thomas (Clinton School Director of Admissions) was giving a speech at the University of Texas at Austin about graduate school applications. I went to the session and we met up afterwards. He asked me what I wanted to do after AmeriCorps, and I told him I was looking at graduate programs.
At the time, I was looking at the University of Washington in Seattle and Columbia University in New York. He told me about the Clinton School program, and he told me about the international projects and some things I could get out of it if I wanted to go into foreign service or policy work. I thought about it, and I figured it couldn’t hurt because there were no application fees. I sent in my application and here I am.
What has the Clinton School experience been like for you so far? Has anything surprised you?
It’s classroom heavy at the beginning, and then they kind of let you go (into the field work), which I’m starting to appreciate more and more in terms of preparing me to do work outside of academia. I’ve mostly been in academia up until now. It’s nice to be more grounded in practical skills.
The first semester was a lot heavier on theory and classroom work than I thought it would be. We had the field-oriented aspect with Practicum, and I know that starting this summer it’s going to be the International Public Service Project and Capstone, which are two field projects.
Did your lack of professional experience concern you when you started the program?
I knew I wanted to do something related to policy work in an international setting, which is why I wanted to go to the State Department. However, I thought about it, and when you’re doing foreign service work for the State Department you’re not really doing anything policy related. You are implementing policies that have already been decided.
I thought, “If I disagree with U.S. foreign policy, do I want to put myself in the position where I have no say in whether or not I agree with it? Or do I want to put myself in the position where eventually I’ll be able to make policy decisions?”
That’s why I thought I should continue my education in some sort of policy field or public service field, where I can make connections and broaden my skill set, so that when I graduate I am able to put myself in a more advantageous position to get a job where I can eventually have some sort of policy say.
Originally, I thought I was going back to the Middle East. I had a very tunnel-vision approach to it. But I’ve had trouble finding organizations that either have the capacity or the need for student volunteers.
One of the reasons I came to this school was to do the international portion. Yesterday, I got an acceptance from the European Community Organizing Network. They want me to go work for them and build up their capacity in Budapest, Bucharest, and Slovakia. That’s most likely what I’ll be doing this summer.
Did your foreign policy interest start with your time abroad? Or did something else spark your interest?
I would say that my foreign policy interest started before my trip overseas. I’ve always been somebody who’s been interested in international politics. I’m a big history buff. I’m interested in the dynamics between countries; that’s something I’ve been studying since high school. Working in that field is where I’ve wanted to go since I decided that I didn’t want to go to medical school.
It started before my trip overseas. My international trip kind of flavored the perceptions that a lot of people have about U.S. foreign policies, especially in the Middle East. That just further incentivized my decision to go into foreign policy.
Do you have anything that you want to add?
The thing that I’m most curious about in terms of doing public service in a government capacity is that oftentimes the whims of the current administration and the current set up of the government have a major effect on the sort of programs that I’m looking to go into.
One of my major concerns, when I think about going into government work, is that it’s so volatile depending on who’s in office, what their agenda is, and whether or not I’m comfortable being a civil servant regardless of my highly political views and my outspoken nature on certain issues.
Also, whether or not I’m okay going into a system where you’re expected to be a professional and carry out your duties regardless of your moral standings. That’s something I’ve considered further as I look at the job landscape next year. I have time. I still have a year before I graduate. That’s something I’ll be considering further when I look at what sort of career I want as a public servant.