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Department of Social Anthropology



                                                                                                                                                                              January 2023

Dear alumni, 

I hope this open letter finds you well. Life pursuing an MPhil in Social Anthropology has been quite illuminating, and I hope you have fond memories of your time in Cambridge! Cambridge has presented a plethora of opportunities for those looking to explore future career paths, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the Anthropology and Diplomacy seminar organised by our Department as part of the Anthropology Beyond the Academy series. Held on the 8th of November 2022, I was pleasantly surprised to see both faculty and students, both undergraduate and graduate, present at the seminar. 

The grace and candour of our seminar speaker, Dr Cornelia Sorabji CBE, who serves as Counsellor on Strategy & External Expertise at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) of the UK Government left a deep impression. The substantive material she openly shared, along with the clear and detailed slides she prepared, helped me gain further insight into the life of a UK diplomat, and I learnt about the various tracks of diplomacy practiced in the government. 

I was also delighted to discover that academic rigour was still relevant beyond the academy, and our anthropological training helps us ask important questions about generalisations that may otherwise be taken prima facie, for instance, when it comes to learning the cultural norms of diplomats from other countries. In addition, the day-to-day exercises for a foreign relations officer, for instance, a fictional brief to a foreign minister shared, alongside an action-oriented template provided further insight into the considerations of diplomatic reports. 

Beyond providing a taster into life as a diplomat, Dr Sorabji also delved into the soft skills required, including lessons on communication, which could be applied to any career. We learnt for instance, the significance of process and timing when it comes to any negotiation, including those involving a country’s diplomatic goals. The question-and-answer session at the end was also revelatory in understanding an insider’s take on the diplomatic arrangements of other countries. I personally enjoyed the informal after-seminar drinks at a pub which allowed for even more interesting and candid questions to be asked. I am thankful for her time and patience in answering our incessant questions. 

Clearly a fruitful interaction, this talk provided an invaluable opportunity to shine a light on how our anthropological imagination equips us with skills that would help us thrive in alternative career trajectories. Perhaps we can all make the world a safer place for differences, and I look forward to attending more of such seminars in future!

Joanna Tan, MPhil student 2022-23