Repost from Women of Color Living Abroad 2011

Have you ever wanted to know what goes on at an Embassy or imagined being invited to an Embassy party to rub elbows with a diplomat? Well, if any of that interests you, then you may want to think about a career as a Foreign Service Officer.

Foreign Service Officers are diplomats employed by the U.S. Department of State. As a Foreign Service Officer you could work at any one of the 265 U.S. embassies and consulates around the world working on the implementation of foreign policy, insuring the interests of the U.S. government abroad, as well as assisting American citizens who are living and working in foreign countries.

As a Foreign Service Officer, there are five different career tracks that you may enter: Consular officer, Economic officer, Management officer, Political Officer, and Public Diplomacy Officer. If you are interested in learning more, please click on the link below. (

From English Teacher to Foreign Service Officer

Joia Starks, U.S. Consular Office in Barbados 

Joia Starks is a 2005 graduate of Hampton University. During her studies, she had an opportunity to study abroad in Mexico with a Spanish immersion program and after graduating from college, she spent 5 weeks studying abroad in Paris. Shortly after she graduated  with a degree in Marketing she moved to New York City and worked in corporate America for a couple of years, but after waking up in tears with no desire to go to work, she realized that she was unfulfilled. She missed being abroad and being in another culture experiencing new things.

So, in October 2007 she actually moved to South Korea to teach English as a second language for a year. It was nothing like the stories that she read in her youth, which is what began her adventures abroad, but it was the beginning of what would actually change her life forever.  

Teaching English in Korea

Joia, describe how you felt when you moved to Korea?
“I was super nervous. I had a lot of anxiety because I had never been to Asia and I didn’t speak Korean and I didn’t know anyone other than one person who I met on Dave’s ESL CafĂ©. I think my friends and family were more worried than I was, but because they were so nervous it made me not as nervous. I was really excited because I was embarking on what could be the most amazing adventure of my life.”

What was the best thing about living in Korea?
“There are so many great things about Korea. I really developed a good core group of friends, both expats and Koreans, which felt like family. We just clicked right away. That made the experience good. I love the food, and the vibrancy of the city. Seoul is a pretty safe place to be and I liked going out on the town eating all night and drinking. If I wanted to go to museums, I was able to do that as well.”

Was there anything negative about being abroad or being in Korea?
Yeah, I think anywhere, there are going to be some downsides. I would say the hardest thing about being and living anywhere abroad is the transition when you are trying to get settled and comfortable in this new place and it’s not yet clicking. So, my first four or five months it was a little rough because I didn’t have my core group of friends, I was missing home, I couldn’t read anything and I could barely go to the grocery store without having a melt-down. So, I think that adjusting in a new place can be a bit of a negative experience if you are just not use to it.”

What was the biggest difference from living abroad and being back home in New Jersey or was there a difference?
“I would say the biggest difference would obviously be the language. I moved to Korea not knowing Korean. Yeah, I had my little travel guide, but when you try to use it, you sound really silly. Another thing is not driving and still trying to get around the city and my little neighborhood and not that I was ever the majority in America, but in Korea I was really a minority and that was kind of difficult at first.”

When you left Korea what was the biggest thing that you took away from Korea, as far as your experience?
Basically, living in Korea is when I decided I wanted to join the State Department. So, it gave me a sense of purpose. I went to Korea wanting to challenge myself and discover new things about myself.  I think I realized that I was cut out for this type of lifestyle and I really wanted to live abroad as a career and find ways to make a difference in people’s lives in a non-traditional way. So, my biggest takeaway was building my confidence and feeling like I set out to do something, I accomplished it, and I have come out with a better sense of who I am and what I am capable of doing.”

Transition from Teacher to Consular Officer

Let’s talk now about you working for the Department of Defense State as a Foreign Service Officer
“I am a Consular Officer, and that basically means that I help out American citizens abroad.  As a Consular Officer we do immigrant and non-immigrant visas and then American citizen services, which is probably the biggest thing we do.

