Growing up in Wisconsin, Tom Just wanted to become a pilot and travel the world, and he wasn’t willing to wait until adulthood to pursue his dreams.
He joined the Civil Air Patrol, the auxiliary arm of the Air Force, as a teenager. He spent seven years with the nonprofit organization, receiving flight training and providing emergency services, such as assisting with search and rescue missions.
German language classes in high school got him interested in international affairs, and he spent the summer before his senior year studying in Germany, the first of many trips he took to learn and work abroad.
“Instead of actually flying to places, I wanted to stay there,” said Just, who is the new legislative correspondent for Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.).
The summer before starting his undergraduate studies at Baylor University in Texas, he traveled around England as a part of the Civil Air Patrol’s international exchange program. He then returned to Germany during his junior year of college.
He double-majored in German and international studies, and after graduation, he immediately enrolled in the public policy graduate program at Pepperdine University in California.
“I like school,” said Just, who earned a master’s degree from Pepperdine. “I didn’t feel like I was done when I graduated from undergrad.”
While studying at Pepperdine, Just spent time in Poland, where he interned with the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although he had spent most of his academic career studying European politics, he was assigned to Middle Eastern and African affairs. “They kind of gave me a curveball there,” he said, explaining that he had to write reports about issues such as the Gaza flotilla raid in May 2010.
After earning his master’s, Just wanted to get to know his own country better. “It’s important to learn how your own government works,” he said about his decision to look for a job on the Hill.
The time abroad has helped prepare him for working in Petri’s office, where he writes letters to constituents and manages the Congressman’s website and Facebook page. “If you can relate to people in an international context, it’s a lot easier to relate to people at home,” he said.
He looks back fondly on his time abroad, and further travels might be in his future. Just would like to eventually work in international relations, either on the Hill or in academia. “I don’t like to plan too far ahead,” he said.