Living through Fukushima disaster sparks international career commitment for U.S. diplomat
UWL Alumnus Benjamin Levelius was in Japan when the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl struck the country. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, triggered by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami, led to death, environmental damage and the evacuation of 160,000 people in northeastern Japan. Levelius recalls his own departure from the country in detail in the summer 2011 Lantern alumni magazine.
At the time, Levelius’ family pooled together $5,000 to purchase his plane ticket home. Although the extent of disaster’s impact on the environment and local health was yet to be determined, Levelius wanted to go back. And, about a month after the disaster, he did. He returned to volunteer in disaster zones and continue teaching at a Japanese high school. “It is a challenge. This is exactly what I want to do,” he said at the time.
Almost a decade later, Levelius continues to confront international challenges head on. As a U.S. diplomat, he works at the U.S. Consulate General Hyderabad, India, where his most important task is serving Americans abroad. In emergencies such as natural disasters, protests, or even war, the U.S. consulates and embassies becomes the first line of defense and assistance for U.S. citizens abroad.
Levelius returned to campus in November to talk about his career and why foreign policy matters as part of the U.S. State Department’s Hometown Diplomat Program. The program helps the U.S. Department of State establish and maintain important relationships with individuals and local communities in the U.S.
Levelius, who received his bachelor’s degree in Spanish and education from UWL, also met with UWL students to discuss U.S. State Department internship and career opportunities.
“I loved it,” he says. “I miss home so much and being back at UWL made me remember what a special place it is.”
Levelius, ’10, says a potential career as a diplomat first showed up on an aptitude test when he was in eighth grade. But he first acted on his international ambitions after a UWL professor recommended an international teaching position in Japan following college. Levelius says that position, which gave him first-hand experience with the Fukushima disaster, solidified his desire to continue to have an impact internationally. After a stint working for non-profits, Levelius transitioned into the government sector.
His UWL experience successfully set him up for a career abroad, he says. He is fairly certain he wouldn’t have had the same opportunities at another university.
“UWL gave me the opportunity to work with a large international student population, study abroad, and have a closer relationship with professors than I may have had in a different university,” he explains. “UWL provided me the exposure to develop my ideas, grow and learn, and understand how I could pursue what I wanted to do.”
Levelius says the only thing he felt lacking in his UWL experience was exposure to other people who had done diplomatic work. “I guess that’s my rallying cry to the alumni network to remember to stop back on campus every now and then and try to mentor some aspirants along your walk in life,” he says.
About Benjamin Levelius
In addition to serving Americans abroad, Levelius’ role at the Consulate includes regularly interviewing individuals who are not Americans to determine if they qualify for non-immigrant visas. Levelius received a master’s degree in international security and foreign affairs from the University of Maine. He worked for the U.S. Army at Fort Huachuca in the International Military Student Office for three years prior to his work as a diplomat.
Learn more about the Hometown Diplomat program.