Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation

Internships abroad make for a well-rounded education

James Kuykendall combines world-travels and education into an exciting career

James Kuykendall writing on the “wall”,
at Facebook HQ in London.

“Higher education is a big financial commitment… The Scholarship Advisement Program (SAP) grants helped me to lessen that loan burden and helped give me the freedom to pursue study abroad programs,” stated Choctaw Nation SAP graduate James Kuykendall.

Kuykendall’s story is one of travel and adventure – as a considerable portion of his education experience was earned overseas. Now a 28-year-old political officer in the United States Foreign Service, Kuykendall is currently working in the economic section of the U.S. Embassy in London England covering issues such as unemployment, labor and immigration.

Before England, he was stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The path toward his world-traversing career has earned him insight into what it means to use education for life-changing experiences and ultimately connect to desirable lifelong journeys.

A native of Tulsa, Okla., Kuykendall graduated high school from Wright Christian Academy where became familiar with Choctaw Nation’s SAP and grant opportunities. Armed with a strong will to learn and the support of his tribe, he attended John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark.

His determination inspired him to take summer classes and landed him the honors of a cum laude graduate a year earlier than planned with a major in Political Science and minor in French and International Relations. “I was, and remain, extremely grateful to the Choctaw Nation for the financial assistance it provided me during my undergraduate and graduate programs,” stated Kuykendall.

During his sophomore year at John Brown, he studied abroad in Belfast, Northern Ireland, learning about the peace process and conflict resolution. During his time in Northern Ireland he met the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate in Belfast and discovered the U.S. Foreign Service. The Consul General informed Kuykendall of internship opportunities with the State Department.

Upon returning from Belfast, Kuykendall researched positions and applied for the State Department’s internship program which earned him a position in the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, the following summer.

“That internship experience was really invaluable to me. Hands down, I’d say it was the most important thing I did to prepare me for my career,” stated Kuykendall as he spoke about the action that introduced him to his future career. “Not only did I get practical experience in the field I had chosen, but I got to see that I actually liked the work – and that I thought I could be good at it.”

Upon graduating from John Brown, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he attended American University and graduated with a Master’s in International Affairs. During his time with American, he studied in Brussels, Belgium and worked part-time for the U.S. Mission to the European Union. He was also employed in the Office of Western European Affairs at the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Kuykendall at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
during his 2008 study abroad trip.

“Those internships put me in a position to compete for a full-time position which I began even before I graduated,” stated Kuykendall. The position he accepted was in the Office of Policy and Global Issues for the European Affairs Bureau at the State Department as the Deputy Advisor for Congressional Relations.

Following that endeavor, he joined United States Foreign Service in 2010 as a Political Officer. He began his first tour at the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico as a Political and Economic Officer doing research, analysis, and reporting on various aspects such as elections, cross-border trade, environmental cooperation, narcotics, health issues, immigration, and infrastructure. From there he was transferred to his current location in England.

Looking back as he expanded his scope from central Oklahoma to a worldwide career, Kuykendall has developed three key points of advice for students looking to expand their lives on a similar scale.

His first piece of advice is to use all the resources available. “Programs like SAP are a gigantic resource and advantage,” stated Kuykendall as he recalled the valuable services contained in SAP, such as the scholarship database, grants and internship connections.

He also recommends making use of school guidance counselors and their connections. “Go meet with them! Let them help you work on your resume,” said Kuykendall.

His second bit of guidance is to complete and internship. As illustrated by his path through education, internships have played a considerable part in his accomplishments. “I think this is the single best thing you can do early on in school. See if you really like the practical application of what you’re studying,” states Kuykendall.

He continued by saying that partaking in the real-world aspect of a field of study is the best way to know if it is right for you. Doing this early in your education will either assure a student is on the correct path or spur them to make changes in their plans.

Studying abroad is another aspect of education Kuykendall strongly endorses. Stating, “This may seem like it’s out of reach financially or that it doesn’t fit nicely into the university’s semester plan – make it work anyway.”

“I made some amazing life-long friends and learned so much about the world and about myself,” Kuykendall stated. “Challenge yourself, get outside your comfort zone, meet people who are different from you, and I promise you won’t be disappointed!”