How did you actually get a State Department job?
It’s actually an interesting story. When I was living in Korea I was on my way to house warming party.  I’m standing in the middle of downtown Seoul and I have really no idea where I am going. All that I had was a sheet of paper with some directions and I was about to take a bus when  I see this other black woman on the bus stop. I’m kind of looking at her and I am thinking, “She’s black and I am black and she is probably a teacher too.” Well, it turns out she is not a teacher, she actually worked for the U.S. Embassy there, and ironically we were both going to the same party. So, we became friends and through her guidance I applied for something called the, “Rangel Fellowship,” which is a program that really seeks out talented minority students for the Foreign Service, and it has a sister fellowship that does that same thing called the , “Pickering Fellowship”. I applied for that and it was a lot of hard work, and luck and really great people and mentoring and some disappointment, but I got it and it set me on a path to go to the Foreign Service.

So, did you still have to take the Foreign Service Exam?
“Yes, the program basically sends you to graduate school and you have to study International Affairs., You do that for two years, complete two internships, take the Foreign Service officer exam (both the written and then the oral assessment), and then once you graduate ,you can join the Foreign Service.”

What is the biggest difference, and I know it’s a BIG difference, between when you were traveling and living abroad as a teacher and now, traveling and living as a Foreign Service officer?

“This is like my dream job and so that to me is worth giving up a sense of privacy.”
It’s totally different. When you are a regular Joe Smoe traveling around, you have a lot more leeway with your private and personal life, but now that I am with the State Department, you know you are never really off duty. The things that you say and do, people are watching you. Even in our training they tell us “You are the face of the government all the time and you really have to be careful.” It is a different level of responsibility to be the face, the eyes and ears of the President and the Secretary of State and at end of the day the American people. It’s really a very humbling and daunting challenge, but I guess the trade of f is that I am doing my dream work. This is my dream job and so that to me is worth giving up a sense of privacy.”

Did you ever foresee this coming? Had you not had the chance encounter with the young lady on the bus stop, do you still think that this would have happened for you, being in your dream job?  Do you think you would have followed down this path anyways?
“I would like to think I would have ended up on this path anyways. As I was preparing to leave Korea I was studying for the GRE’s and I knew I wanted to go into International Relations. State Department was at the top of that list, but I also knew that it was a really difficult thing to do, and it’s hard to get into. So, I was trying to build up my skills and my resume so that I could be a good candidate. It might have taken longer, that’s for sure, but I think eventually I would have ended up in this career.”

What are the benefits of actually working for the State Department?
“Oh, there are so many. I’m still pretty early on in my career, but first of all your co-workers are all these really smart people, really fun to work with, and to m e that makes all the difference in the world. It doesn’t really matter what you are doing usually, if you work with people that you like that makes your job better. So, all of my co-workers are pretty ambitious and they speak many different languages, they are traveled and we already come from a place of common ground. That is definitely a great benefit for me, being able to just relate to people off jump.

“I ended up in Barbados for my first tour, but next I could be in Russia or Venezuela. I like the fact that I get to move and do a totally different job every two years.”

The other benefit is that you are living abroad, and there is something for everyone out there. I ended up in Barbados for my first tour, but next I could be in Russia or Venezuela. I like the fact that I get to move and do a totally different job every two years. For me, that is exactly what I need, because after about two years I am antsy and ready to see something new. And then of course, there are the perks of them covering your housing. So, that is something you don’t have to worry about being abroad. Also, the money is good, you get to do work that is making a difference every single day, and that may sound really cheesy, but it’s nice to see that. Because I have been in jobs before that I really didn’t see that, and it makes a difference. “

Great, that brings me to this question; did you actually enjoy teaching when you were living in Korea?
Actually, I really did. Of course, I had days when I was not the best teacher and I know I struggled, but I really loved my kids. I actually have pictures of them hanging on my refrigerator now, because they really made my life interesting and exciting. I got to work with kindergarten all the way to high school kids, and they were all really sweet. I always said, “Even the bad kids in Korea are still really good kids.” So, I enjoyed teaching and I think it would be good, maybe when I am older.  I wish I had known a little more about teaching, I took a 6 month TESOL course, which did an okay job, but doesn’t really prepare you for when you are in front of students. But I loved teaching and I’d do it again. “

