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January 20, 2016
Ted Meinhover graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Global Studies in 2006. He studied in Asia as a Sullivan Scholar in 2007, and is currently serving as a Foreign Service Officer for the United States Department of State in Beijing.
University Honors Program: Describe how you ended up working abroad on Southeast Asian policy.
Ted Meinhover: In the Foreign Service, the nature of your work is determined by a healthy mix of chance, your background, knowing what you want, knowing how to find opportunities, and being willing & brave enough to jump on opportunities when they show up—even though it's normally impossible to know where you'll actually land.
I currently work as a political officer in the US Embassy in Beijing, managing a portfolio that includes China's external relations in southeast Asia and the South China Sea. Southeast Asia was first on my radar when I randomly joined the IRSEP exchange program in Malaysia in 2004. This experience cemented my love for studying languages and traveling, as well as my interest in global politics (especially the US/Asia connection).
After my first Foreign Service tour in Jamaica I signed up for a longterm, language-intensive assignment in China. Three years later, after a tour in the Consular section and a year of language training, I started a three-year assignment in the political office. I was assigned this portfolio partly because it needed to be filled and partly because of my background. The moral of the story: go where your interests guide you and don't try too hard to engineer exactly where you'll end up.
UHP: As someone who has worked around the world, how did your time at the University of Minnesota help prepare you to work in a global environment?
TM: The U served me very well, mostly because it is a magnet that draws a diverse range of people who are passionate about every imaginable thing. The expanse of the U means that a student with interest—and in my case naiveté—can get involved in some amazing things and be inspired by amazing people. Some of my professors were well published and doing high profile research, yet they opened their office doors to undergraduates to chat or advise without thinking twice. Just knock.
One thing that really shaped me was finding people with similar interests and taking a leadership role to organize around that shared interest. Whether it's organizing a student group meeting or volunteering for community radio, every activity increases your chances of meeting someone who inspires you. With so much going on at the U, you can get involved and become a leader in whatever catches your interest. It all adds to the momentum that is launching you toward your future.
UHP: What tips do you have for someone who is interested in a similar career field to yours?
TM: It's really about the total sum of the momentum that you create. Seek out the people who are doing what you want to do and learn from them; go to the places where people are doing what you want to do. And have a good time, because if it's not fun then you probably don't really want to be doing it anyway.
Study abroad. Learn a language. Start a longterm project or plan even if you don't know how it's supposed to end (if you abandon it, it's probably because it led you to something even better). Become an expert on whatever you are doing; showing others that you have fluency in one area gives them the confidence to bring you other opportunities.
UHP: What's next for you?
TM: I'm in Beijing on this assignment for the next three years, and then I have no idea. I will likely serve in another country for a while, but with my experience and language skills I will likely hold another China-related job in the future. Or not.