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In Life’s Travels, One Constant: Yourself

Jean-March Gorelick '98 traces his path from Packer and Ulysses to Kabul and Phnom Penh.

After graduating from Packer, Jean-Marc Gorelick attended Bard College and then served in the Peace Corps in Togo. He returned to the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. In 2009 he joined the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the largest government agency working to support democracies and to end extreme poverty around the world. In his eight years of foreign service work in democracy and governance, he has done tours in Senegal, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. He is currently the Deputy Director, Democracy and Governance Office, at USAID Cambodia.

Tell us about a project for USAID that’s had the most meaning for you. 

The most meaningful project so far has been supporting Afghanistan’s 2014 election process. Although the country is plagued by violence, 2014 marked the first democratic transfer of power in that country’s history. Thanks to the United States government’s efforts, Afghanistan’s government held together through democratic means, thus preventing the country from sliding into civil war, which would have rendered the country even more dangerous than it is today.

Our students who just traveled to Cambodia were struck by the resilience and hope of the Khmer people. What does supporting democracy in that country look like in 2017?

Supporting democracy and governance in Cambodia means supporting the Cambodians in their quest to lead their country on a democratic trajectory. That means supporting the administration of elections, supporting civil-society actors as they advocate for their rights, and supporting anti-trafficking non-governmental organizations that provide safety to vulnerable Cambodians at risk of trafficking. It also means supporting the vital effort to document the atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge regime, to help Cambodians ensure that such crimes against humanity never recur. When it comes to democracy and governance, we follow the Cambodians’ lead. After all, we can’t want it more than they do.

What do you like most about working in the foreign service?

I love the variety. Each country poses its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. I have fond memories of each country in which I’ve served. Each time was a different period in my life, and each experience was a specific moment in that country’s history. There’s something very pleasing about the dynamic and fluid nature of this job. 

What experiences at Packer contributed to your career choice?

Eric Weisberg had a profound impact on me. He encouraged my reading habits (for some reason, I enjoyed reading and discussing James Joyce’s near-impossible Ulysses with him) and he praised my writing. I’m certain that neither my writing nor my interpretive reading skills were sophisticated at that age. Nonetheless, having a teacher believe in me and encourage me was really important. I was able to relate to him, as he shared his own memories of reading long and difficult novels in Paris on vacation as a youngster. He helped nurture my intellectual curiosity. When one is curious about ideas, one then becomes curious about all things in the world. So my career choice stems from the curiosity that Mr. Weisberg helped nurture at Packer.

What advice do you have for young people who are interested in meaningful experiences abroad?

I would advise them to foster their intellectual curiosity. Don’t feel like you have to specialize in any region or in any international-affairs sector in high school. You can do that in college, and if not in college, in grad school. In college, I majored in literature. In grad school, I majored in international affairs, with a specialization in political science and international development. 

I’ll never forget what a colleague once told me: “You bring yourself with you.” 

What does that mean? It means whether you are in Kabul running for cover from a rocket attack, or in calm and peaceful Cambodia enjoying the wonderful ruins of Siem Reap, you are the one constant in your experiences abroad. When you leave America to visit or live in some faraway land, you don’t leave yourself back in America.

So that means, in high school, develop your passions. If you love to write creative fiction, dive into that. If you love to read, dive into that. If you love biology, go for it. If you love music, embrace it. These are all the intellectual pursuits that you bring with you from country to country. They make you who you are. If you are into fitness, hone your skills. Develop your interests. They will all serve you well in having meaningful experiences abroad. 

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