Joia Starks - Kultural Kurator
Ethnicity - African American
Occupation - Foreign Service Officer / U.S. Diplomat
Place of Employment - U.S. Department of State
What global experiences have you taken part in when you were a student and/or as a young professional?
As an undergraduate student at Hampton University, I studied abroad in Mexico and France. After graduating, I often traveled abroad and eventually started teaching English in South Korea.
How has Global Education impacted you personally, academically, & professionally?
I credit my early adventures abroad with helping me decide on the right career path. Being a global citizen means I have felt at home and welcomed in so many places and developed personal and professional relationships to last a lifetime. There's been no more influential part of my life than traveling the world.
What challenges have you had to overcome as you gained your global experience(s)? I have dealt with A LOT of rejection during my pursuit to live and work overseas. In my early 20s, I applied for dozens of jobs and internships in New York City related to international affairs, NGOs, the UN, etc and constantly received rejection letters about not having enough experience. When I applied for teaching gigs in South Korea, I lost count of how many schools rejected me just for being Black (because they highly valued white native English speakers). I was rejected from a prestigious Fellowship at first, along with several of my top graduate school choices. I eventually did get the Fellowship and landed at a great school. But every rejection hurts and you don't forget them. Once I started focusing on what I did bring and could contribute, it changed the way I perceived those rejections and pushed me to redirect my energy. That technique has not failed me yet.
What or who inspired you to take part in a study/internship/work abroad experience?
It was my high school Spanish teacher who first recognized my talent with the language. After four years in his classes, including taking a senior-level class as a freshman, he encouraged me to pursue Spanish in college, which I did. I also decided to take the leap, thanks to friends like Kory, to try studying abroad. She and I researched programs together and decided to go to Guadalajara, Mexico. That sealed it for me - I wanted to keep exploring and have not stopped.
How has your identity impacted your global experience(s)?
There are so many parts of my identity that impact positively on my global experiences, with only a few instances of negativity. I have found, time and again wherever I go, that when I approach situations from a place of openness and understanding, I am rewarded exponentially through another amazing human bond. Another opportunity to make a friend, learn something new, or see something differently. Being a Black American woman diplomat are all aspects of my identity that travel with me, and it's been a phenomenal way to see the world.
How has/ had seeing other people of color/diverse backgrounds influenced your decision to study/ intern abroad?
I think that's just it - I did not see or meet a lot of folks who looked like me out there traveling and living as an expat. In the past 10-12 years though, I have witnessed so many Black people traveling all over and really opening up that space for us. I love it and I know it's not just a trend.
As a Kultural Kurator, what does culture mean to you?
Culture is an important gateway to understanding others.
Self/Soul care is so important as we live our lives and grow in our professions. How do you incorporate self/soul care into your life?
I am a lifelong journaler! I need the space to reflect on joys, triumphs, and disappointments. I also try to keep moving, working out, and playing tennis. And of course, travel is key to my self-care. Seeing new places and meeting new people takes me out of my own head and focused on the big picture.
What advice would you give to a future Kultural Kurator as they think about taking opportunities to explore the world around them?
Surround yourself with positive energy, not the naysayers. Do your research. And then go and be open to every experience coming your way.
How can others follow you on social media and/or is there an email address or website that you'd like to share? (optional)
Instagram: @pride_and_joia where I post occasionally about my travels and mostly about my Foreign Service family