Oglesby, Sam - Oral History Interview
MetadataShow full item record
Sitting in his kitchen in the South Bronx of New York City, Sam Oglesby explained that he had always thought about going to graduate school, ever since his undergraduate experience at the University of Virginia. As his undergraduate experience was not ideal, he wanted to go back to graduate school where he could ‘do it right’ the second time. After graduating from UVA, he was drafted into and did two years in the Army where he felt it was a wonderful experienced – it brought him into the real world and shaped him up. For those two years, he was in Libya. After the Army, though he thought graduate school would have been a good idea at the time, he opted to not do it then as he had landed himself in a job (like his father) as a diplomat in the State Department. Why, he thought, would he need to go to graduate school if he was already in the job that he wanted graduate school to help him get? So, he stayed in the State Department for some time, until he was suddenly let go (for reasons unbeknownst to him at the time – which he later heard, second hand, because he was gay). As an ex-diplomat and unemployed in Washington, D.C., he found himself in a depressed state and seeing the option to apply to graduate school, he decided to apply to SAIS, and he got in. After getting his MA, he was once again a happy camper…for that, he is thankful to SAIS. His most vivid memories of SAIS are of the Bologna. He recalls Professor Federico Mancini who taught Italian Politics. He was not only brilliant and extraordinarily articulate, he was most of all a human being who taught us to relate to Italy and get into the heart of Italy….the people, the politics, the culture. This taught him later, how to relate to different people and different cultures throughout his career. For him, SAIS was more about what was happening to him outside of the classroom than within the walls of academia. At the time, Bologna was run by the Italian Communist Party, very efficiently and rationally. He suddenly became aware as an American, who had been brought up on the platform of the evil Communists and the Cold War rhetoric, that the Italian Communists were sort of ‘Franklin Delano Roosevelt Democrats.’ The Italian Communist Party at the time was run by an Italian count and their agenda was very ‘New Deal Democrat.’ So, Oglesby went to Communist Party rallies, drank the wine, soaked up the food and the culture….and he rode his bike with one hand, while the other holding an open umbrella, with his girlfriend riding on the back. Though he continued to hold a U.S. passport, he felt that the experience in Bologna made him a citizen of the world. At the Washington, D.C. campus of SAIS, Oglesby recalls how exhilarating it was to walk out of a stimulating lecture by Professor Charlie Pearson (who is still lecturing therein international economics) or have a class with Professor Frank Tucker in international relations and then saunter over to Dupont Circle and hang out with the crowds of people. He describes that being in D.C. in the early 1970s was a special and exciting place to be. They were a time of foment and excitement in the U.S. and particularly in Washington, D.C. There was the Civil Rights Act that had just been passed, President Johnson’s Great Society program was in full swing, the protests against the Vietnam War were peaking….so, it was an edgy protesters place to be. It taught students to look at life beyond the academic shell. After his MA, Oglesby when on to get his Ph.D. at SAIS, completing all but his dissertation. In retrospect, Oglesby wishes he had completed his Ph.D. (though, more for the prestige than its practical use – once he got the UN job, it would not have made too much of a difference). He was soon thereafter recruited by the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Services, Foreign Affairs Division where he worked for several years as a Foreign Affairs Analyst before he joined the UN Development Program, where he spent the bulk of his career (30 years). As part of this, he was assigned to developing countries to work in their technical assistance programs, almost exclusively in Asia (lived in Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Bhutan, and Bangladesh). At the end, he came back to New York for his final assignment in the UN (for this part of his work, he went to many regions of the world with which he was not yet familiar, on various missions). He retired in the late 1990s from the UN and taught as an adjunct at Fordham University and NYU. He has since moved into the world of journalism, sometimes writing for the Washington Post and he has also written two books (the latest one being a memoir outlining my experiences over the last 30 years). In terms of advice for current students today, he strongly suggests that students hone and perfect their writing skills…this will help students advance in their jobs, no matter what it is.