Dennis Cimbaljevich ’04 did not have to travel far from his hometown of Portage, Ind., to attend Valparaiso University, but his experiences as a student prepared him for a career that takes him around the world working for the United States Department of State.
“Wherever I am in the world, I still look back and reflect on those amazing times and memories,” Cimbaljevich said.
Cimbaljevich currently serves as a Political-Economic Officer at the United States Embassy in Podgorica, Montenegro, a country in Southeastern Europe along the Adriatic Sea.
In this role, Cimbaljevich works directly with Montenegro’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on issues of mutual concern, such as the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Initiatives. He also visits refugee camps to promote human rights and creates reports on a variety of subjects including political developments in the country, which can cover democratic development, electoral analysis, rule of law reform, and human rights issues. He has even served as the liaison for Montenegro’s prime minister at the North American Trade Organization annual summit in Chicago.
In 2012, Cimbaljevich returned to Valpo to share his experiences with current students as part of the Department of State’s Hometown Diplomats Program, which aims to put a hometown face on foreign policy and to explain what the Department of State does and why it matters.
Students filled the Lumina Room to its capacity to learn about diplomatic duties and how to prepare for a career in Foreign Service. Cimbaljevich encouraged them to develop a variety of skills, including verbal and written communication, technology, and language.
Cimbaljevich also challenged students to broaden their global experience by participating in a Study Abroad program. While he has family in Montenegro, had visited the country, and spoke the language — Serbian — there was still a culture shock when he first began his work at the embassy.
However, the skills he developed at Valpo enabled Cimbaljevich to adapt quickly. In fact, the semester he spent studying in Puebla, Mexico, during the spring of 2003 directly influenced his vocational path and prepared him for an international career.
“My semester abroad prepared me to acclimate to a new country quickly,” Cimbaljevich said. “For a profession that requires its employees to move to a new country every two to three years, being culturally adaptable is an invaluable trait.”
Cimbaljevich credits many of his experiences as a Valpo student to helping prepare him for the busy, high-pressure career he has now. As a Valpo student, he played oboe in the orchestra, was a student senator and president of the speech and debate team, and held leadership positions in a variety of honor societies. He also was active in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and was an Orientation Assistant, activities he considers to be among his most valuable at Valpo.
“What I remember most about Valpo are from my times as an Orientation Assistant and a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. The long nights and bonding with my peers had such a profound impact on my personal development,” Cimbaljevich said.
His academic experiences also prepared him for diplomatic work. Cimbaljevich participated in annual simulated negotiations on diplomatic issues, and some of these simulations were led by a Valpo alumnus who worked for the State Department. This introduction to the field sparked his interest and ultimately gave him the passion to pursue a career in foreign policy. He said the broad curriculum in the international economics and cultural affairs program prepared him well for his career.
“Having a diverse knowledge of economics, politics, history, and languages are all attributes necessary to live in a global environment and are all needed to perform my job,” Cimbaljevich said. “The focus on economics is particularly important, as economics and politics are so intertwined — there’s a correlation between a country’s economic development and its political stability and prosperity.”
While his work takes him far from his home at Valpo, Cimbaljevich made many important connections as a student here, and his closest friends are those he met at Valpo. Working in the State Department, his Valpo alumni connections include alumni who currently serve in Brazil and Eritrea.
“It’s incredible to see other Valpo grads all around the globe.”