Alumni Spotlight // The Global Gaucho

A Special All Gaucho Reunion Q&A with Ambassador Barbara Bodine `70

A recipient of the US Secretary State Award for Valor for her work as Deputy Chief of Mission in occupied Kuwait in 1990, Barbara Bodine `70 served as the United States Ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001, and twice in Iraq. She also worked as the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Director of East African Affairs and in multiple assignments in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

A distinguished alumna of UC Santa Barbara, Bodine has served as Alumni Regent on the University of California Board of Regents. She was also president of the UCSB Alumni Association and the Diplomat-in-Residence at UCSB's Global and International Studies Program. She is currently Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service.

She will be joining our distinguished global Gauchos at the UCSB Champions of Public Service panel discussion on Friday, April 29, 7 p.m. at the Corwin Pavilion, as part of the 10th Annual All Gaucho Reunion.

In this special Alumni Q&A, Bodine shared her experiences as a UCSB student -- and how a year spent studying abroad in Hong Kong helped her decide on a lifetime career in the foreign service.

What drew you to study at UC Santa Barbara?

I only applied to one UC campus, and am not sure I even applied to any other university in state or beyond. ​I wanted to major in East Asian Studies - China specifically, and modern Chinese politics.  Most Asian Studies programs were rigid and heavily weighted toward history - Tang Dynasty-type history. UCSB's well-regarded program was highly inter-disciplinary and would allow me to craft a course of study toward my interests and needs. 

​UCSB was also the home base for the Educational Abroad Program, which I was determined to do.  I figured I would have a better chance if I was at UCSB.

Finally, UC was affordable. As a first-in-family with very limited financial means, the affordability was critical. I never regretted my decision.​

What were your ambitions when you first entered college - and did they change after you went through your program?

​My career ambitions when I first entered college were to join the U.S. Foreign Service. I had learned about the profession of diplomacy during an honors seminar one summer during high school and that was it. I had also done a paper during that high school seminar on China. I cannot over emphasize how important that one summer's course has been to my life's trajectory.

What was the Education Abroad Program experience like for you as a young college student?

​Imagine a young woman from the west end of the San Fernando Valley, north of the freeway, heading off to Hong Kong for a year​. As a military brat I had moved a lot around the country but had never been abroad. I was fascinated by all things China but it was from an academic remove. And, except for going 100 miles from home to go to university, had never been far from family or friends. It was a life changing experience and one I cannot too strongly encourage other students to do.

I took one of my UC required courses - Western Philosophy - at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, the only non-Chinese student in the class. Looking at the Western philosophic cannon through the perspective of another culture was, to borrow from MasterCard, priceless. Living so disconnected from the United States, I also had to examine what were my values, my​ priorities, my goals.

I also had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with the people at the American Consulate General in Hong Kong -- in those days one of our 10 largest diplomatic posts, and the one responsible for all reporting and analysis on China. I was able to meet with and get to know the American diplomats and to decide - to confirm - that this was still my career goal. Finally, because CUHK's academic year ended early, I took the opportunity to hitchhike alone for nearly five months from Hong Kong to Portugal with an extended side trip to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. 

What would you say is one career or personal milestone that you are most proud of achieving?

​That is a very tough question. I suppose on one level, it was simply getting into the Foreign Service. There were not many women in the Service in those days, nor very many from non-East Coast universities.  If I had known what the odds were, I may have been too intimidated to try. Sort of like a recipe for squirrel stew, first you have to have a squirrel. I have enjoyed my career and was cognizant each day that what I did, what everyone in the Foreign Service does every day has purpose, matters, has meaning. And, a career is an incremental process. Milestones mark where you have already been and determine where you may choose to go, but they are simply markers along a very long path. 

If you had one piece of advice for a young college student hoping to follow the same career path, what would it be?

​Do not be afraid. ​



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