Category: Graduate Profiles

Title: Jeremy Cohen (SFS‘20) Sets His Sights on Public Service and Working Abroad

Author: Paul Dougherty
Date Published: May 6, 2020

To celebrate the Class of 2020’s COVID-delayed in-person Commencement celebration, student profiles have been updated to reflect their journeys since leaving the Hilltop two years ago.

The summer after graduating, Jeremy Cohen (SFS’20) returned to Washington to pursue his interest in the former Soviet Union at the Caspian Policy Center (CPC), a think tank focused on Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

At CPC, he has had the opportunity to work with diplomats, academics and military generals to promote awareness on critical issues in the region. “Despite the difficult circumstances limiting travel over the last two years, I’ve been lucky to have participated in research trips to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan,” Cohen says.

Outside of his professional pursuits, he has continued to indulge his love of long board games, has become an avid Dungeons and Dragons player and started a winless recreational soccer team! Cohen is excited to return to SFS this fall to join the Master of Arts in Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (MAERES) program and deepen his knowledge of Russia and Eurasia during a pivotal time for the region.

Original Story

Like so many of his fellow SFS seniors, Jeremy Cohen (SFS’20) has had to readjust his post-graduation plans over the past few months. The International History major had hoped to find work somewhere in the former Soviet Union, a plan which is currently on hold due to worldwide travel restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

What Cohen is certain of is his commitment to a career in public service, a professional path he was inspired to pursue during his four years as a student in SFS. “I think we often dismiss public service as synonymous with ineffective bureaucracy, but SFS has shown me the way that it can make a difference and bring about substantial change,” he says. 

Cohen (right) and friends get ready for the 2018 Diplomatic Ball.

At a Glance

Hometown: Princeton, NJ
Major: International History
Minor(s): Russian
Proseminar: The Russian Revolution with Dr. Michael David-Fox
Language: Russian
On-Campus Activities: Georgetown International Relations Club; Figge Fellows Research Fellowship
Non-GU Activities: U.S. Department of State Intern in Astana, Kazakhstan (Summer 2018); U.S. Department of State Intern in Kyiv, Ukraine (Summer 2019)

Settling In To The Hilltop

When applying to colleges, Cohen was looking for a school where he could pursue an interdisciplinary education. “I applied to Georgetown with the intention of doing International History because I wanted to study both international relations and history,” he says. 

Reflecting on the strengths of the major, he added, “I think it was a great way to take the base that the SFS curriculum offers and build a broad historical context that informs our understanding of the world today.”

Upon arriving at the Hilltop, Cohen dove straight into campus life.  He was fortunate enough to develop relationships with juniors and seniors, who he says became “equal parts friends and mentors.” 

“From helping me navigate Georgetown’s club system to showing me the best kabob options in the neighborhood, the mentorship they gave was a defining part of my time as an undergrad,” he says.

The Georgetown Model United Nations team on the way back from a conference in Montreal.

Early on in his Georgetown experience, Cohen wanted to give back to his new community and to help others make the most of the opportunities the university had to offer. In his first year, he volunteered as a staff member for the North American Invitational Model United Nations (NAIMUN) Conference, an event Georgetown hosts for high school students every February.

“As someone who attended the conference as a high schooler, it’s always held a special place for me. It demonstrated to me the international focus that I think makes Georgetown unique,” Cohen says.

“NAIMUN was always an incredible event in the way it brings hundreds of Georgetown students from across the university for a weekend in a fun, and often absurd, celebration of international relations,” he adds.

Encountering Diverse Perspectives Inside and Outside of the Classroom

One of Cohen’s favorite things about being a history student is the opportunities he gets to engage with a wide variety of primary sources. But he also says that interacting with the Georgetown community itself enabled him to see international events from multiple perspectives.

SFS and history professor James Millward’s course on the Silk Road, where students explored cultural exchanges between Europe, Asia and Africa over time, was a particularly memorable class for Cohen.

“It was a course that made for a lot of interesting discussion thanks to the diverse perspectives other students brought to the table,” Cohen says. He also gained an insight into the historical longevity of international ideas and practices. “I feel that we often think of globalization as a modern phenomenon, but this class was a great way of breaking that mindset,” he explains. 

