High School French class leads to Foreign Service

Galesburg native headed for consulate in Toronto

Thursday, December 15, 2005

GALESBURG - Galesburg will soon have one of its own working for the U.S. State Department in Canada. Stephanie Arnold, 34, begins her new job Jan. 5. Arnold will be vice consul for the U.S. Consulate General in Toronto, a job she's been training for since she got her first taste of international travel as a French student during the late 1980s at Galesburg High School.

As a student in Chad Nusbaum's French class, Arnold traveled to France and knew she wanted a career that allowed her to travel the world and dispel misconceptions about America by interacting with people personally, she said.

"I think I was 19 when I realized this is what I wanted to do," Arnold said. "I always think about (working in foreign service.)"

"She's talked about it for a long time; this is what she's always wanted," said Marty Smith, Arnold's mother.

Arnold said working as a banker for nine years in Chicago helped her to pass the rigorous Foreign Service exam, because many of the questions in the oral exam portion required real-world examples of how she dealt with particular situations. She was able to come up with several solid examples because of her real-world experience, something Arnold said she doubts she could have done if she had taken the test straight out of college. She also earned her MBA at the University of Chicago.

"The selection process is just insane," Arnold said of her Foreign Service exam, which required extensive testing in both oral and written form. The oral exam itself took an entire day.

Before her banking career, Arnold was an international relations major at Grinnell College in Iowa, graduating in 1993. She went directly into the Peace Corps for three years after graduation, where she was stationed in Ghana and explored much of West Africa. There, she met Komla Penty, initially her language instructor and now her husband of three years. The couple has a 7-month-old daughter, Kekeli, which means "Sunshine" in Penty's native African language. Penty speaks three African languages in addition to English. He is a high school teacher and plans to learn French when they move.

Since passing the Foreign Service exam, Arnold and her family are living in Falls Church, Va. She became a foreign service officer for the Diplomatic Corps after completing four months of training at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Va. She will return home to Galesburg for the holidays and then drive 13 hours to Toronto on Jan. 3.

Her new job will entail interviewing visa applicants, which means long hours because she'll be seeing hundreds of applicants daily in brief appointments of one to two minutes each. She also will be calling the families of Americans who have died and dealing with crises.

Her ultimate goal is to become a U.S. ambassador, but Arnold said that is a difficult position to attain.

"I think this was probably the perfect time," Smith said of her daughter's return to foreign work. "Even though she did some things in between ... this is what she's always wanted."


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