Language grad sets sights on international diplomacy, military career

By

Alisa Reznick

Joseph Conant has planned on joining the U.S. Navy since he was a child.

Coming to Arizona State University, he zeroed in on the usual steps to get there. Conant joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program on campus and declared a physics major, part of the science, technology and math fields typically favored by military scholarships.

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But three semesters in and hit by a waning interest in the track, he looked to a more familiar path.

“I knew I wasn’t really feeling my physics major,” he said. “So I turned to French because I had taken a lot of it in high school, and Arabic came next.”

Conant graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in French, minors in Arabic and military leadership, and a certificate in Arabic studies, all from The College of Liberal Arts and SciencesSchool of International Letters and Cultures.

While he still eyes a future in the U.S. Navy, he’s forged a unique path to accomplish the goal. A turning point came after his junior year, when he took a chance on an opportunity abroad.

“I decided to take two semesters off of ASU and place a hold on my scholarship money to study Arabic at Qatar University,” he said.

Using funds from the Boren Scholarship, a national security-focused program funding long-term study abroad trips for undergraduate students in the U.S., Conant spent a year in Qatar’s capital Doha. Returning to ASU after a full-time language immersion and a truly global classroom made it all seem worth it.

“I added Arabic to my studies not to look better on paper, but because I actually wanted to have those skills and international experience moving forward,” he said. “My language skills before and after Qatar were worlds apart, so it was really impactful.”

Conant talked about his time at ASU and what’s next after graduation.

 

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to pursue a career in your field?

A: Changing my major didn't necessarily dictate a change in my career plans, but coming back from Qatar really made me focus on this more diplomatically-minded track. Naval attache, ambassador and everything else — those are goals I have to work toward after making a conscious decision. And I feel like a big part of that had to do with my change in perspective.

I could have just stuck with physics, but in the end I realized I have more of a passion for the kind of thing I’m doing now. Studying diplomacy and conflict resolution helps you into jobs with the very specific goal of using diplomatic means to solve problems, and trying to do so as a first, second and even third step before military action.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I feel like this kind of applies to whatever you studied, but especially being a humanities major, you get the chance to be around so many different perspectives that you can then apply to facets of your own life. I think the biggest thing about going to university is the diversity — of gender, ethnic background, thought, opinion and beliefs. I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles that didn’t have a lot of that. Coming to ASU, one of the largest universities in the country, gave me the opportunity.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was supposed to initially commission literally the next day after graduation, but I actually got accepted to a master’s program in diplomacy and conflict resolution in Israel. I’ll do that for a year and I'll commission when I return and head to flight school.

Midshipman usually major in science, technology, engineering or math. So as someone focused on foreign languages, I'm atypical. Eventually I want to use my language, culture and international experiences to be a foreign area officer, which is basically the U.S. Navy’s version of a diplomatic officer.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor Neimeh Mousa has been ever-present in my Arabic language learning process. I began my first semester with her and have interacted with her during every semester I've had in Arabic since.

I really appreciate her as a person and how she approaches teaching. She has written my letters of recommendation for both Qatar and Israel. So she has been immensely impactful.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: There's so many things I wish I knew, some of which I'm not even sure I know now. But I guess my advice would be to make sure you form meaningful relationships with your professors because they're directly responsible for how good you look on paper and your letters of recommendation. They were there when you came in as a student and they’ll usually be there when you leave, so forming lasting ties with them can be really helpful to your future.