Before Beth Gee ’10 studied abroad in Tokyo during her junior year, the Japanese and political science major had never left the United States.
Now, as a U.S. foreign service officer, Gee travels for a living. She is currently working at the American Embassy in the Republic of the Congo — where she employs the language, communication, and critical thinking skills she cultivated as a student in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters.
“I’m a diplomat, so I have to be able to communicate diplomatically,” she said. “Communication skills are one thing, but it’s also important to get messages across in a professional way, particularly when it is sometimes difficult information or defending a certain policy position of our government, regardless of my personal feelings.
“My Arts and Letters education prepared me for that because professors challenge you regularly to express and defend your views. You need to be able to debate or discuss issues with people who have differing opinions and do that professionally.”
An evolving global perspective
Gee grew up in a suburb of Detroit, where the auto industry drew workers from around the world, sparking her interest in other cultures.
“From a pretty early age, I was interested in different cultures and countries, like Japan, because I had friends from other cultural backgrounds,” she said. “So, I started studying Japanese in high school, and I was interested in political science. And that’s the path I stayed on in college.”
Gee took Japanese language courses throughout her time at Notre Dame and focused on international relations in her political science major.
During her junior year, she studied abroad for a semester at Sophia University, a Catholic university in central Tokyo, where she immersed herself in Japanese culture.
“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to study abroad in Japan,” Gee said. “It’s a very different culture from the United States, and it was a really valuable, unique experience.”
“I’m doing my dream job right now, and I don’t think I ever would have gotten here without Notre Dame as my jumping-off point. I needed exposure to international cultures through study abroad. I needed a good liberal arts education — and the communication and critical thinking skills that I use every day.
A career abroad
After meeting a recruiter for the U.S. State Department at a Notre Dame career fair, Gee landed an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo after graduation.
She then pursued a master’s degree in international relations and economics at Johns Hopkins University — spending a year in Bologna, Italy, and landing an internship at the United Nations along the way.
Gee then started working full-time at the State Department as an economic officer in the Office of Japanese Affairs. Drawing on her undergraduate and graduate studies and internships, she launched her career in diplomacy and began working on topics like trade and U.S. investment in Japan.
Three years later, Gee began working for the Foreign Service, moving from D.C. to her first stop in the Republic of the Congo and the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville.
“I’m the economic counselor for the embassy, so I’m meant to be the expert on economic issues, but also policy related to the environment, science, technology, and health,” Gee said. “There’s a wide variety of things that I get to do on a daily basis, and I think it’s really interesting to have a lot of different tasks to work on.”
A strong foundation
Gee said she enjoys working at a small embassy like Congo-Brazzaville, and looks forward to a fast-paced and varied foreign service career.
“For me, the best part is that every two or three years, I get to go to a new country, experience a totally new culture, and change my job responsibilities and do something new,” she said. “But it’s also very challenging at the same time because it means every two years you have to pack up everything and move to a foreign country.”
Ultimately, wherever her career takes her and whatever challenges it brings, Gee said she will continue to rely on her Arts and Letters education.
“I’m doing my dream job right now, and I don’t think I ever would have gotten here without Notre Dame as my jumping-off point,” Gee said. “I needed exposure to international cultures through study abroad. I needed a good liberal arts education — and the communication and critical thinking skills that I use every day.
“Without those experiences, I wouldn’t have gone this far. And Notre Dame was really the start of it all.”