What advice would you give another young lady who is trying to make a decision to go abroad, based on your experience, what would you tell them?
If someone is on the fence on whether to do something or not. Well, this is kind of going to sound reckless, but I would say, “Just do it!” Because whatever is holding you back from doing it, probably feels much scarier in your head, what you built up something to be, usually it’s not as bad as you think it is. The mind is so powerful, and you can search the internet and be looking at pictures, listening to stories and reading blogs and whatever. You’re trying to piece together what you think this place is like, but truthfully you’re not getting the full picture. You are only getting snippets. So, if you are on the fence about going, then you just have to do it. Because if I let what people were saying about Korea stop me from going, like i.e. they don’t like black people, you are going to have a terrible time, or you can’t date there as a black women. All of these things that you hear will prevent you from going and experiencing it for yourself.”

What advice would you give to someone who is teaching and is content, but not actually following their passion at this time, but would like to be in their dream job? 
I would say to really reach out to people who are doing what you think you want to be doing. What really matters is making connections. So, if you know someone, have a friend of a friend, or there’s a forum, such as, Women of Color Living Abroad, then make connections. For one, that provides motivation for you to do what you want to and maybe step out and take that risk, and two it keeps you connected to what is happening in that industry. So, if you want to be a Master Scuba Diver, then get on a forum and talk to people who are doing what you want to do. I can’t stress that enough. It is really important that you maintain contact and connections with people who are doing things that you want to do. So, throughout my travels I would talk to people and ask them, “What are you doing, what do you want to do, do you know about this, or can you tell me about that?” I think you have to just stay inquisitive and stay connected to your passion even if you are not doing what is your passion from day to day.”

What are three adjectives that you would use to describe your Expat Experience?
“Comical- I have some funny stories living abroad, dynamic, and exhilarating”

Ok, finish this sentence. Living abroad has…
“Living abroad has been the best decision I have ever made.”

Are you wanting to travel the world, but you think you are limited to a certain career?  Well that should not be the case. There are several international careers out there, and you can have one of them. As an Expat Coach, Cha Jones can assist you with discovering exactly where you want to go, what you want to do, and creating a plan to get you there. If you are interested in doing a FREE 30 minute exploration coaching session, click here.
Clear water, sand sifting through your feet, and a warm ocean breeze as the sun kisses your back. Now, that sounds like the making of a beautiful vacation. However, if you have been limited to beach tripping within the United States because you don’t have a passport, then I want to offer you a solution. 

As a travel advocate, I must say with all seriousness getting a passport is a must. I am not sure what one would be waiting on; seriously it’s time to get your passport. However, if you have been afraid of getting a photo taken and reserving 5 to 10 minutes to complete the application along with releasing $150 check, then I have good news for you. You don’t need a passport to leave the continental United States and enjoy some amazing beaches and learn about different cultures.

You can travel and explore another culture, eat great food, and possibly hear another language or two without having a passport. Umm hmm, you read that correctly, without having a passport. But, do yourself a favor, take the photo and complete the application, because traveling the world and learning from others is fundamental to your growth and development as a human being!

Now, on to telling how you can travel without Global Citizenship Credentials (GCC), i.e. a passport. As an American you have options to explore some amazing breathtaking places outside the continental United States with a simple state-issued identification. Want tropical weather, clear water and fruity cocktails? Well, you can have those too. Here is a list of places that you might consider while waiting for your passport to return, because I know you are planning to get one.

PR Tourism
Puerto Rico. If you love everything Latin but can’t get to Latin America just yet, then PR may serve as the next best place, especially if you love Rum. Just south of Florida, you can get to PR and have sun and fun in a matter of hours. Pack your beach towels, sunscreen and Spanish dictionary. Although, you don’t need a passport in this American territory, you might need help with the language. Before I scare you too much, many people speak English, but many people don’t. So, it would be useful to brush up on your Spanish language skills. However, I think you will love getting out of the US and exploring this territory, which is amazing and has some one-of-a-kind gems. Did I mention something about Rum, well if I didn’t, you can go to the Bacardi distillery and sip a few drinks and learn about the process of making Rum. Also, PR offers one of five places in the world where you can see water glow at night in a bioluminescent bay. And if you want to explore a blend of Spanish, African, and American influenced dishes, then PR is where you want to be.  

