Alumna-turned-ambassador reflects on 30-plus-year career as U.S. diplomat

Author: Jamie Oppenheim
April 8, 2024
U.S. Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Caryn McClelland presents her Letter of Credence to His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam.

Caryn R. McClelland was appointed to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Brunei Darussalam in 2021

Caryn R. McClelland spent more than three decades as a diplomat in the United States Foreign Service, a path she’s unknowingly been preparing for since childhood. Her parents’ wanderlust had the family moving every few years to cities in New Jersey, Maine, Michigan and California, eventually ending up in San Francisco. With each move she’d reinvent herself. For some, that might grow tiresome, but the San Francisco State University alumna says she thrived — and developed resilience and adaptability that helped her climb the ranks of the U.S. Foreign Service.

McClelland (M.A., ’90) is now ambassador to the nation of Brunei Darussalam, an absolute monarchy strategically located on the island of Borneo. The U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment in 2021, the culmination of 33 years in the Foreign Service. She was accepted into the program in the early 1990s while earning a graduate degree in International Relations from San Francisco State. (She earned her B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles and later earned an M.S. in National Security Strategy from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.) Since joining the Foreign Service, she’s had posts in Vietnam, Latvia, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Turkmenistan and other nations.

McClelland learned about the Foreign Service at the recommendation of a family friend who thought she’d be a good fit. At the time, McClelland had just graduated from UCLA and was deciding what to do next with her life. “I thought this was a great opportunity and a way to represent my country, but also experience life overseas,” she said. She was sold. She began studying International Relations at SF State soon afterward, building a solid foundation for the work she’d be doing abroad, and passed the Foreign Service exam shortly before earning her degree.

Read the full story at SF State News.