From Volunteer to Ambassador – Kathleen Stephens, South Korea 1975-1977

Photos from Kathleen’s Service

The Peace Corps Story of Ambassador Kathleen Stephens

Korea has been part of Ambassador (retired) Kathleen Stephens’ life and career since she served in rural Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer and trainer, 1975-1977.  She again found herself in Korea from 1983-1989, first as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul reporting on Korea’s domestic political and human rights scene, and later leading the U.S. Consulate in Busan. Then, in 2008, Kathleen Stephens became U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, the first woman and first Korean-speaker to serve in that position.

Since September 2018, Kathleen Stephens has been serving at President and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). In addition to her time in Korea, other overseas assignments included postings to China, former Yugoslavia, Portugal, Northern Ireland, where she was U.S. Consul General in Belfast during the negotiations culminating in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and India, where she was U.S. Charge ‘d Affaires (2014-2015).

Ambassador Stephens also served in a number of policy positions in Washington at the Department of State and the White House.  These included acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (2012), Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (2005-2007), Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (2003-2005), and National Security Council Director for European Affairs at the Clinton White House.

She’s had an illustrious career and by no means is she done. But, where did it all start? The Peace Corps!

On this episode of the My Peace Corps Story podcast, I sit down with Kathleen Stephens at the KEI to talk about her service as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea. For some, it may be odd to think of South Korea as a Peace Corps country, but in 1975 it was one of the poorest countries in the world–behind North Korea at the time.

For those interested in the Peace Corps, foreign service, and international diplomacy, this episode is sure to delight.

And links you may be interested in:

If you want to know more about the Korea Economic Institute of America, visit

If you want to learn more about the Peace Corps in South Korea, check out Friends of Korea



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