He also cherished the classes he was able to take with faculty who shared their real-world experiences with their students. He credits professors, such as Ira Forman, who was the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, with opening his eyes to the impact he could have with a career in public service.

“Professor Forman’s Confronting Contemporary Antisemitism class stands out to me because of the way he showed how actions he and his team took made a tangible impact for Jewish communities around the world,” he says.

 Cohen was also able to satisfy his intellectual curiosity outside of the Georgetown gates. 

Cohen and a friend attend the Carmel Institute for a film screening.

“All four years I was at Georgetown I really enjoyed going over to the Russian Embassy for cultural events hosted by American University’s Carmel Institute,” he explains. “They were a fun way to take advantage of one of the greatest perks D.C. has to offer and watch Russian films or listen to musical performances for free with friends.” 

The skills and connections he built up at Georgetown also enabled him to complete two U.S. State Department internships—first in Astana, Kazakhstan after his sophomore year and then in Kyiv, Ukraine after his junior year. 

“These opportunities gave me invaluable experiences living and working in an international setting and provided a perspective of what U.S. foreign policy looks like in action,” he says. 

“It also gave me a better understanding of the crucial but often thankless work the army of Americans and locals at our embassies do daily,” he adds. 

Adjusting to New Realities

Like the rest of the SFS community, Cohen has had to adjust to new social and academic realities in the final months of his Georgetown career. The university moved to an online learning environment at the end of March, when the spread of COVID-19 made it unsafe to keep campus open.

Cohen has managed to maintain connections to his Georgetown classmates, however. “Like for everyone else, Zoom has become my best friend, and has been crucial to keeping me connected socially and academically,” Cohen says. “Over Zoom with friends I’ve watched classic movies I had never seen like Titanic, and had poker nights just like I would have at school.” 

He has been learning online, too. “I’ve been attending Russian conversation hour every week, and used Zoom to work with peers in the history thesis class,” he says. 

Cohen is applying his training in global history to make sense of the pandemic and takes comfort in his belief that the crisis will reinforce the need for greater international cooperation going forward. 

“My guess is that this pandemic will really bring international relations to the forefront in much the same way World War I or World War II did,” he predicts. “I think this will prove how interconnected the world is and will demonstrate the real futility of isolationism.” 

He goes on, “Given the inward turn many countries have taken in the past few years, I think we’ll look back on the pandemic as a sharp rebuke to those approaches. It’s shown how we live in a world where there’s no such thing as ‘somebody else’s problem,’ and how international cooperation is essential to deal with contemporary challenges.”

Looking Forward

While the pandemic has complicated Cohen’s plans for the immediate future, he hopes to find a job working in the former Soviet Union so that he can gain international career experience and continue to build up his Russian.

Cohen and fellow interns from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine explore Kyiv.

“Whether I end up teaching English or working at a non-profit, I think working in a place like Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan for a couple years would really help me get my Russian to the next level and provide me with an opportunity to complement my last four years studying these countries with on-the-ground experience,” he says.

In the longer term, Cohen ultimately hopes to pursue a career in public service as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. And while his primary interest is in the former Soviet Union, he is not ruling out work in other regions of the world.  

“Though I am primarily interested in the former Soviet Union, my time at Georgetown has been effective in teaching me how many factors at play in Eastern Europe and Central Asia work in other parts of the world as well,” he says.

And, as Cohen prepares to graduate, he has been reflecting on his four years on the Hilltop. While his final semester has been more turbulent than he might have hoped, he knows that he will look back on his time at Georgetown as a wonderful period in his life.

“While it’s bittersweet now, I’ll probably look back at my time at Georgetown as some of the luckiest years of my life despite the current circumstances. It’s crazy for me to think that the ‘work’ that I would dread doing was writing papers about subjects I liked and reading interesting articles,” he says. 

“It was four years when I lived within a few blocks of all my best friends and could see them whenever I wanted. I got to dance in Rangila and spend weekends at Model UN conferences. Of course, I’m already looking at it through rose-tinted glasses, but while I took the best of college for granted while I had it, I sure will miss it looking back.”