News Story

Student with Aspirations for Foreign Service Spends Year in Indonesia Practicing Foreign Policy

Unable to speak the language, Camille Bismonte (C’21) did not know that when she first travelled to Indonesia for eight weeks in the summer of 2018 that she would end up studying abroad there for the entirety of her junior year. Now in her second semester, the Boren Scholarship recipient has won a speech competition, represented the United States at the 12th Annual Bali Democracy Forum, and met the President of Indonesia. 

Bismonte has always been interested in foreign policy, but said that the resources and skills she utilized and developed at Georgetown turned her dream of going abroad to practice diplomacy into a reality. 

“I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to study abroad, but by using the resources available to me like the Georgetown Office of Fellowships, Awards, and Resources, I was able to go abroad not once but twice,” says Bismonte. “This experience has really been invaluable because I have been able to implement all of the varied interests I have been learning in the College. I am a math and Spanish minor in addition to my economics major, and each of these areas have had real-world applications in Indonesia. I am extremely grateful to the College for allowing me the unique flexibility to design my studies around my own interests.”

Scholarships Assist Going Abroad

Bismonte received a Critical Language Scholarship to live abroad in Indonesia in the summer of 2018. At the start of her program, she spoke no Indonesian and only communicated with her host mother through Pictionary and charades. By the end of her two-month stay, Bismonte was conversing at the high-intermediate level. 

Eager to not lose the skills she had acquired during this summer, Bismonte applied for the NSEP David L. Boren Scholarship, an award that helps fund those who are committed to enhancing their language skills. She received the award and returned to Indonesia in June of 2019. Since being there, Bismonte has worked as a researcher studying sustainable development, grassroots policies and the green GDP of Indonesia for the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI)

FPCI is one of the largest think tanks in Indonesia that deals with foreign policy. In this role, Bismonte has learned about the work that Indonesian communities are doing to combat climate change locally as well as study the international collaborative efforts between this region and areas like Norway. 

“Indonesia has a variety of green initiatives in place to help combat their large environmental footprint from industries like palm oil.” says Bismonte. “They have come up with innovative solutions like the trash doctor or the trash bank that are at the intersection of the socioeconomic and environmental issues of the country.”

Bismonte says that this intersection is why she wants to pursue a career as a foreign service officer. 

“It combines everything that I am interested in,” says Bismonte. “Professor Martin Ravallion was really instrumental in shaping my worldview. His course The Economics of Poverty made me realize that economic policy affects every aspect of life. After speaking with him about his experiences in Indonesia, I was inspired to go there myself.” 

After spending her own time in Indonesia, Bismonte said her decision to work in international affairs was solidified. 

“I believe that if you feel the world is unfair then you should rewrite the rules,” says Bismonte. “My experience in Indonesia has helped solidify that this is career path that I want to pursue. By working as a foreign service officer, I can help nations around the world improve all aspects of life by creating better economic policies.”

An Award-Winning Speech 

Foreign service roles often necessitate that individuals are fluent in more than one language. Though she was unable to speak the native language when first arrived in Indonesia, Bismonte quickly advanced in her linguistic abilities. Before she returned to Indonesia for the start of her second study abroad, Bismonte entered the 2019 Indonesian Speech and Storytelling Competition in the United States and won for her response to the prompt “How Have You Seen Tolerance in Action.”

“I spoke about my relationship with my host mother, how we both grew and learned from one another despite our initial language barrier and how Indonesia and the United States have similar values, despite cultural differences,” says Bismonte. 

She said that the Jesuit values and tradition were important to her and translated to her experiences in Indonesia. 

“As a first-generation Filipina-American, I live every day thinking about why and how I am American but I think that shared cultural understanding is important. When I first came to Georgetown and heard about the Jesuit traditions, I didn’t realize how important this is – to understand and care for the whole person. It is a message that transcends any barrier.” 

As part of her award for winning the speech competition in the United States, Bismonte was flown to Jakarta to meet the President of Indonesia during the 74th Independence Day celebration on August 17.

12th Annual Bali Democracy Forum

Bismonte was able to practice diplomacy at the 12th Annual Bali Democracy Forum, an annual Asia-Pacific forum started by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono where ideas and experiences on the development of democracy can be shared.  Bismonte represented the United States in the 3rd Annual Bali Democracy Student Conference, one of the many held under the umbrella of this forum.

The theme was digital democracy and how Gen Z can best to use digital resources more responsibly. Bismonte spoke in front of 156 representatives from 46 countries about the importance of translating digital activism to real-life activism. Soon after finishing her speech, Bismonte was voted to be a part of a selection committee that was tasked with creating a document that would be published by the Indonesian government, stating what they would contribute towards bettering the cause. 

The committee is comprised of 15 people: eight Indonesians and seven foreigners. Bismonte was selected as one of the foreign representatives from 156 people. After a two-hour discussion, the committee presented the paper #youth4democracy to the entire delegation. 

Indispensable Experiences

These varied experiences Georgetown presented her reaffirmed the career path Bismonte thought she wanted. 

“Being a transfer student did help me learn to adapt to different environments, but I have loved everything about my time in Indonesia,” she says. “I now speak both Tagalog and Indonesian fluently, and I have been involved in all different types of diplomacy. My heart and my future are here.”

After graduation, Bismonte hopes to do a Fulbright fellowship in the Philippines, specifically with sustainable development. She says that all of this would not have been possible had she not come to Georgetown. 

“My biggest takeaway from Georgetown and this experience is that the College can prepare you for any career, even one in the foreign service.”

-by Shelby Roller (G’19)

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