Three Zimbabwe delegates discover a common thread: SIT

SIT alumni Todd Moss, Michelle Gavin, and Alex Noyes in rural Zimbabwe
SIT alumni Todd Moss, Michelle Gavin, and Alex Noyes in rural Zimbabwe
Left to right: SIT alumni Todd Moss, Michelle Gavin, and Alex Noyes in Zimbabwe

When three foreign policy experts met up this summer on an excursion to Zimbabwe, they discovered an unusual fact. Their careers all sprang from the same place: SIT Study Abroad.

Todd Moss is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a Washington, DC, think tank that addresses global policy. In 2007-08, he worked for the U.S. State Department as deputy assistant secretary for West Africa.

The road to that position began in 1990, when he went to Zimbabwe with SIT. “I was just some suburban kid from Rochester with no connection to Africa,” Todd said. “I thought it would be cool to spend a semester overseas. When I got off the plane in Harare, Zimbabwe, I was surprised. Africa sounded exotic, romantic – turned out it was pretty regular. The Harare skyline looks a lot like Rochester, New York!”

He describes his homestay family as “wonderful,” but also not as different as he had expected. “The parents were both teachers, and at dinner we just talked about what we did that day – sports, traffic, things like that. It was all very normal and familiar in a way I hadn’t expected.”

His experience had a profound effect. “I found it almost endearing – the world suddenly seemed like an endless opportunity. I thought, ‘Maybe you should break out of your bubble!’”

Todd said his career “all comes back to getting that start with SIT. It introduced me to a whole new world and got me hooked on the idea of being a good global citizen. Eventually, I decided to dedicate my career to helping the U.S. build relationships with our allies in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Todd Moss’ fellow travelers on the Zimbabwe excursion are also highly accomplished in careers with roots in their SIT experiences. The three were part of an excursion to examine the political situation in Zimbabwe in the run-up to that country’s first election since 1987 without longtime ruler Robert Mugabe.

Michelle Gavin is senior fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and was the U.S. ambassador to Botswana from 2011-14. She was a special assistant to President Obama and senior director for Africa at the National Security Council, where she helped originate the Young African Leaders Initiative. Before her time in the administration, she worked in several foreign policy roles in the U.S. Senate.

That impressive resume began at SIT Study Abroad in Cameroon. “SIT was my first experience outside the U.S., and set the course for much of my career,” Michelle said. “I’m very grateful to have had the broadening experience of studying abroad in a context that encouraged independent research, thereby getting me out of a small circle of expats and really engaged with people on the ground.”

The third SIT alum on the Zimbabwe trip was Alex Noyes, senior associate with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Alex is also an adjunct political scientist at the RAND Corporation, and adjunct research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses. From 2015-17, he led the Niger and Nigeria team at the White House’s U.S. Security Governance Initiative.

Alex studied with SIT in Brazil. “I had a great learning experience during my time in Brazil. We were the first program in that location,” Alex said, “but that worked well with my style of learning through doing.”

That experience deepened his interest in international politics “and demonstrated the importance of field work, or ‘being there,’ that can be absent from mainstream political science.”

For Todd Moss, long experience in international relations has also led to an unusual side career – he’s the author of the highly praised Ryker novels, which have been described as a series of “diplomatic thrillers,” mixing elements of espionage and policymaking. (For more on his writing, check out this site.)

Todd said when he meets fellow SIT alumni, there’s a common thread. “Almost everyone says it changed their lives, opened their eyes. It changed the realm of the possible for their careers.”

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About the Author: James Heflin