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SAIS Public Service Scholar Balances Coursework and Family

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Ligia Toffoli
MIPP '22

1. Tell us about your background and what you were doing before attending the school? 
I have been a Brazilian diplomat for the past 12 years and served in Brazil’s embassies in Pretoria, South Africa, and here in Washington, DC.

2. What encouraged you to apply to Johns Hopkins SAIS? 
I always wanted to pursue a graduate degree in the U.S., and with my experiences working in the Brazilian embassy here in Washington, DC, the idea of actualizing my academic vision here was quite enticing. Being able to delve into issues I follow professionally seemed really attractive and beneficial to complement my knowledge about the U.S. and international affairs in general. SAIS had an interesting program for mid-career professionals, and I did not want to miss the chance of applying before leaving for another post!

3. How has the Public Service Scholars Program benefitted you, and what do you hope to gain from it?
It was an incentive to take an unpaid leave from work and enroll in a master’s program full-time. I initially planned to do it part-time while working. Now that I know how much I have to study and how much there is to learn from the courses, I am sure the full-time option allows me to be much more dedicated and gain more from the program. I am very grateful for being in the program, and I hope to contribute to strengthening our network and encourage more people to develop academically and engage in public service.

4. How do you balance the responsibilities of juggling school, work, and raising children?
I am not currently working, and I am sure I would not have been able to juggle all that if I was. But even studying full time and raising two children (an eight-year-old daughter of 8 and a six-year-old son) is harder than trying to balance work and family. But at least my schedule is more flexible, and I am intellectually very satisfied. I usually study when my kids are at school, after they go to bed, on the weekends, or when they have some TV time. I also count a lot on my husband, especially when I have evening classes or have a paper deadline.

5. What has been one of your favorite classes or experiences at the school so far?
I found all the four classes I took last semester were incredibly high quality, with top professors and great readings and discussions. My favorite course was International Migration, Diaspora and Development because of the level of complexity and comprehensiveness of the topics discussed in Starr Foundation Professor of South Asian Studies Devesh Kapur’s lectures.

6. What do you hope to do with your degree after you graduate?
I hope to pursue research or applied work related to international migration, either in the Brazilian government or at an international organization. Also, I may pursue a doctorate degree in the future, if I survive this wonderful but highly challenging master’s experience.

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