JoAnn Jung ’20, Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow

JoAnn Jung ’20

This story was originally published on April 17, 2020 as a Wellesley Spotlight.


Whether debating policy issues in her high school sociology class or discussing current events appearing in the news, JoAnn Jung ’20 has always been interested in international relations. As a 2020 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow, she’ll soon have the opportunity to channel that interest into a career as a foreign service officer in the U.S. Department of State, part of the next generation of civil servants on the front lines of American diplomacy.

Established in 1992, the Pickering Fellowship prepares young people for foreign service careers, and particularly welcomes members of minority groups historically underrepresented in the State Department, women, and those with financial need, based on the principle that diversity is a strength in American diplomatic efforts. The fellowship helps finance two-year graduate programs and provides summer internships and mentoring opportunities as well. Upon completion of their master’s degrees, fellows serve a minimum of five years in the Department of State’s foreign service.

“I’m so honored and grateful that this country allows immigrants like myself to represent the country and the diversity of the United States” Jung said. “And I think this in itself is amazing because I strongly believe that America is best served when people with different perspectives and ways of looking at the world reflect the diversity of our country. That is something valuable I can bring to the table, in terms of my experience, and my background. My mission is to serve as a connecting bridge between the United States and other countries. And especially during times like this, that’s really important.”

Jung learned about the opportunity this past July while interning with the U.S. Agency for International Development, from one of her supervisors, a foreign service officer. Though she hadn’t considered the foreign service until then, she was already thinking about international relations. “Before I set foot on Wellesley’s campus,” Jung said, “I knew that’s what I wanted to study. It encompassed so much of what I was interested in even before I started college.”

Jung, center, traveled to Lampang, Thailand, to teach an engineering and environmental sustainability curriculum she helped develop along with three MIT students at the MIT Development Lab.


Early Seeds of Diplomacy

Jung’s interest in international relations was driven by her childhood experience learning to navigate new languages and communities as an immigrant herself. When she was 7, she moved with her parents and sister from Gwangju, South Korea, to River Edge, N. J., just south of New York City. “Suddenly I had to acclimate myself to a different culture, learn a new language, and immerse myself in an unfamiliar community of diverse people,” Jung said. “I had to learn how to adapt to a new environment. Though it was challenging at first, I found the experience fascinating, even at a young age.”

Not long after that, Jung and her family temporarily relocated to Lima, a small town in Ohio. “Unlike in River Edge, there were no Koreans whatsoever,” she said. Jung and her sister both faced incidents of racism in their largely white elementary school, whose administrators and teachers did not have much experience helping immigrants assimilate.

“Having to suddenly take all of your classes in English, devoid of the language you are most familiar with, on top of having to navigate a new classroom environment, all at once—that was quite a shift,” Jung said.

Jung carried the lessons she learned from Lima, all the way to Wellesley. Even as a first-year, she knew she wanted to learn about different people, cultures, societies, political systems, and languages, and that she wanted to pursue foreign affairs broadly, rather than studying any specific region intensively.

Setting the Foundation

At Wellesley, beyond her international studies major, Jung discovered a new love that would shape her path: education studies. She is part of the inaugural group of seniors studying this newly created major, established by her mentor Soo Hong, Whitehead Associate Professor of Critical Thought and associate professor of education.

Jung has taken courses with Hong for three of her four years at Wellesley, starting with a first-year seminar; she has fond memories of Hong inviting the entire class to her house for dinner to celebrate the end of the semester. Jung found Hong’s seminar on immigration, which she took this year, and her second-year course on social policy to be especially formative.

“It was in those classes that Professor Hong emphasized the importance of having sufficient background knowledge on policies that have been put in place from the past, in order to understand why the world is the way it is now,” Jung said. “Without that knowledge, we are not able to fully grasp the challenges of today.”

Just before students had to leave Wellesley for the spring semester as a result of the shift to remote instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong hosted Jung and her other senior education studies major advisees for tea and a wrap-up chat—Hong had become a mentor outside the classroom as well. “We went to her office and talked about how we were dealing with the situation and about our emotions. We had a lot of them, since it was our last year, and we were leaving campus early,” Jung said. “She was there for us to share about our lives and what we were going through. That’s truly not an anomaly for her. Almost everyone I talk to that knows her has these kinds of stories when it comes to her. Students feel it from the heart when a teacher really cares about them and advocates for them,” Jung said.

Jung sees her education studies as vital to her future work as a foreign service officer. “I’d like to work as a Public Diplomacy Officer, promoting American values of free speech and transparency,” Jung said. “My background in education studies will help me to appreciate people with different cultures and values, and how to strengthen relationships amidst fundamental differences.”

Next Steps

As she prepares to start her Pickering Fellowship, Jung is deciding between Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs for her master’s degree.

Jung said her experience at Wellesley prepared her for both stages of the final interviews for the fellowship. “International relations classes are very much discussion-based. You have to know how to convey your message in a clear and direct way very quickly, because discussion moves on,” Jung said. “All those classes taught me to think on my feet, and how to defend my arguments with clarity.”

“As [a foreign service officer], a lot of the work is fast-paced, so you have to be able to deliver writing very quickly,” Jung said. “The fellowship interview day really tests your ability to do that. For the oral portion, the interviewers ask about hypothetical scenarios, and ask how you would critically respond in certain situations. They want to see how you think and how quickly you can process the information you are given and develop an appropriate response.”

Wellesley is known for producing some of the country’s most famous female diplomats, and Jung is excited to be following in their footsteps, but she is inspired by more than their legacies.

“It’s empowering to know that Secretary Clinton and Secretary Albright are women I came into Wellesley feeling inspired by, and now I will be working for the Department of State,” Jung said. “There’s a really strong sense of connection between Wellesley students and alumnae overall. But learning on campus surrounded by friends and strong women, and seeing how they think and live their lives, I think that’s what has inspired me most.”