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Nyok Gai
Gai Nyok

It’s a small world, and it’s getting even smaller. Careers in foreign affairs are becoming more important in the United States and abroad. Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Gai Nyok (B.A.’10/H&S; B.S.’10/H&S) is determined to explore those careers – with a little help from some prestigious friends at the U.S. Department of State.

Nyok was recently chosen for the 2013 Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which will help him in his pursuit of a career in foreign affairs. The fellowship, funded by the State Department, provides fellows with up to $40,000 per academic year for a two-year, full-time master’s degree program. The fellows are required to participate in one domestic and one overseas internship during this time and are committed to three years of service as foreign officers after their completion of the program.

“I was born in South Sudan, and passed through Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya before coming to the U.S. in late 2001,” Nyok said. “In Kenya, I lived in a United Nations refugee camp with nearly 100,000 political refugees from neighboring East African countries.”

Known to his friends as “Magai,” Nyok said his personal experience with international affairs in Kenya prepared him particularly well for the fellowship.

“My stay there opened my eyes to the role that nation-states and international institutions play in an increasingly globalized world,” he said. “It is this experience which endeared me to studying economics and international relations.”

However, despite Nyok’s long-held interest, selection for the fellowship was no walk in the park. Many accomplished graduate hopefuls were turned away during the difficult selection process. Nyok and his other fellows will attend graduate schools such as Harvard University, Georgetown University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California, Berkeley.

The fellows are a hardworking bunch. Nyok, who hopes to be an economic officer in the foreign service, obtained a dual undergraduate degree in economics from the School of Business and in international relations from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs in the College of Humanities and Sciences. He graduated cum laude from VCU in 2010. Additionally, he was president of the African Student Union at VCU and was awarded the Black History in the Making Award by the VCU School of World Studies.

Nyok has come a long way toward realizing his dreams, and the fellowship will open up many opportunities for him in his international quest. He said he hopes to serve his three years as a foreign officer in Sub-Saharan Africa or Brazil.

“The fellowship presents me a clear path to a dream I have long cherished,” Nyok said, “to become a diplomat, to serve and open up opportunities for my country and countrymen.”

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