Jhoalmo Sibrian ('17) came to the U.S. as an immigrant from El Salvador.
He is now on track to become a U.S. diplomat.
He was awarded the 2021 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship, which will fund his master's degree in public policy at Harvard University. Jhoalmo currently works for the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Public Policy Fellow and will then transfer to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as a Rangel Fellow. After completing his master's and an internship at a U.S. embassy overseas, he will be assigned to a post in a foreign country in 2023.
"It means so much because my mom came to the U.S. seeking refuge from a 12-year civil war and, thanks to her grit and support, this also is her American dream," Sibrian says. "I am extremely grateful for all her work and sacrifice. I am here because of her, and I am honored to join a cohort that represents the strength and diversity of the United States."
Sibrian's path to international diplomacy began as a teenager, when he volunteered with an umbrella group of organizations, including LULAC and the International Rescue Committee, that helped immigrants and he was intrigued by their stories.
"I became invested in learning why they fled," he says. "At the same time, their stories were very similar to mine, including some of the reasons why they came to U.S. seeking refuge such as family reunification, danger and dire conditions, political instability, and the lack of educational and professional opportunities in their countries. It sparked that passion to want to be involved in advocating for their rights and making sure their voices are heard."
Sibrian learned about the foreign service while attending Tarrant County College. He transferred to UNT in 2015, where he earned a Terry Scholarship and a bachelor's degree in international studies specializing in Europe; Latin America; and security and diplomacy. He absorbed the lessons in his Latin American, sociology and anthropology courses.
"Those classes allowed me to understand my background a bit more and helped to develop skills I could use in a world transformed by global forces, shifting political borders, ethnic tensions, inequities and systematic barriers," he says.
After graduation, he served as a fellow in the Fulbright program for two years. He served as an English teaching assistant at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia -- and ended up teaching his own classes.
Then in 2020, he was selected as one of 14 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Fellows across the U.S. He moved to Washington, D.C., where his tasks included everything from attending meetings to writing legislation and letters to heads of state.
"I thought I already knew about the process of how Congress worked," he says. "I think being part of it and seeing the kind of impact they can have has really surprised me. Seeing it in action is, "Wow, there's so much power.'"
And, he adds, "Some individuals, like anyone else, are very human."
He knows he doesn't have the typical story compared to other colleagues, who come from Ivy League colleges or wealthy families.
"Every day, I am mesmerized by the opportunity of being there," he says. "Most people don't come from the background as an immigrant and someone from a low-income family. For example, someone once told me, "People like you don't come around here often.' I think that says a lot about the people I interact with. I have worked my way to this point."
As soon as the fellowship is over, Sibrian then proceeds with the Rangel fellowship and will intern with the House Foreign Relations Committee.
This fall, Sibrian will move to Boston to study public policy at Harvard University. In 2022, after the first year of graduate school, he will work an internship at a U.S. Embassy overseas.
In 2023, he'll receive his assignment as a diplomat. Sibrian says he would love to work in Thailand because he is intrigued by its food and culture.
But he is open to working in any country -- and his main goal remains helping others.
"I know there will be challenges," he says. "But I'm a lifelong learner and trust my personal, professional and academic background."