Northwest Catholic alumna RaeJean Spears Stokes '98 visited the school Monday, September 11 to teach students in AP Government, AP U.S. History, and the history/religion seminar called HILL the basics of foreign service work and the responsibilities of the U.S. State Department.
RaeJean, a foreign service officer currently preparing for her next assignment in Ankara, Turkey, held her audience captivated as she explained her unique career path and what it means to work for the State Department.
Upon graduating from Northwest Catholic in 1998, RaeJean headed to Holy Cross where she double majored in English and history and spent a year abroad in London. After graduation, RaeJean joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in Ukraine for two years. After this stint overseas, she earned a Master's in International Relations from the University of Denver. She then worked in Armenia, Mexico City, Ukraine, and is now headed to Turkey with her husband Nicholas Stokes who also works for the foreign service.
RaeJean taught NWC students about the various responsibilities of the U.S. State Department, such as its commitment to protect Americans overseas, advance democracy, defend human rights, encourage economic growth for American industry, and promote American policies.
She explained to the students that foreign service employees need to be ready to work anywhere. Save rare exception, foreign service officers are prepared to accept any location on the globe. Spouses are usually kept together however, although her husband spent a year in Kabul without her.
RaeJean said over 100,000 people work for the Department of State, and 15,000 of them are working overseas. In addition to foreign service officers like RaeJean, there are many civil service officers working in Washington D.C., student interns and fellows, foreign service specialists such as tech support, financial managers, and medical professionals, as well as local hires — that is, many, many employees from each home country. These positions for locals, RaeJean explained, can be perceived as safe and enviable but in particular countries as dangerous. For example, if the host country isn't entirely friendly to the U.S., the embassy's or consulate's local hires take a risk when joining the U.S. workforce. RaeJean sang these employees' praises, saying it takes a very special person to work with the U.S. foreign service and it's her great honor to work beside them.
RaeJean is also proud to work alongside Americans from every walk of life. Because the path to foreign service in the U.S. is transparent and egalitarian, officers find themselves as colleagues to both natural born and naturalized citizens of every race, ethnicity, and creed. When her friend of Indian ancestry with a distinct accent is asked how he can be a U.S. foreign service officer, he responds: "Because I'm as American as the next guy. It's what our country is about."
RaeJean currently works as a public diplomacy officer. She explained the route to her acquiring this position, and how it first took her three times to pass the foreign service exam. This humble admission, well known by the millions of Americans who have failed the foreign service exam or haven't proceeded past the second step of the written essay or third step of all-day interviews, was a surprise to NWC students. With this point, RaeJean taught her listeners the valuable lesson of never giving up.
RaeJean encouraged NWC's students to investigate the State Department programs available to high school and college students. She was eager to pass out handouts and answer questions about various programs. She made sure her listeners knew their interest in foreign language and international relations could be put to excellent use, even as high school students.
RaeJean thought back fondly on her time at Northwest Catholic, spotlighting the impact her cross country team and Paul Reardon's English class left on her. She said NWC's commitment to service, co-curricular and extra-curricular, was a perfect match for her.