The Department has been rising to meet the historic challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, every day, all over the world. These efforts involve tracking developments in many different nations and informing U.S. citizens based on their respective location. U.S. Foreign Service Officer Aleta Okediji shares some of her experiences coordinating the Department’s COVID-19 response from Washington, DC, after being evacuated from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Tell us about yourself. How did you find yourself working in the Foreign Service?
I grew up in the Great State of Texas. When it came time for college, however, I was eager to venture beyond my backyard and experience someplace new. I ended up attending Georgetown University, where the value of public service and international perspective made a lasting impression. Although I originally envisioned a legal career, and started off practicing immigration law, life took me in another direction to the Foreign Service.
Looking back, I would not change a thing. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found this unique career, which has taken my family (my tandem husband and our two daughters) on adventures around the world.
Tell us about your experience helping Americans get home. What have been the greatest challenges thus far?
When Beijing went on evacuation status, our family ended up back in Washington, D.C., and I began working in the newly-created Coronavirus Global Response Coordination Unit (CGRCU). The CGRCU was tasked with supporting the Deputy Secretary and the Department’s response to the pandemic. As the emergency spread quickly, becoming a crisis of global scope, I supported the team representing the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA). COVID-19 necessitated tracking developments in each country and messaging U.S. citizens accordingly. Eventually, the CGRCU grew to support the historic efforts of the repatriation task force and the cruise ship teams, bringing record numbers of U.S. citizens home from overseas.
Emergencies bring many challenges – who could have predicted a situation necessitating global authorized departure and worldwide travel advisories. But as this emergency has evolved, the Department has pulled together in its response to navigate this uncharted territory. It has been a tremendous learning experience and honor to work on an issue of vital importance, not only to me, but to colleagues and citizens around the world.
Do you have a message that you want to share with American citizen travelers?
We like to say that we hope you never need to call us. But for those who do, rest assured that nothing is more important to the State Department than the safety of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens who live or travel overseas can take an active role in keeping themselves informed by registering in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP connects citizens to their U.S embassy or consulate in the country of travel, keeping them informed of relevant country conditions and in touch during emergencies.
For more stories highlighting Department employees’ repatriation and COVID-19 response efforts, you can follow @SecPompeo and @StateDeptSpox on Twitter, like and follow @StateDept on Facebook, and watch for the hashtags #WeAreStateDept, #InThisTogether, and #AmericansHome.
For any COVID-19 inquiries related to international travel, STEP enrollment, and all State Department resources, you can visit our website here.
About the Author: Elizabeth Liu serves as the Special Coordinator for the Young African Leaders Initiative in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Liz also serves as the Secretary for the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association, an employee affinity group for the U.S. Department of State.