Guam Tourism 
Guam. Don’t want to be overwhelmed by trying to see too much in such a short amount of time? combination of lemon juice, onions, local hot peppers, salt and sometimes grated coconut used to “kelaguen” either seafood, beef, chicken or even Spam, bbq, and spicy stew or Kadon Pika. Well, Guam might be for you. Guam is a small island that can be explored within a day. However, this beautiful island might take some planning and a half day of traveling to get to from the US. It’s located in the Western Pacific Ocean about 6,000 miles from LA. So, if you want to feel real international without a passport, this might be the place for you. With weather pretty much in the 80’s all year around, this little US territory is an idea spot for your next beach vacation. The currency is US dollar and the official language is English. So, don’t have to worry about bringing a language dictionary. If you love golfing, swimming, scuba diving, and sunbathing you will most likely be in heaven.  As far as food goes, you have most of the chain restaurants you have in mainland America, but there a some Guam favorites like red rice, kelaguen, which is a

Expedia Hawaii 
Hawaii. Although, Hawaii is a US state I’m including it because it’s not easily accessible and not a part of the continental US. Traveling to Hawaii, just like Guam, will take some planning and a little saving. If you are looking for cheap trip, Hawaii isn’t going to be first on your list of places to explore without a passport. I remember back in the 90’s a McDonalds quarter pounder meal was running about $10, so all I am going to say is, “Be prepared to spend a little money when traveling to Hawaii.” However, of all the places I have ever been in my little life, Hawaii is by far the most beautiful. It has some breathtaking landscapes, waterfalls, and plenty of exotic fruit. Hawaii also has its own culture, which is vastly different than that of mainland America. It is still very much infused with its own Polynesian culture that offers diverse food, traditions, and customs. So, go with an open mind and learn about the ways of the ancestors. However, remember it is a tropical island; there are several animals and plant species that you aren’t allowed to take with you, so doing your homework before you go, it is a must.

Virgin Island Tourism 
United States Virgin Islands. I know you can’t get to Jamaica or Barbados because that passport hasn’t arrived, but it’s ok because you can take a trip to the US Virgin Islands. These unincorporated US territories consist of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, and a few water islands that are much smaller. There is no need to bring a dictionary because most everyone speaks English with a little Creole flare. The food tends to be a blend of different spices and much of it is imported from foreign lands. However, there are plenty of fruits grown on the islands. Fungi is one of the traditional dishes, which entails cornmeal that has been boiled and cooked to a thick consistency along with okra and eaten mostly with boiled fish. If you want to going sailing, relax on the beach, or explore some of the colonial churches, then this will be a perfect getaway. It is also a great place to get in some golf, ride a horse, or learn about lengthy history of the islands.

Tourism for America Samoa
America Samoa. This too is an unincorporated unorganized US territory. Although, English is spoken here, the dominant language is Samoan. It consists of five main islands and two coral atolls located in the South Pacific. So, if you want to plan a getaway and that makes you feel like you are real international, then this might be the place for you. With only two major seasons wet and dry, these tropical islands have an average temperature of 80 degrees most of the year. You can’t go to an island and not find a beach, but there is so much more to explore. You can rent a 4WD and discover the island for yourself, finding plenty of traditional communities. Believe it or not Samoans love football; there are about 30 American Samoan players in the NFL, as football is a major sport on the island. Go figure, you might luck up and see some football in action. As far as food goes, you can find many of the mainland American chain restaurants, but if you are looking for traditional meals then you might ask for some taro, breadfruit, and fruits like papayas, mangoes, or bananas. Traditionally it is common to grab a mat and sit on the floor and many people still eat this way, so don’t be shy grab your mat and feast.

