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Monica Orillo moderated the Q&A session of a trilateral town hall with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Philip Goldberg. (Photo courtesy: Monica Orillo)

Monica Orillo’s graduate education at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa served as a launching pad to her future foreign service career with the U.S. Department of State.

Orillo, a native of Phoenix, Arizona, was a recipient of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which included funds for tuition and living expenses, as well as a five-year position as a public diplomacy officer with the U.S. Department of State after graduation.

person standing in front of the White House
Orillo at the White House during her internship in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy: Monica Orillo)

Orillo will graduate this spring with her master’s degree in Asian studies with a concentration in Southeast Asia and a graduate certificate in Philippine studies. She thankful for the lessons and opportunities she gained at UH Mānoa.

Hawaiʻi is a very interesting place to study Asian studies and get a really close-up perspective because of all the cultures that are present,” Orillo said. “I also learned a lot more about Pacific Island nations that I didn’t know about before coming from Arizona, and just the overall academic environment and culture of being critical and questioning things about American history that can be kind of challenging to talk about. I think it will be really beneficial.”

Through the fellowship, Orillo interned with the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. in summer 2023, learning about international relations and politics first-hand. Orillo worked in the Office of Maritime Southeast Asia and focused on island archipelago states, such as Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia.

Check out more stories of our UH spring graduates

“This was really perfect for me because that was exactly what I had been studying for that first year at UH Mānoa,” Orillo said. “I was getting the foundational knowledge about those countries, and then to be able to go to that particular office and see the more contemporary side of politics aside from what I’ve been studying—that was really cool.”

After graduation, Orillo will head to Vienna, Austria for an additional summer internship focused on nuclear policy, and will report to her position in Washington, D.C. in September.

Interest in foreign service career

person standing in front of flags
Orillo at the U.S. Department of State (Photo courtesy: Monica Orillo)

Orillo took advantage of every study abroad opportunity she had throughout high school and college. These included an internship with the U.S. Department of State and English teaching assistant with the Fulbright Program in Germany, and Pacific Forum Young Leaders Program participant and student affiliate with the East-West Center in Honolulu.

“I feel really interested in this kind of lifestyle of working on various topics because foreign service officers are pretty general—sometimes you’re working on human rights issues, to school exchanges or environmental issues. It’s pretty varied,”Orillo said. “I thought that variety was really interesting, and then of course, moving around every two to three years was something that appealed to me.”

Orillo encourages anyone interested in these issues to explore the programs that UH Mānoa has to offer, as well as the local network of think tanks and NGOs.

“Washington, D.C. and the government in general could really benefit from people who have the kind of perspective and critical mindset that you would be able to foster here specifically at the University of Hawaiʻi and this kind of academic environment,” Orillo said. “Government can be a really interesting way for people to see what kind of impact they can make on the world.”

—By Marc Arakaki

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Orillo speaking during her internship with Pacific Forum (Photo courtesy: Monica Orillo)
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