Alumni Spotlight: An Interview with Joshua Trinidad

Joshua Trinidad, CUNY BA Alum

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview are Mr. Trinidad’s own and do not reflect the views of the State Department in any way.

Joshua Trinidad (World Languages and Literatures/Translation and Interpretation Studies, Hunter College ‘13) is a former CUNY BA student and a current Consular Officer based in Sydney, Australia. As a student, Joshua was the recipient of the Rangel Graduate Fellowship, which allowed him to pursue a career in Foreign Service. Brittany Rodriguez (Neuroscience, Brooklyn College ’22) recently interviewed Joshua to learn about his experiences with CUNY BA and how being a CUNY BA graduate led him to his position today with the State Department.

Brittany Rodriguez: Can you tell us about how you found your way to CUNY BA? 

Joshua Trinidad: I was studying Japanese, French & Spanish Literature, and Spanish Translation/Interpretation at CUNY Hunter College because I have a keen interest in foreign languages and translation. So I was trying to figure out the best way to pursue a major that encompassed all of these courses, and one day a student came to our class and made a short announcement in the first five minutes about the CUNY BA program. I thought that it would be the perfect way to take all the varied courses I had done and organize them into a specific major. I also loved the idea of being able to take additional Japanese courses at other CUNY schools.

BR: When did you graduate, and what was your area of concentration?

JT: I finished my studies in 2012, in Paris actually, but officially graduated in 2013. I received a double-major BA in World Languages and Literatures and Translation and Interpretation Studies

BR: What career did you have in mind when you designed that area of concentration?

JT: My original thought was to become a conference interpreter or translator, but after studying abroad my last year and hearing from State Department representatives about careers in the Foreign Service, I decided that that was the career I wanted to pursue.

BR: How has CUNY BA helped you reach your career goals?

JT: Well first, if it hadn’t been for my CUNY BA advisor telling me about the Rangel Fellowship program, I would have had a much more difficult time becoming a Foreign Service Officer, and I wouldn’t have been able to get a Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia. My CUNY BA advisor was also the one to encourage me to consider a career in the Foreign Service. She saw my interest in foreign languages and cultures from all over the world, rather than a specific region, and she must have seen the makings of a diplomat in my academic achievements. Additionally, the nature of the CUNY BA program puts a lot of autonomy and responsibility in the student’s hands. I had to really think through how to build my plan of studies, and take the initiative to identify and work with a CUNY professor to solidify the plan. It helped instill in me a confidence in my ability to achieve important objectives independently, an aptitude for collaborating with others on important projects, as well as strong planning and organization skills.   

BR: What attracted you to CUNY BA over a traditional undergraduate program?

JT: I believe that the CUNY BA program provides more individual support to the student and empowers them to take the reins of their education. For those whose educational and career goals don’t fit neatly into a box, having the flexibility CUNY BA offers can be more beneficial than a traditional rigid or prescribed program of study. That’s exactly what I got from the CUNY BA program and it’s why I was a good candidate for the Foreign Service.

BR: How did you find out about the Rangel Fellowship?

JT: My advisor at CUNY BA was the one who first informed me of the opportunity. I vaguely remember at the time thinking it sounded nice, but not believing I’d qualify, or that I could ever become a Foreign Service Officer. She was the one who encouraged me to pursue it. She believed in me and it changed the course of my life for the better.

BR: Can you tell us about your experience in the fellowship, and how it led you to your current position?

JT: The Rangel Graduate Fellowship is an incredible program that offers high-achieving students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity for professional development and a congressional summer internship in Washington, D.C., two years of graduate study in a field related to the Foreign Service, and an internship at a U.S. embassy or consulate overseas. I arrived in Washington, D.C. in 2015 and got to intern for the congresswoman from my district in Queens. I learned a lot about how Washington works and the State Department’s role in that. Outside the normal working hours of the internship, I participated in several professional development sessions provided by the Rangel program that helped equip me with the skills necessary to pass the Foreign Service exams and to have a fruitful career as a U.S. Diplomat. I then did my first year of graduate school at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), followed by a summer internship at Embassy Tokyo. This internship helped me get a feel for how Foreign Service Officers operate in the field. I finished my last year of grad school after that, and in 2017 I joined the 191st “A-100” orientation class at the State Department training facility in Washington. As a Rangel Fellow, if you complete all the requirements of the program – including the test – you are guaranteed a spot in an A-100 class after graduation. My current position as a Consular Officer in Sydney, Australia is purely a product of the Department’s entry-level bidding system. 

BR: If you could offer any advice to a CUNY BA student, what would it be?

JT: I would first advise them to look into the Foreign Service as a career (shameless plug). The CUNY BA program attracts a diverse array of talented, independent-minded students; the ideal profile for a U.S. diplomat. Second, I would advise them to take advantage of any and all study abroad programs possible. The unique nature of the CUNY BA program made me an attractive candidate for the Gilman Scholarship, the Critical Language Scholarship, and the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (which I did after graduating in 2013). And of course, studying abroad is a fun and enriching experience. Even if you don’t go into a career in international affairs, you can gain a lot from it. And finally, I would encourage them to relentlessly pursue a perfect balance between their dreams and aspirations and practical career demands when designing their program of studies with their faculty mentor and to take advantage of all the varied course offerings that the CUNY family has to offer them.