Northern Mariana Islands. There are 15 islands that make up this commonwealth. The official language is English, but there are two other common languages spoken within these islands, which are Chamorro and Carolinian. I personally have never heard of either of the two languages, but hey you learn something new every day. The islands were once possessed by Spain and hence the Spanish influence. Just like Guam, which is a neighboring island and helps make up the Marina Islands, the temperature is usually constantly in the mid 80’s year around. The culture and food is heavily influenced by the Spanish with their empanadas and the Philippians and their pancit noodles. However, there are other foods that have been influenced by the Koreans, Japanese, and Americans. If you want to explore a hidden treasure, then Saipan might be just the location for your next vacation with crystal clear beaches and a glimpse of raw beauty.

I wanted to give you a few alternatives to your regular Florida beach trips considering you are still awaiting your passport, and you haven’t been able to get to the Caribbean. However, many of the places that you can travel to without a passport are just as amazing and equally as beautiful. Some of them take some planning and extra time and money to get to, but I am sure that when you are boasting to all your “regular” friends who only going to South Florida on vacation, you will gain the title of “well-traveled” and be able to share some amazing stories.  Again, I must reiterate my passport disclaimer. Although, you have a list of great places that you can visit being an American citizen, there is a huge world for you to explore. So, please do yourself a favor and obtain your passport sooner verses later.     

If you are interested in traveling, but don’t have a passport, what has stopped you from getting one? Where would love to go? Have you been to any other the listed places without a passport? If so, please share your likes and/or dislikes.

Cha Jones or otherwise known as The Nomadic Chick, is an Expat and Transitional Coach who works with people who love to travel, want to travel, or have to travel. If you are interested and going somewhere you have never been or planning to move to a foreign country and need some help, please reach out and take advantage of her Free 30 minute exploration coaching meeting.  
Cha Jones

In the spirit of my motto LOVE, TRAVEL, and PURPOSE, I wanted to share what I LOVE about TRAVELING. 

1.       I can see the world from a different perspective. As the old saying goes “Perception is Reality.” When you get to see a place through your own eyes everything you ever heard or read begins to get challenged based on what you are seeing first hand for yourself. So, it is my thought that it’s not real until you have discovered it for yourself. 

2.       Humanity and putting a face on the people of the world. This is a run-on of #1. We all have heard about the people in said country (Iran, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Egypt, etc.), but if we have never met them, touched them, or communicated with them, then unfortunately we tend to see them as just faceless creatures we've heard about. However, when you actually get the opportunity to meet the people in person they become real and your compassion for how they are treated, living, and for them as whole begin to change…it becomes AUTHENTIC. If you could see the starving children in an underdeveloped country, then they wouldn't be a commercial story, they would become conversation that has heartfelt meaning behind it, and just maybe the world would change.

3.       Beauty is in the eye of its beholder. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. So, if you go the beach and feel the sand sifting through your toes and you smell the ocean as the warm breeze tickles your nose, how many more words would it be worth to describe your experience? Traveling to the place gives you so much more than the photo could ever give you. Sure, pictures are wonderful, they help you remember, but the experience of being and seeing firsthand leaves an impression that will live with you forever.

4.       I love to EAT!!! Now, I know you can feel me when I say AUTHENTIC. There is something very different about eating at an authentic Mexican restaurant rather than a good ole commercial Tex-Mex restaurant. The Tex-Mex can’t even compare. Now, I happen to love Tex-Mex, so don’t get me wrong. However, I would rather eat authentic Mexican food any day of the week. So, when you travel you get the opportunity to eat the food the way the people of that particular area intended for it to be. Remember, real is always better than the replica anyways!

5.       Learning experience. When you travel and you visit a different city, state, or country you learn so much more than you could ever learned reading, hearing about it from someone else, or watching a movie, documentary, or television show. So, I encourage you to get out and travel and you will come back with so much more knowledge, which will also allow you to teach other people who will not get the same opportunity.

6.       Expanding your thought process. We live in a world that can be very narrow, but when you travel you get to experience things that will hopefully enlighten how you think or see things. Sometimes you even get to dispel rumors about places that you have believed all of your life. Traveling opens the door to many new beginnings.

