How my ANU postgraduate law degree kick-started my international career

Lucia Cipullo
Lucia spearheaded the organisation of the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement in Geneva in 2019.

I’ve often said this and it sounds very cliché, but doing my Master in International Law at ANU literally changed my life.

For Lucia Cipullo (BA ’08, MIntL (Hons) ’10), pursuing an international career was a dream nurtured by her multicultural upbringing. 

Born to Dutch and Italian parents in Hong Kong, Lucia moved to Canberra to undertake her high school and tertiary studies: a Bachelor of Arts followed by a Master of Laws (International Law) at The Australian National University (ANU).

During her latter degree, Lucia participated in the ANU Law Geneva Program, a transformative study experience that allowed her to witness international law first-hand at the home of the United Nations’ in Europe. It also paved the way for her career that has spanned Asia, Africa and South America.

Today, she is the Head of Project for Movement Meetings at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Perhaps aptly, it’s a role that has allowed her to come ‘full circle’ by returning to Geneva.

In this Q&A, Lucia reflects on how her postgraduate law studies helped launch her global career.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, including your current role and what inspires you?

I left Australia just over 10 years ago, and have been living and working abroad since then. I’ve spent much of my career working in South East Asia for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. I was an Australian Red Cross delegate seconded to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), where I focused on a specialised area of international law known as ‘International Disaster Response Law’ (or ‘IDRL’). I moved to Geneva, Switzerland, four years ago and I am currently working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the ‘Head of Project for Movement Meetings’.

I am essentially in charge of coordinating the preparation and conduct of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s ‘statutory meetings’. These are the highest decision-making bodies of the biggest humanitarian movement in the world, and I am involved in every aspect – from strategising, to substance, to politics, to logistics – the list goes on!

In terms of what inspires me, I always knew I wanted to live and work abroad in an international environment, and with people. It might sound silly, but I really thrive on meeting, working and being with people from all over the world. I was in an international environment since the day I was born, and I think it has always stuck with me. I have been fortunate to have had a career so far that has enabled me to do what inspires me, and which has taken me to many corners of the world – from Myanmar, to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), to Kazakhstan, to Argentina, to South Sudan and so on. I have met so many incredible people who have impacted me in different ways, and made me who I am.

2. Why did you pursue your Master of Laws, in particular specialising in International Law?

I’ve often said this and it might sound cliché, but doing my Masters in International Law at ANU literally changed my life. In terms of my career, I knew I needed to study further and ensure I was qualified to pursue the international life and career that I desired. I was interested in law, but not in terms of litigation or commercial law or private law. I wanted something to give an edge to my background in International Relations and Political Science, and I wanted to do it quickly so I could get to work.

The Master of Laws (International Law) at ANU really appealed to me as I was able to complete it in about 18 months, and few (if any) universities in Australia were offering a Masters specifically in Public International Law, which was the only type of law I was interested in at the time. This degree was my portal to Geneva and the international humanitarian scene there. Through this degree, I was able to specialise in International Humanitarian Law (IHL), climate law, and the world of international organisations – and it was during a specialised course that I did in Geneva as part of my Masters that I secured my first internship at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the rest came after that.

3. What were some of the challenges you faced during your postgraduate studies and how did you overcome them?

It was definitely one of the most stressful periods of my life. I think the combination of being ambitious, but not coming from an undergraduate legal background and therefore thinking, ‘My gosh, am I out of my depth here?’, learning new concepts and also being in a cohort with a really solid calibre of peers was daunting.

I was also working two to three part-time jobs at any given time, and undertaking a voluntary internship, so the workload was tough. Keeping my ‘eyes on the prize’ and remembering my long-term ambition of being able to work abroad really helped. I also made some wonderful friends who really made a difference. Some of them remain among my closest friends today and we have managed to see each other in places like Indonesia, Myanmar, India and Thailand – places where we have all ended up working.

4. Since graduation in 2010 you’ve worked internationally. How did your time at ANU shape your views and your career outlook?

I graduated in July 2010 and left Australia in September 2010 to move to Geneva for my first international position. I loved being at ANU and I think having the opportunity to meet and work with students from within and outside Australia and have lecturers and tutors from abroad who brought different perspectives helped shape my outlook. I was fortunate to meet many likeminded people and also have good friends and mentors to help guide me on my way.

5. What advice would you give students striving to balance work and personal life commitments with the rigours of postgraduate study? How can they stand out and make a difference?

My advice is simple: do the work, seize every opportunity you can, and don’t forget to make time for yourself. I am very fortunate because I had an incredibly supportive family and friends behind me while I undertook my Masters degree, but I absolutely worked the hardest I ever did during my university life.

I also networked the hardest. I put myself out there. I reached out to people, as uncomfortable or nerve-racking as it can be. I seized every opportunity I could – you have to. The competition is tough, and I had my fair share of knock-backs. But keep going!

I also recommend reminding yourself to take a break through all the hard work: go for a walk for 30 minutes; have lunch with a friend; talk to your family; have a cup of tea; or watch mindless TV for an hour. Even to this day, I try my best to make time for myself because it’s the most important thing. The better you feel, the more you’ll be able to achieve.

Ready to launch your global career? Start your Master of Laws studies today.

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Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team