Toby Schwartz, Huron Almuna
September 2018 Interview
How did Huron enable you to be where you are at professionally today?
The key turning point was my exchange to Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. I was planning to go to Malta, but applied to Yonsei as a back-up in case I wasn't selected for Malta. Although I was looking forward to fun in the sun in Malta, I remember Dr. Crimmins and Dr. Vanio-Matilla pulling me aside to give me their advice that Korea would be a good choice for me, Everything that has happened to me personally and professionally since then has been shaped by the decision to go to Yonsei. Because of my time there, I developed a strong interest in inter-Korean relations and the prospects for Korean unification; I wrote my 4th year thesis on that issue. Upon graduating, I was selected for a highly sought-after internship at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, which at the time was also responsible for covering the DPRK. I have no doubt that my knowledge of the DPRK based on my studies was what set me apart for the position. Following my internship there, I received a number of contracts to work at what was then the Department of Foreign Affairs, and these contracts eventually turned into a permanent position - which brought me to where I am today. My entire career to-date has been focused on Canada's relations with various countries in East, South and Southeast Asia. On a personal level, I also began dating my husband while in Seoul - and we have been together ever since - through moves to Seoul, Beijing, Taiwan and Singapore,and now with two kids in tow.
What was the turning point at Huron when you realized you wanted to do global affairs?
There wasn't a turning point per se, as I had always known that I was interested in this line of work and had studied ICS and Political Science for this reason. Taking the courses at Huron in ICS, IPE, Political Theory, and International Relations served to confirm this interest for me. I really enjoyed these courses and I knew this was a field that I wanted to pursue.
Who helped you the most at Huron / made an impact on you?
Arja Vanio Matilla and Jim Crimmins were undoubtedly the most important figures for me. I took a number of courses with Arja, and she supervised my thesis, and I found her to be inspiring - a unique, passionate woman who really cared about the course material, her students, and the need to make the world a better place. Jim was similarly important to me, and although I took fewer courses with him, I also worked with him as a research assistant and so got to know him quite well. Both of them encouraged me to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship - something I never would have considered otherwise. I was shortlisted for the scholarship, and was interviewed in my home province of NS. Although I wasn't selected (nerves got the better of me during the interview) I have always felt appreciative that they encouraged me to go through that experience and believed that I had a shot at something of that nature, and I have kept in touch with both of them over the years. David Blair was also really a great professor and I enjoyed his courses and his perspective on international affairs.
Tell me about what you do now?
I am a foreign service officer with Global Affairs Canada.
What were you doing in Singapore and expand on your role?
I am Counsellor, Political and Public Affairs in the Foreign Policy and Diplomacy Service section at the High Commission of Canada. I am in charge of a small team that manages our bilateral relationship with Singapore, including organizing and managing visits, providing political reporting and advice, dealing with the media, showcasing Canadian arts and culture, and promoting Canadian foreign policy priorities. Since Singapore is also chairing the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) in 2018, I am also working on this regional issue to some extent, including by providing advice on how best to advance Canadian priorities in relation to Singapore's ASEAN Chairmanship priorities. We work closely with the other teams at the High Commission, including the Commercial and Defence teams in particular.
How was it being in Singapore during the summit?
It was really interesting for me on many levels. First, of course because I had studied and followed the Korean Peninsula and related issues for many years, and I thus had the chance to witness the Summit from an (almost) front row seat, and do some reporting on this based on what we observed (although we had no involvement in the Summit itself). I never expected to be covering this while in Singapore; no one could have predicted this a year, or even a few months ago. Second, regardless of what happens next, the meeting itself was historic, and so it was meaningful to be here, witnessing history in the making.
Third, I also had the chance to reunite with a close friend who I'd met at Yonsei, who works as a journalist and came to Singapore to cover the Summit. It was great to chat with her and hear her perspective on the current state of affairs on the Korean peninsula, as someone very close to the issue.
Does any event during your time in Singapore stand out in your mind?
Celebrating CANADA 150 in Singapore was great. We held a range of events to engage the public, and shared some of the best of Canada's rich diverse culture with Singaporeans. Singapore and Canada share the characteristic of being diverse, multicultural societies, so although we are about as far apart in the world as you can get geographically, there are some cultural similarities that bring our two countries together. It's also always great to organize and see through Ministerial visits, and there have been several since I arrived, as high level engagement really helps to move a bilateral relationship forward. Finally, I have to say that arranging a feminist film festival last year - which we named "Smash the Glass" was very rewarding, as we promoted women's empowerment and gender equality through a series of first-rate Canadian films, and I think these events resonated well with local audiences.