Alumni Essay: Sara Revell '95 (International Political Economy Major)
I found Whitworth College in Peterson's College Guide (this was in the days before the Internet) during my junior year of high school. It caught my attention because it was a small, Christian, liberal arts school with opportunities for study abroad and an international studies program. I actually applied to several colleges, including the Air Force Academy and Georgetown, but ended up deciding on Whitworth just six weeks before my high school graduation. When I graduated (1991), I wrote a letter that I included with my graduation announcement. In the letter, I explained where I was going to college (Whitworth), what I was going to study (international studies), and what I might do as a possible future career (foreign service officer, missionary, etc.). I moved from Texas into Arend Hall in the fall of 1991, having never visited Whitworth's campus before, and thus my education with the focus on "faith and learning" began.
The summer between my junior and senior year at Whitworth, I interned in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the State Department in Washington, D.C. It was an unpaid internship, which was a big sacrifice for a college student to make, but my dad gave me a loan to cover expenses for the summer. The experience was well worth the money I had to pay back later - after all, I got to help with preparations for the U.S. delegation to attend the international conference on population and development, which was held in Cairo, Egypt, that year. I also got to attend events where the vice president and the president gave speeches, which was quite a thrill. But the most valuable part of the experience was my realization that I was not ready to work for the U.S. State Department. I felt like it was too much of a bureaucracy, filled with intelligent people who had great ideas and no good way to implement them. I was tired of school, books, classes, and the rest of it and was ready for an adventure.
As I neared graduation from Whitworth, I applied to two overseas programs - one was an internship program in Germany and the other was the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. I had studied German all through high school and college and received a minor in German from Whitworth; however, the internship program in Germany was a pay-to-go rather than a get-paid-for-your-work program, and I was broke! I had never been to Japan and didn't really know much about it, but a professor at Whitworth advised me to choose Japan over Germany. When I asked why, she said, "Because Germany is still the West. But Japan is the East. And if you go to Japan, you will get to see something really different, and it will be quite an experience." In fact, I was selected as an alternate to both programs, but as it turned out, I was offered a position with the JET Program on Good Friday of my senior year. I accepted the offer immediately, and moved off to Japan at the end of July that same year.
I worked as an assistant language teacher in two Japanese public junior high schools in my little town. It was a fishing and farming village, located on an island in Western Japan, and the town had been the epicenter of a big earthquake that struck Japan that same year, just six months before I arrived. Culture shock was very intense at first, and I had difficulty starting to learn the Japanese language. There were times when I wondered what I was doing there and if I had made the right decision. Yet, three years later when I left Japan, I had learned to speak Japanese pretty well and had become a member of my little community there. It was hard to say goodbye.
I had applied to several graduate programs back in the U.S., and I was thinking about getting a master's degree in international relations. But I didn't really have a goal in mind for what I would do after I completed graduate school, and my advisor from Whitworth, while having written some very nice reference letters on my behalf, suggested that graduate school was a time to focus, not to keep trying new things. So I decided that I would try to find a job using my newly acquired Japanese language skills. After I'd searched for about six months, during which time I worked various temporary jobs, the Japanese Consulate in Houston, Texas, hired me.
I worked in the cultural affairs section of the Japanese Consulate in Houston for about two-and-a-half years. My primary responsibility was working as the JET Program coordinator there, but I also helped to plan various cultural events in the area to teach Americans more about Japan. I was exposed to working in a government office, and I was able to participate in high-level visits such as the Japanese ambassador and the Emperor of Japan's brother. My Japanese language skills transformed from the rough, local dialect that I had learned from my junior high school students to a more refined, standard Japanese acceptable for use in professional situations. And personally, I transitioned back into life and work in the U.S. while working in an environment that encompassed so many aspects of Japan that I had grown to love.
Some friends of mine, a married couple who were also former JETs, started a small company in Houston working with international visitors in the oil and gas industry. We had gotten to know each other through the JET Program alumni group, and a few years into our friendship, they invited me to join their company. I was their first employee, and it was an exciting time for us to build the company from the ground up. We learned a lot about business and watched the little company grow and succeed, not without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on our part. We did cross-cultural consulting and resettlement assistance for short and long-term visitors from Africa, Russia, the Middle East, etc. We were able to apply our experience as foreigners living in Japan and carved out a niche in the oil and gas industry in Houston, which is one of the biggest business sectors in the area.
It was during my time at my friends' company that I re-encountered the idea of the foreign service. I had visited Whitworth shortly after 9/11, and in a conversation with my advisor, I remember him suggesting that I might put my Japanese language and other skills to work as a foreign service officer. I wasn't sure about the entrance process, but less than two months later I was sitting on a JET Program interview panel with a retired foreign service officer, and he pointed me to the website and encouraged me to sign up for the written exam. So I did. I took the written exam the first time in April 2002 on a rainy Saturday on which I had come down with a severe cold after some recent stressful events in my life. I got the result in July-I hadn't passed. But I realized that I needed to refresh my memory on branches of government, famous court cases, and the U.S. Constitution. So I borrowed a high school government textbook and read through it that summer in preparation to retake the written test in September. I passed the second time and was invited to take the oral exam (interview) in Seattle in May 2003. At the end of what was one of the longest days of my life, I received the good news that I had passed the oral exam and I was given a conditional offer of employment! I then had to undergo language testing, medical testing, and a security clearance review. It was a long process, and finally in January 2004 I learned that I was cleared and on the waiting list for an entry class. I received the official offer at the end of February 2004 to join the entry class that was starting in May of that year. I accepted.
As I packed up my apartment in Houston in late April 2004, I came across that letter I had written in April 1991 - the one I had included with my high school graduation announcement explaining where I was going to college (Whitworth), what I was going to study (international studies), and what I might do as a possible future career (foreign service officer, missionary, etc.). At that moment, I felt confirmation of what I had suspected at several points in time along the way but had not really known until then - God had used all of the experiences of my life up until then to prepare me for this big job that He had in store for me. My feeling resonated with that of Esther of the Old Testament, when her uncle Mordecai reminded her, "And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).
I entered the U.S. State Department on May 3, 2004, and was sworn in "to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States…so help me God" under the leadership of Secretary of State Colin Powell in June 2004. I spent my first tour as a consular officer in the U.S. Embassy of Accra, Ghana (September 2004 to June 2006). I am presently serving as a consular officer in the U.S. Consulate-General of Osaka-Kobe, Japan.
Consider this: "Whitworth's mission is to provide its diverse student body an education of mind and heart, equipping its graduates to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity. This mission is carried out by a community of Christian scholars committed to rigorous, open intellectual inquiry and to the integration of faith and learning."
Honor God: Recognize Him as your source of life and power, and use the unique talents, gifts, and abilities He's given you to glorify (worship) Him. Follow Christ: Using (emulating) the example that Jesus gave while on earth, and in His relationship to the Father, walk through life following in His footsteps. Serve humanity: Love your neighbor as yourself as you put legs on honoring God and following Christ; put your faith in action; get to work!
What does that mean for you? And how does it affect your life? Follow in His footsteps, and He will make your God-given dreams come true!