VALPARAISO | Dennis Cimbaljevich returned to his alma mater, Valparaiso University, on Tuesday to share details of his career as a U.S. diplomat.
Cimbaljevich, a political-economic officer at the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica, Montenegro, graduated from VU in 2004 with a degree in international economics and cultural affairs.
He spoke to about 30 students on the functions of the U.S. State Department, the duties of a diplomat, and the education and skills necessary to land a job with the foreign service.
The event was part of the U.S. State Department's hometown diplomats program, which seeks to put a face on foreign policy and explain what the state department does and why it matters.
Keeping the U.S. and its allies secure and promoting economic growth abroad are among the key roles of the department. The link between economics and politics is especially crucial, Cimbaljevich said.
“Development is linked with prosperity,” he said. “If a country is not well off, it poses more of a threat to the U.S.”
The state department is one of the smallest U.S. agencies, and it only nets 1 percent of the federal budget.
Yet it's charged with such critical tasks as supporting American citizens and their jobs abroad, promoting democracy and stability in the world, and fostering international development, Cimbaljevich said.
Diplomats are divided into five areas: political, economic, consular, public/cultural affairs and management, he said.
He encouraged students interested in a career in foreign service to hone their verbal and written communication skills, be technologically savvy, get fluent in a language, and broaden their world experience by participating in a study abroad program.
His own career path was paved through his connections with Montenegro.
His parents are from there and immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, he said.
Cimbaljevich was born in the U.S. and grew up in Portage, where he graduated high school in 2000. He also holds a juris doctor degree from the Catholic University of America, Columbia School of Law in Washington, D.C.
Although he spoke Serbian, had extended family in Montenegro and had visited the country 12 times, there was “still a bit of a culture shock,” he said.
His work is diverse, including serving as the liaison for Montenegro's prime minister at the NATO summit in Chicago and visiting refugee camps to promote human rights. He also is required to write monthly reports on topics such as human trafficking, money laundering and child labor.
“The work is really strenuous, but it's also really rewarding,” he said.