Office of Global Citizenship

Global Citizen Spotlight: Julie (Vibul) Jolles

After graduating from Sewanee with a degree in economics in 2001, Julie (Vibul) Jolles took up a career in foreign service. In the last twelve years, she has been posted in Bogota, Paris, Jerusalem, Washington, and New York, working on projects ranging from economic affairs to political affairs to war crimes. In her current position at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, she has focused on political and security affairs in central and southern Africa and drafted briefs and remarks for Security Council sessions.

Over the course of her (still young) career in the foreign service, Jolles has learned that people around the world “are all pretty much alike, and our daily concerns are very much alike.  When I have spoken to people under fire ‌and in the middle of conflict, their concerns are things we can all relate to.  They complain about their kids being in the house all day and driving them crazy, they worry about running out of food, and sometimes they even speculate about where they would like to be if they die from a rocket attack.  Even in the worst of times, we are all just people and our daily concerns are at the forefront of our thinking.”  Among her several postings and roles, Jolles recalls the following highlight from her work in the foreign service: “From 2012 until 2015 I covered Gaza economic issues and Palestinian (West Bank and Gaza) water and electricity issues at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. The Obama Administration restarted peace talks during this time, and I was part of the conversation about specific economic confidence building measures for the Palestinians. Water pipelines and electricity lines that few had focused on became important points of discussion, and I was the U.S. official providing details about the issues.”

Jolles’s work in foreign service positions her well to reflect on what it means to be a “global citizen.” She defines global citizenship in the following way, “Global citizenship is about moral decision making and attempting to make decisions with a view to the global impact they have.” Although global citizens are conscious of the global impact of their decisions and actions, they cannot always optimize their impact, as Jolles noted. “Global citizenship is about trying to the best of our ability to understand the impact our actions have on others.  It is about thinking about where our diamonds come from, and how our trash will affect future generations, and what policies are best for the global community. I think often about Pareto Optimal solutions, which I learned about at Sewanee. We aren’t going to create policies that are perfect everywhere all the time, but we can seek to find outcomes that are the best they can be for all involved.”

In her work, Jolles has had to move to several new cultures and not only adapt but quickly learn how to act effectively. She credits her Sewanee education with helping prepare for this aspect of her work: “Sewanee taught me about community and taught me how to relate to others. My job is about making friends and influencing their thinking. I move from place to place and have to quickly make friends and build alliances, often with people that are very different from me. Sewanee taught me how to get to know people on an honest level. It also taught me how to be presentable in formal settings. The dress tradition and Sewanee’s focus on tradition helped me to understand how to show respect and act respectfully.”

Having worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations and several Secretaries of State, Jolles has seen a number of changes in foreign policy and approaches to foreign relations. Such shifts can prove a challenge to officers in the diplomatic corps. Jolles explains what keeps her motivated to work in the foreign service: “I hope that even when I am carrying out policy I disagree with, I am doing it in a manner that makes the policy better.  For example, I have refused many non-immigrant visas that I wanted to approve. Often, I cried when refusing the visas. While I did not like the policy, I was always proud to carry out the will of the American people, and I hoped that doing it in a manner that was respectful and thoughtful I might have helped the applicant to understand the policy and make better decisions going forward.”

The Office of Global Citizenship is glad to claim Julie (Vibul) Jolles as a “global citizen” and graduate of The University of the South. We hope that her story will inspire others to enter into foreign service.