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Khatijah Corey '13

khatijah corey

Khatijah Corey, third from left, graduated from Pacific with degrees in international relations and Spanish

Khatijah Corey ’13 is a Foreign Service officer with the State Department serving at her second post in Mexico City. Her first post was in Saudi Arabia.

Corey was born in Malaysia but immigrated to the United States with her family and attended high school in Monterey, CA.

Q - What is a Foreign Service officer?

A - A Foreign Service officer is the person who is approving visas to go to the United States and assisting Americans in a foreign country. But you also work with local governments to find out information — like being a journalist, essentially. You report back and brief Washington on what's happening on the ground — the everyday, localized knowledge about what happens in every country. It's a fun job.

Q - How did you decide that's what you wanted to be?

A - I didn't even know what a Foreign Service officer was when I got into college. I knew I wanted to do something international-focused. I was in the School of International Studies. I did international relations plus a major in Spanish and culture.

I came back from studying abroad in Argentina, and the fellowship adviser mentioned the Pickering Fellowship to me. We gave it a shot, and I got it. Upon graduation, you're offered a job with the State Department with a service contract. So, when I joined, I was an undergraduate, so they paid for my senior year and my first year of grad school. When I finished my grad degree, I owed two years of service.

It was mind-blowing. I didn't know much about the Foreign Service. I was just really desperate to figure out what I could do to go back abroad. It was this amazing opportunity to shape the next five to six years of my life, and I knew exactly what I was doing from that point on once I got selected. I graduated UOP, got my master's degree at George Washington University, and I knew once I graduated from GW, I would have this incredible job.

 

Q - How did Pacific help you get the fellowship?

A - I would have never found it without the Fellowship Center. It was Susan Weiner who showed me all the opportunities that were out there, and then the SIS department in terms of prepping me for the interview, reviewing my application. There's a lengthy application process, you do a Skype interview and at that point, they fly people to DC to interview in person. Because SIS is so small, I had this entire team of wonderful human beings to talk me through all of it.

 

Q - The first place you were stationed was Saudi Arabia?

A - Yes. I was there two years. I was there during a time of a lot of change. At the end of my tour, women were actually allowed to drive. I got there and I saw an incredible opening of the country. Women were able to go to open-air concerts, plays and shows. Women were on stage. To be part of that and to witness it was incredible. Obviously it was difficult being a single women in a very conservative country. It came with its own challenges. But in a place that's quite restrictive, we built a really great community. And a lot of those people become your family. I had an amazing time. I couldn't have asked for a better introduction into the Foreign Service life than that.

 

Q - How does the State Department decide where you'll be posted?

A - So, second-tour fitting, what we call it is, your assignment officer gives you a list of open positions for the entire world and you figure out your timing and training and all that stuff and give your assignment officer a list of 10-15 places that you'd like to go. Then the department chooses one out of the 15. Mexico was on my list. I really wanted to re-up my Spanish. I was lucky I got Mexico City. It's one of the largest cities on the planet, and so diverse. It's incredible here.

 

Q - Things have been tough for the State Department lately. Do any of the political controversies touch you at all?

A - We're aware of it. We all watch what's going on. Obviously what goes on in DC affects us, but a lot of the time what we do is very people-to-people work, and we're still representing America every day. We just keep going on.

 

Q - What would you say is your purpose?

A - I really do want to represent the diversity of America. I want to show the world that we're not the same. We come from different backgrounds. I'm Malaysian-American. I was born abroad. It's kind of fun to be out and representing our diversity. Especially in Saudi Arabia, it took people by surprise sometimes that I was American. When you have a different kind of name, they don't know where to place you. You want to say, "Look, I'm an American. I work at the State Department."

Q - Do you have any favorite memories from your time at Pacific? Anything that stands out?

A - I truly loved joining a sorority at Pacific. I rushed my sophomore year and it was such a cool experience to be part of a community of really close women that built each other up and supported each other. I rushed my sophomore year in the fall, went abroad my sophomore spring and my junior fall. And to come back into that community was so cool. I felt like I came back home to a family.


Q - Is there anything about Pacific you hope never changes?

A - I think the sense of community and — because it's a small school — the focus that faculty have on you. That they know who you are. They know your hopes and dreams. They also know your weaknesses and so they really help shape you and help guide you, which I think is lost at some of the bigger schools. I hope that never changes because that would ruin the vibe of Pacific.