On the Path to the Foreign Service

August 21, 2012 • Mary Kate Malone

Melissa Fisher

While working as a national sales planner at Univision Television Group in 2009, Melissa Fisher ’07 began to feel restless. She wasn’t sure what direction to take next but knew she had to think more about what she wanted to do with her life, even if that meant taking a leap into the unknown.

And so that’s exactly what she did: She quit her job and bought a one-way ticket to Cambodia.

“I wanted to challenge myself and live in a developing country where I didn’t know the language,” says the former political science and Spanish double major. “I felt like I needed to do something challenging, to grow up and be on my own.”

During her yearlong stay, Fisher, who also minored in peace studies, worked for a local documentary company making a film about violence against children. She also found work writing for a Cambodian lifestyle magazine geared toward American expatriates. The experience, she says, allowed her to explore career paths in entertainment, human rights work, and journalism before honing in on a career in foreign service.

“It was eye opening to travel through the provinces and really get to know the country,” she says. “I had the opportunity to learn about development issues in Cambodia—there is a lot of poverty and violence against women and children.”

An International Career

Melissa Fisher

When Fisher returned to the United States in May 2010, she took a new job with Univision as a marketing and promotions coordinator and began applying to graduate schools. She was accepted into The George Washington University’s international development master’s program and started her coursework in fall 2011.

Fisher was named a Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellow in 2011 by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation for the U.S. Department of State. Pickering fellows receive financial support toward a master’s program in foreign affairs and must commit to three years as a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State upon graduation.

When she graduates in 2013, Fisher’s first assignment could be anywhere in the world.

“It’s exciting but really daunting because you have to be available worldwide,” she says. “I could be placed somewhere like Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Even so, Fisher considers herself well prepared and credits much of that to Notre Dame, where she first developed a hunger to see the world. Throughout her undergraduate education in the College of Arts and Letters, she both studied abroad in Spain and went China for three weeks to research the country’s political climate. A class she took senior year—Professors Melissa Paulsen and Frank Belatti’s microventuring course—then inspired her to volunteer for three months after graduation with the Social Entrepreneur Corps in Guatemala.

The Pursuit of Passion

Melissa Fisher

“When I look back, sometimes I find it hard to believe I’ve done all these things,” she says. “It’s almost like I’ve lived different lives.

“I was trying out various things because I wanted to see what the best fit was and to verify that what I wanted to do was to go overseas for my entire career.”

As for current Notre Dame students who are studying the liberal arts and debating their futures, Fisher would tell them that there’s nothing wrong with post-college exploration in the search for a career path, especially when it leads you somewhere you love.

“Keep your options open and do a lot of soul searching,” she says. “Take time to reflect on what it is you really want to do and understand it might take you a few years to figure it out.”

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