This spring, the Public Diplomacy Council welcomed a new category of Rising Professional members into its ranks. Last week, Mojib Ziarmal Ghaznawi discussed his calling to the Foreign Service and his love for playing the flute as a captivating launch to my Q&A series.
I was inspired by Olivia Chavez’s interview with Dr. Sherry Mueller (“Wanted: Young Professionals with a Passion for Public Diplomacy”). As the Public Diplomacy Council pursues its mission of establishing understanding between nations via individuals, these introductions of Rising Professional members should serve to enhance our understanding of one another within the PDC community.
This week, please welcome Wes Davison.
(Betsy) Tell us about yourself.
Ahh, the dreaded networking question! I’m a Chicago boy through and through, having grown up and been educated all in the Chicago suburbs until 23. When life opened the opportunity to tutor with a family in rural Poland, I took the chance to go and live in a place I had never heard of with a culture and language I had no prior knowledge of.
Since then I have expanded my international background by working in youth educational initiatives in Colombia and serving with the Peace Corps in Ukraine for two years in education. There, I partnered with Ukrainian youth in leadership development initiatives to cultivate greater civic activism.
I recently completed a MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution and am ready to grab my passport and head off to a place that most people haven’t heard of to continue to collaborate with change-makers in promoting youth in positions of leadership, peacebuilding initiatives, and art for civic activism. I’ll also work with less-represented communities to ensure their voices are included in the necessary transformations we are seeing rise from the tragedy of Covid 19.
With your experiences thus far, have you considered a Foreign Service assignment?
I have considered Foreign Service lightly since my time with my Polish host family in 2014. However, I would say at this point I am not interested in public service with the government, but much more interested in working for a for/non profit or a foundation.
How did you learn about the Public Diplomacy Council?
I came across the Public Diplomacy Council through one of its founders and current President Dr. Sherry Mueller. Dr. Mueller offered a weekend course at American University on “Intercultural Diplomacy,” and not only did I soak in the course, but I walked away with a new hero and a new opportunity to join PDC! I am still a novice, but excited to learn more, connect more, and discover more in the coming months and hopefully years! There are hundreds of years of wisdom between the veteran members and the Rising Professionals, and in an era in which public diplomacy has been waning as a priority amongst our leadership in the States, it is more essential than ever to connect with such incredible organizations and a tremendous network of wonderful people!
Describe a time that you have acted as a citizen diplomat.
One time comes to mind specifically, in that when I worked as a transporter in a major hospital near Chicago, I often interacted with immigrant and non-English speaking communities. Once in the ER, I saw an older woman of Pakastani origin who was looking rather confused and distraught. Though we could not communicate with each other, I took the time to find out where her son was and reunite her with her family, something no one else seemed to care to do in the often overcrowded and overly busy ER. The look on her and her family’s faces after they were reunited helped me get through those later tough days in the hospital.
Describe a time that you have encountered a citizen diplomat, whether abroad or in the United States.
One citizen diplomat that comes to mind is my friend Wojtek Surala in Warszawa, Poland (Warsaw). I met Wojtek through a connection when I visited during my time residing in Poland. Wojtek has worked for years in public government in Warsaw and has been involved in local politics, along with his partner, especially in pushing for better air quality policies in the city. He welcomed me into Poland and has always allowed me to stay with him, giving me and even later my family unsolicited tours of the city and detailed historical accounts of Poland, and Eastern Europe.
Wojtek has continued his diplomatic efforts, now frequently working across Ukraine in Polish-Ukrainian partnerships and even has connected with a number of organizations and dear friends I worked alongside as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in Ukraine. It is so wonderful to see worlds come together and see how Wojtek maintains relationships and contacts and works tirelessly to maintain these connections and a better world for his nation and his neighbors, too.
How would you define public diplomacy to a friend who was unfamiliar with the concept?
Public diplomacy can look different in many ways and at different moments, but I would state more or less that public diplomacy is the action of building a bridge to another person(s), to extend understanding and cooperation not for the sake of some extracted entity, but for a mutual yielding of understanding, trust, and learning. Public diplomacy is not a zero sum game, but a form of win-win, in which everyone learns more from each other! At its core, Public diplomacy is friendship; we learn and share and build those bridges together to reach out to each other and maintain that bridge of trust together.
What was your favorite book that you read during quarantine or this summer? What did you like about it?
I just finished a tremendous book called “The Door” by a Hungarian author Magda Sazbó. The book explores a relationship between two women, one an author and the other a housekeeper, both of different generations of Hungary and the mindsets and generational attitudes that developed from Hungary’s rather tumultuous 20th century history. The book has a touch of mystery, but focuses mostly on the relationship between these two starkly contrasted women, and forces us to ask ourselves which character we are more like, and what we really believe about love, loyalty, our past, death, religion, and ultimately the role of friendship in our lives. The extreme character study placed against a middle class, 1980s Budapest neighborhood is fascinating, and this short, but dense tale is well worth a read.
Which experience listed on your resume is your favorite?
One of my favorite things I have ever done was my time in a rural Colombian village nestled in the Andes mountains. I spent six months as an English teacher living in the 5,000 person village of Santuario, the Cafetero or coffee producing region of Colombia. Every day were classes with youth aged between 7 and 17, doing games, activities, dramas, making projects, teambuilding activities, and cross-cultural learning. My afternoons were spent hiking in the nearby mountains through coffee plantations, meeting the campesino farmers, learning to drink dark Colombian coffee with the local sweetener panela, and later exploring other jungles and natural landmarks of the country. I met tremendous and dear friends that I keep up with to this day and learned so much about the unique and rich history of a nation that is often stereotyped and ignored by the U.S.
If the PDC had a talent show, what would your act be?
I’m an avid Kombucha brewer, but since that process takes about two to three weeks, I’d say I would have to bring another expertise to the talent show! I would love to show off my rendition of Rocky Horror’s “Time Warp” as long as I had a buddy willing to hop in and join me!
Elizabeth (Betsy) Cornelius is pursuing her M.A. in International Affairs Policy and Analysis at American University’s School of International Service. There, she applies her experience in Germany and Austria in her research assistantship with the Transatlantic Policy Center.