I come from a military family in which service is valued. My grandfather served as a police officer for the Philadelphia City Police Department after being drafted to Vietnam and my father served 27 years enlisted in the Air Force. For a short period of time my father was stationed in Turkey and I chose to join him. Although the national language was Turkish, living there exposed me to Arabic. Mesmerized by the letters, I set my goal to learn Arabic. I realized I needed to be immersed in the language and culture to learn after failing nearly every self-taught process. After many hours online desperately looking for high school exchange programs, I found the Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) and applied.
NSLI-Y changed my life. After several months of waiting and interviews, I received the scholarship that would define my life’s story. As a high school senior, I left my school, friends, and family in Charlotte, North Carolina and enrolled in al’Qudah Leaders School in Giza, Egypt. In Giza, I had semi-private Arabic lessons three times a week while living with an Egyptian host family that didn’t speak any English. NSLI-Y allowed me to discover my penchant for languages, my adornment for a different part of the world, and introduced me to the Foreign Service.
Academically, I would go on to receive my Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University, and Bachelor’s in Global Security and Intelligence Studies from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott, Arizona. Throughout my studies, language remained my centerpiece. I received the Department of State Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship to further my Arabic studies in Morocco and the Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Persian in Tajikistan. Additionally, I studied Arabic in Jordan and Lebanon. NSLI-Y gave me the skills I would need linguistically, but also gave me the confidence I needed to embark on these adventures of the body and mind.
Having been introduced to the State Department as a high school student through NSLI-Y, I sought internships during the summer when I wasn’t honing my Arabic skills. In an interview for an internship I would later complete in Germany, Diplomat-in-Residence Philip Egger encouraged me to consider a career with the Department of State. I was interested, but at the time in Army ROTC. Mr. Egger convinced me to give the internship a try and I fell in love with the work.
At this moment, I am back where my love for the region started, as a diplomat serving in Istanbul, Turkey. None of these would be possible without NSLI-Y.
Service has been engrained in me from youth. Not only do I feel indebted to my country, I also see the value in public service as a diplomat. Before NSLI-Y, I only understood service to be in the military. NSLI-Y broadened my understanding. Part of a diplomat’s job is to represent their home country, and with that it’s important the U.S. diplomatic corps accurately depicts the diversity of backgrounds, histories, and experiences of America.
While no nation is perfect, I am proud to represent the United States of America as a Black man – because in the words of Langston Hughes, “I, too, am America.”
As I reflect on what Black History means to me I think of my family’s contribution to the United States. My grandfather’s service in Vietnam during a tumultuous time of civil unrest at home and – his experiences fighting bigotry within the ranks while fighting a war. I think of my father who deployed to the first Gulf War. My sister who graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and was dispatched to Louisiana after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I think of Black Americans that valiantly serve this country even when the country seems to underserve us. Lastly, I think of the hope and promise of the United States of America and how I can play the tiniest of roles to actualize the promise to reality.
As a Black foreign service officer, there may not be many people who look like me, but it is my hope that I’m inspiring the next generation of Black diplomats to pursue careers in international affairs. Just as I drew inspiration from those that came before me; the first Black career Ambassador, Terrance A. Thomas; Ambassador James Irving Gadsden who dedicates his time to young and diverse diplomats through the Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship; and from my personal inspiration Ambassadors Pamela L. Spratlen, Harry K. Thomas, and Dereck J. Hogan. Black history is a living history still being made today.
Learn more about the Critical Language Scholarship programs that the U.S. government offers here.
Visit here to learn more about exchange opportunities for students, teachers, and educators.
About the Author: Kevin Moss is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey for the U.S. Department of State.