My (Unexpected) Journey into the Federal Government

This week, in honor of Public Service Recognition Week, we asked some of our community to reflect on their public service stories. To read more of their stories click here.  If you know an excellent public servant send them an e-card or invite them to happy hour on GovLoop!

I am a minority, first-generation graduate who holds a master’s degree and my dream job.  I do not write this to gloat but, instead, to exemplify the purpose behind my fearless pursuits to continue building upon my ancestral foundation while simultaneously paving the way for future generations to come. Here is my story.

How It Started

Breaking generational molds is a noble, and exhaustive, responsibility.  There is an extra level of concerted effort that is required to succeed in the professional world from both a knowledge perspective, but more importantly, a cultural perspective.  There were many reflective moments after having achieved a goal in which I’d say to myself, “I wish I was taught this in high-school/at home”  but because I wasn’t I had to learn intangible skills through my own curious pursuits and, like most, through (more) trial and error.  It was during many moments of self-reflection that I learned of my life’s purpose which was education and youth development.

My journey into education began over 10 years ago when I volunteered as an English language tutor with various organizations in Atlanta.  While working as an English language teacher and doing other odd jobs to make ends meet during undergrad, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations from Georgia State University because, frankly, I did not think that  I could make a career of majoring in English.   I tried to pad this notion with my public relations emphasis and worked in PR for some time.  However, after not experiencing a sense of fulfillment I revisited my passion for English by obtaining a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign language from the University of Southern California.  I’m somewhat of an extremist, what can I say? This turned out to be the greatest decision I have ever made because my life took a turn for the better.

The Turn of Events

My graduate school education garnered me the opportunity to enhance my studies by traveling to several countries across five continents equipping economically disadvantaged youth with language and personal development skills to increase their competitiveness in the global marketplace.

At this point, I had taught in a number of various countries to different audiences but it was my time living in Dniprodzerzhinsk, Ukraine that, unknowingly, propelled me into public service.  I was the only American living in this small city.  Well, maybe not the only but I wouldn’t be exaggerating if this were proven to be true.  It is safe to say that I was the only person of color in this entire town.  In any event, in an effort to find more resources for my Ukrainian students to have firsthand experience with American professionals, learning materials on U.S. culture, and information about getting into U.S. colleges, I came across the State Department, more specifically the Office of English Language Programs.  I pulled relevant resources and materials and continued working.

Forgetting that I had signed up to receive email notifications for State Department internships and job openings, I received a notice about an opening for the summer internship program.  It seemed like a pipe dream to apply for a program of such high caliber but I courageously applied despite my natural inclination to think that it was out of my reach.  I interviewed for a number of different offices and, ironically enough, ended up at the Office of English Language Programs.  Yes, the same office several months earlier in which I happened to use to their learning materials to aid my students in strengthening their English language skills!

I did not come from a family of politics nor was I well-versed in government bureaus and offices, so I really did not know what I was getting myself into. Excited — and extremely nervous — I soon made arrangements to relocate back to the States and settle myself into Washington, D.C.

I began my internship which then turned into a full-time position with the same office where I currently manage an English language program that operates in over 80 countries helping high school students from low-income backgrounds.  I supplemented my work by also joining the Blacks In Government, employee affinity group where I work to provide youth with the opportunities to learn about fully-funded international exchange programs and resources that will enhance their college experience and equip them for global citizenship.

I share my story to encourage other first-generation students or students who may not know which path to take at the moment. There is room for everyone in public service. There is a niche for everyone, and many roads can lead one there. Whichever way the road may turn, continue to pursue your goals.

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Daaiyah H. Akbar

This information is so needed and interesting for keeping up on the real benificial happenings for concerned citizens and communities. Thanks a lot and keep it coming.