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From the Classroom to the Field:

My Journey as a Foreign Service Child


My classmates faced the

front of the room, right hands

placed over their hearts. I

looked around, certain that

someone else would be

as confused as I was, but

everyone’s eyes were fixed

on the American flag. It was

the morning of my first day

of fifth grade, and I had just

moved to the United States

after eight years of living


As my classmates recited

the Pledge of Allegiance,

I mouthed the unfamiliar

words, hoping no one would

look my way. I promised

myself I would memorize the

pledge later that day so that I

would no longer stand out.

On paper, my life as a

third-culture kid seemed

glamorous. I experienced new

cultures in Central Asia, the

Middle East, and the Carib-

bean, but, in reality, I resented

my family’s lifestyle. I envied

other kids who grew up in

one place while I was forced

to leave behind my school,

home, and friendships every

few years.

Eventually, I became used

to adapting to new environ-

ments and the upheaval that

accompanied moving. But

this time was different; I felt

like a stranger in the country

that was supposed to be my

home. I worried I would never

belong anywhere.

Then, last year, my per-

spective suddenly changed.

We had again moved over-

seas, and I was in my junior

year of high school in Bang-

kok, Thailand. Our school ser-

vice group traveled to a rural

community in Cambodia. We

interviewed villagers with the

aid of a Khmer translator,

and I was deeply moved by

the story of a woman named

Lorn. She had spent her child-

hood hungry because her

parents, who earned less than

$4 a day selling rice noodles,

could rarely afford to feed

their family of 12. Lorn hoped

her children would not experi-

ence the hardships she had


As she told us this, she

broke down and struggled

to continue speaking. Lorn’s

story resonated with me. Even

though I had lived in develop-

ing countries for most of my

life, I had considered poverty a

statistic; now, I saw firsthand

how it affected real individu-

als. My parents’ careers at

the U.S. Agency for Interna-

tional Development suddenly

shifted from a conversation at

the dinner table to something

tangible that touches the lives

of people like Lorn.

I, like my parents, believed

that Lorn’s children deserved

a better future. It dawned

on me that the struggles I

had faced adapting to new

cultures were worthwhile

because they had allowed my

parents to devote their lives to

helping the poor.

This experience not only

put my past into perspective,

it also gave me a new outlook

on my future. That real world

exposure allowed me to see

the connection between

developing my academic

interest in biology and sup-

porting people in the

developing world through

environmental science.

Although I once could not

recite the Pledge of Alle-

giance, I now know that

helping others is what it truly

means to be American, and I

am proud to be a child of the

Foreign Service.



“Self-Portrait,” one of the entries by Helen Reynolds,

winner of the merit award for art. Please visit http:// to view Helen’s other submissions, as

well as those of the applicants receiving honorable