UW Alumn Serves in U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

Nick Holt graduated from UW-Madison in 2002 with a BA in International Relations [now International Studies]. He studied abroad in Cairo, Egypt. After graduation he worked for international relief organizations in the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Lebanon. He graduated with an MPA from Princeton University in 2006, and joined the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Service Officer in 2007. Nick is presently serving at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where he coordinates political reporting on Iraq’s southern provinces. His 15-month tour will conclude in September 2008

What at UW-Madison prepared you for what you do now?

The Arabic classes certainly helped.

What’s a favorite memory about UW-Madison?

I wasn’t much of a high school student, and I remember the day freshmen year when I realized I was actually enjoying going to class.  That feeling never really left me, and it marked a turning point in how I saw myself and the world around me.  Oh, and all the partying.

What drew you to study Arabic?

I wanted to study something different and considered Chinese and Arabic. I’m more or less tone deaf, so settled on Arabic. At the time, I endured a lot of skepticism from people who thought Arabic was useless. That changed four years later.

Why did you choose to study abroad in Cairo?

I knew the only way I would ever really learn Arabic was to live somewhere in the Middle East.  What I didn’t realize was that, seven years later, I’d still have so much Arabic left to learn.

What skills did you learn while studying abroad that help you now?

Cairo was a plunge into Egyptian culture.  In some ways this tour has been a plunge into the culture of the U.S. military.  Very different, but the same rules apply: treat people with patience and dignity and always be willing to learn.

What is your most memorable experience while studying abroad in Cairo?

I represented the U.S. in the annual Model UN simulation, and managed to convince all of the Egyptian students to join a coalition against Russia (I happened to be dating the ‘Russian’ delegate at the time).  If only I could be as successful a diplomat in real life…

What languages do you use everyday?

English and Arabic.

What advice would you give to an undergraduate student with ambitions to go into international diplomacy?

As a senior at UW, I failed the oral exam for the Foreign Service.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me, and led to a very interesting couple of years working abroad in conflict zones.  All that’s to say, don’t stress out too much about your long-term career, as hard as that might be, but find something you enjoy doing and do it.  The Foreign Service will always be around, and the more experience you have before entering, the better a diplomat you’ll be.

What do you see the role that American international diplomacy will play in the next five years?

Ask me again in November.