7.       Rest and relaxation. I love living in the city and I really love having many options, but sometimes I just want to rest and leave all the worries of life behind. Traveling allows you the opportunity to do that. If you take a day or two to sit on the beach and just be, then everything that you do in your day to day hustle and bustle becomes worth it. Relax and take a moment to smell the roses. When you take this time away from everything that you think you must do, you then learn to appreciate life and you also get the opportunity to rejuvenate your thoughts and prepare to move forward.

8.       Pampering. Now, you should always take the time to pamper yourself no matter where you are, but some of my best pampering has been done while I was traveling. When you go on a nice vacation it’s always a good idea to go to the spa and get pampered. Make sure you eat the best of the best and experience the best parts of the place that you are visiting.

9.       Interesting stories. Life is fascinating, well at least mine is, and when you get the opportunity to travel and see different places, meet interesting people, eat really good food or bad food, do things you wouldn't normally do, and just live without boundaries, then you tend to develop the best life stories ever. Remember, everyone is not going to take a chance, veer off the beaten path, or will be able to afford the opportunities to travel, so your stories allow others to vicariously live through you. Live and then tell about it!

10.   I get to reinvent myself through my experiences. It’s great to go see a different place, meet new people, eat new foods, learn something different, and create lifelong stories to tell future generations, but one of the reasons I love traveling is that I get to reinvent myself through the places I've been and the things I have done. When you travel, look at it like you’re a snake shedding layers of dead skin you've been lugging around for years. What you may have brought to a situation can be shed by being open to seeing, feeling, and being in the moment. At home in your own environment you may have become complacent, but when you go somewhere new you have the chance to try something you have been dreaming about. If you don’t like who are anymore, then you can become someone knew (as long as you aren't lying to others or yourself). Reinvent yourself and find the courage to live life outside the box, because inside the box there isn't much room for living at all. 

So,what's your top reasons for traveling? Where have you gone and what have you learned?

I am an Expat and Transition coach, and I specialize in helping people who are are trying to make changes in their life. So, if you are interested in traveling, but don't know where to begin,  I would suggest connecting with me and doing a 30 minute Free exploration coaching call. Click here for more information. 
Photo from Getty
Moving abroad is can be an exciting experience, giving you the opportunity to live in a different culture, and learn more about yourself as a person. Apart from the adventure of being in a new place, living in a foreign country gives you an opportunity to immerse yourself and gain in-depth knowledge about the people, culture, food, and lifestyle that you won’t get while traveling on vacation.

Having lived in South Korea for over three years, and taking the opportunity to explore the country during my time away from work was fabulous. The weekends were set aside for visiting temples, strategically getting lost and finding my way around the city, meeting other expatriates, and traveling to nearby countries. It also gave me an opportunity to expand and grow by learning more about myself. Everything was new and thrilling when first arriving in South Korea. The smells, scenery, people, and the way things were done, were all part of my new journey, which I will always cherish and remember. 

Although living in a foreign country gives you a front row seat to a new culture, which can be very exhilarating, it can also present challenges. The biggest challenge in living abroad is often communication. It is very frustrating if you do not speak the language and you aren’t able to connect on simple things. Simplicity can easily be loss in translation resulting in misunderstandings, potentially making life extremely difficult. This is something to really think about when moving to a foreign country. As a traveler, you most likely will be in a country for a short amount of time. Therefore, your challenges will be brief and adjustable. However, when you live in a country, the excitement and shininess can often fade quickly as you create routines and begin to call that place home.

I honestly enjoyed living abroad, but if there is any bit of advice to offer, before you move abroad you may want to think about your personal ability to adapt to new things and situations. Remember, you are not going on an extended vacation. You are moving to a foreign country and things are going to have its challenges, even if you speak the language and have done all the research in the world. You can almost assure there will be some challenges, but most things worth experiencing or having, come with its own set of challenges. That does not mean moving is not for you, it just means that you need to be clear that you are really ready to move instead of taking an extended vacation.
Cha is the founder and director of Expat Women of Color, which is a 501C3 organization that helps connect who desire live, work, study and/or travel abroad with other women with similar interest. She is also a life and expat coach where she focuses on helping people create the life they want abroad. You can contact and learn more about Cha through her personal website or through her blog

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