Hailing from Fort Wayne, Indiana, with a determination to help people, my career as a Foreign Service Officer has taken me from China, to Istanbul, to Pakistan, to Singapore, and to every Disney Park around the world.
It all started at a small Christian liberal arts college called Calvin University in western Michigan, where I studied Interdisciplinary East Asian Studies. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study because I was interested in so many things—theater, languages, religion, history–but one thing was certain, I wanted to travel. I am very interested in the rest of the world. I chose Calvin because they had an established study abroad program, which took me to Italy, China, and Hungary, where I met a Foreign Service Officer for the first time. Learning about our diplomatic corps was incredibly exciting, and that chance encounter helped me to find this career path.
Growing up in a Christian environment, I felt I was called to learn Chinese. All three summers during college, I taught English in China, putting my Chinese language skills to good use. After graduation, I moved back to China to teach English full-time for two years, and then returned to the U.S. to study Chinese Pedagogy in graduate school with the plan to continue teaching. However, I wasn’t happy with my master’s program. When I mentioned this to my family, my mom reminded me of the Foreign Service Officer I met during my semester abroad, and how the Foreign Service would be the perfect job for me. She encouraged me to take the entrance exam, and since it’s free, I had nothing to lose. I took the test and while I waited for the results, I returned to China on a Critical Language Scholarship, funded by the U.S. government, and designed to connect people from different disciplines, who are interested in the same region, language, or culture.
In March 2008, I passed the written exam for the Foreign Service. The next step was the oral exam in Washington, D.C., which I passed that fall. And the rest is history.
I knew diplomats existed, but I assumed I could never be one. I thought the President had to choose you or you had to attend an Ivy League school. I think most Americans still have no idea that anyone could study and apply, and while only 1 to 2% make it through the process, the group is diverse, with varying skill sets and backgrounds.
I’m now in my 13th year working as a consular officer, helping people in times of crisis, or reuniting them with their relatives. It feels good to help people pursue their dreams of doing business, studying in the United States, or finally taking that trip they’ve always dreamed of.
If you’re a curious person like me, it’s hard to get bored or tired of this job. I am continuously learning new skills, languages, and cultures. During my career, I have worked in visa units, Fraud Prevention, American Citizen Services, and I now manage a team.
One of the highlights of my career was attending the opening ceremony of Shanghai Disney with Ambassador Max Baucus and getting to ride the Tron rollercoaster with him. There’s nothing like wearing a business suit to a Disney theme park! It was very exciting as the CEO of Disney was there and my love for Disney (and Marvel) runs deep. I have “bid” on jobs because the location was home to a Disney Park. I just returned from Disneyland Paris where I celebrated my birthday with friends.
In between planning for my next Disney trip, Minerva, my Turkish street cat (named after Professor McGonagall in Harry Potter) and I are loving Singapore.
Thanks to studying abroad, teaching, and my career, I have friends in all corners of the globe and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do what I love most–travel, visit Disney, and help Americans and others who would like to visit the U.S.
~ Beth Holcombe, Consular Officer, U.S. Embassy Singapore