Looking at Diplomacy With Fresh Eyes
STACY DANIKA SIA ALCANTARA, Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines
I came home exhausted from a string of meetings at work. I had already marked my second year in the Philippine Foreign Service when I decided that it might be about time to stop, sit down, and get a formal education on international relations. Unlike some of my colleagues in the Foreign Service, I had zero background in international relations until I started reviewing for the Foreign Service Officers’ Exam (FSOE). It was a tough cookie to crack considering that I never dreamed of becoming a diplomat.
I graduated from a degree in journalism, worked for newspapers and travel magazines, breezed my way through two multinational companies before I decided that it was time to break free from the shackles of corporate slavery and do something new. Becoming a part of the Philippine Foreign Service and being given the opportunity to focus on public diplomacy not only gave my career a new lease on life, it allowed me to do engage in something I was deeply passionate about: brand building, media affairs, and communication all in the context of representing my country.
As a diplomat who specializes in public diplomacy, my task is to put my creativity on overdrive in order for the Philippines to win the hearts and minds of the world. It’s a simple task yet an overwhelming challenge. Yet, in the midst of the action, I decided to step back and fly to Geneva because deep inside I knew that without a strong substantive background in basic tenets of international relations, my communication plans would fall apart like a house of cards.
It was after my eighth meeting on that fateful September in 2016 when I decided to get serious about finding a school that can hone my skills in negotiation while at the same time transform me into a formidable content expert in world politics and international trade. After creating a proposal to study at the Geneva School of Diplomacy (GSD) and crossing my fingers that the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Scholarship Committee would approve it, I found myself on a plane to Europe as the first Filipino student in GSD, bound for a semester that would change the way I would view the world forever.
My decision to study at GSD was the best one I’ve made as far as my academic life is concerned. The school’s location—right smack in the midst of the United Nations and hundreds of other international organizations—basically gave me a front row seat to some of the most important milestones that are shaping the world we live in today. It has given me the chance to pursue my internship in the United Nations and to work hand in hand with some of the world’s best multilateralists. Being in Geneva has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything else.
At GSD, I enjoy sitting in a room debating and discussing with classmates who represent almost every continent in the world. I love the pressure of being challenged by teachers who are passionate about making us understand how the world works and how we can live up to the gargantuan task of creating the future we all aspire for. The friends and mentors I have met this semester are the people I know I will forever be in touch with for the rest of my life. More than the profound lessons I have learned within the four walls of the classroom, it is the human connection—which is what diplomacy is really all about—that has truly changed me for the better.
Most of all, I enjoy spending my weekends exploring Europe, immersing myself in different cultures, learning new languages, and seeing the world through different lenses. What was once a region I believed was so different from the world where I came from turns out to be a place that harbored so many similarities with the place I call home. Throughout my travels in Europe and my education in GSD, I’ve learned that the human race shares so much in common. We speak the same language of love, kindness, and the unending desire for peace.
My experience in GSD and in Europe has opened my eyes to the challenges confronting our times yet it has also given me the confidence that we can embark on a collective journey towards overcoming these challenges. As I gear up for the final stretch of the semester and the remaining weeks until I head back to my office, my heart is filled with excitement on the new possibilities that lie ahead and the new ways by which I can tell the story of the Philippines to the world.
GSD has helped me come to terms with what diplomacy is and what it is not. Diplomacy is not about glitzy balls, pompous protocols, or rubbing elbows with world leaders. Diplomacy is about human connection, it is about building bridges where there used to be walls, it is about people from different cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs coming together and realizing that they have more things in common than the things that set them apart.
True to what so many people have told me, Geneva is an expensive city to study in. However, the lessons I’ve learned from my stay in Geneva are incredibly priceless.
STACY DANIKA SIA ALCANTARA
Foreign Service Officer IV
Public and Media Affairs Office of Public Diplomacy
Department of Foreign Affairs
Republic of the Philippines