As a child, there were dozens of refrigerator magnets in my home showcasing countries from Israel to Spain. My desire to understand the world was later shaped when I was accepted into my high school international studies program. That experience, coupled with my father’s service in the U.S. Navy, sparked my eagerness to travel the world, experience different cultures and pursue a career in international affairs.
Today, I work at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. As a consular officer, my first responsibility is to help U.S. citizens if they visit or reside in the Guangzhou area, which includes four provinces in southern China.
Our top priority is to ensure the protection and safety of Americans while visiting or living overseas. If you ever need assistance, the American Citizen Services section in any U.S. embassy or consulate is available to help. For example, if a family member dies, we provide assistance to the next of kin in getting the loved one home. Or, if your child loses a passport, we can provide an emergency replacement. If you lose your wallet and do not have any money to travel home, we can offer a repatriation loan to get you back.
During the fall semester of my junior year at Claflin University, I accepted an overseas internship with the Department of State in Rome. My internship at the U.S. mission to the U.N. agencies was a fast-paced and meaningful experience that allowed me to better understand world affairs.
As soon as I received the internship offer, I knew my parents and relatives would want to stay in touch with me during my time away from home. While venturing to Italy as a single female of color, I made photocopies of my passport, state ID card and medical records for my parents to have in case something happened.
I also enrolled in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at STEP.state.gov -- something I'd recommend for everyone, especially those traveling alone. STEP is free and allows our embassies and consulates to contact you in an emergency, plus you can sign up to receive security updates while you travel.
Now for the fun part: Consider visiting Guangzhou! From here you can set sail on a cruise on the vibrant Pearl River Delta. Or visit Shamian Island and take a nice stroll to discover iconic buildings and churches. And of course, having Cantonese-style congee and Hainanese chicken rice is a must.
I am proud to serve as a Foreign Service officer. Wherever your future travel takes you, whether eating pizza on Rome's Spanish Steps or reading a restaurant menu in Chinese, know that taking a few precautionary “STEPs” can save you a lot of headaches and confusion.
About the Author: Ashley M. Simmons serves as a Consular Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China.