Foreign Service Youth Foundation: 30 years of service

Three decades after its inception, FSYF remains focused on helping our young people adapt to changing environments as they transition between positions around the world.


FSYF founders Maryann Minutillo (center) and Lee Lacy are honored with Youth Advocacy Awards at the June 2019 Youth Awards ceremony. The awards were presented by FSYF President John Naland, left.
AFSA / Joaquin Sosa

Growing up in the foreign service can be tough. While an internationally mobile childhood offers benefits such as expanded worldview and deepened maturity, it can also present challenges. The nomadic way of life can lead to confused cultural identities, difficulties adapting to new environments and feelings of uprooting due to repeated departures from homes, schools, friends and countries.

Thirty years ago, the Foreign Service Youth Foundation was founded to help our young people experience the adventure of their transitional education by encouraging resilience and fostering camaraderie. Here is the history of the origin and current activities of FSYF.

“Where do you come from?”

FSYF grew out of a group called Around the World in a Lifetime (AWAL) which was co-founded in 1983 by the Foreign Service Institute’s Overseas Briefing Center, the State Department’s Family Liaison Office, and the Association of American Foreign Service Women (later renamed as the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide—AAFSW). AWAL focused on connecting DC area Foreign Service teens through a variety of social activities.

In early 1989, FLO Director Maryann Minutillo and OBC Director Lee Lacy formed a youth project committee that included representatives from AAFSW, AWAL, the Department Medical from the State Department and the State Office of Overseas Schools. FLO staff member Kay Eakin played a key role, as did AWAL President Phyllis Habib.

The task force’s goal was to find ways to better help foreign service youth make the most difficult adjustment of all: returning “home” to the United States, which they may not have to be experienced only during short vacations, and to be transferred to a school where other students may not appreciate their multicultural perspectives.

As Third Culture Kids (TCK), the children of U.S. citizen employees assigned overseas under the authority of the Head of Mission sometimes struggle to answer the seemingly simple question, “Where are you from?” As one Foreign Service youth put it: “All my life I belonged somewhere and nowhere. I don’t come from here or there, and yet I come from everywhere.

The task force quickly agreed on the need to create a new, larger and better funded organization to expand the work of AWAL. At the request of FLO and OBC, the law firm Arnold and Porter drafted statutes free of charge. The Una Chapman Cox Foundation contributed $20,000 in start-up funds and AAFSW provided an additional $5,000. A volunteer board of directors has been formed; and, on June 5, 1989, the Foreign Service Youth Foundation was formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization headquartered in the District of Columbia. Joel Levy, a foreign service officer with the U.S. Information Agency, served as the FSYF’s first president.

FSYF has over 400 active members drawn from all overseas assigned agencies under the authority of the Head of Mission.

In its early years, FSYF took over AWAL’s teen-focused programs and created Globe Trotters for tweens and Diplokids for elementary school students. These programs offered social events for DC-area youth and workshops focused on “coming back” to the United States after an overseas assignment. The foundation has published four books to help foreign service youth cope with the opportunities and challenges of growing up overseas (including The children’s guide to living abroad).

The FSYF also began publishing a youth-written newsletter, coordinated community service projects, and inaugurated the annual Welcome Back Picnic. In 1996, FSYF joined with OBC to create the KidVid competition, in which young people from embassies and consulates create videos depicting life in overseas missions from a child’s perspective. FSYF also offered workshops, including Teen Get Away Weekend training retreats. Other programs came and went depending on the availability of adult volunteers and funding.

FSYF today

Thirty years after its inception, FSYF remains focused on helping our young people adapt to changing environments as they transition between positions around the world. This social safety net is made up of four components: information, activities, affirmation and advocacy.

Information on TCK issues is shared with dispersed FSYF members around the world through webinars, a youth-written newsletter, and an online video and document library (

Activities bringing together homebound youth spread across the Washington, D.C. area, includes back-to-school seminars for middle and high school students returning from overseas, a college admissions workshop, fun teen/tween events, community service activities and the Fall Homecoming Picnic.

Affirmation is achieved by celebrating the achievements of our youth through annual competitions in the areas of art, essay writing, community service and video making. FSYF also offers Academic Excellence Scholarships for young high achievers. Each year, these contests attract more than 150 contestants and award more than $20,000 at the annual Main State FSYF Youth Awards ceremony (see photo).

Advocacy in recent years has focused on meetings with senior State Department officials to seek better mental health support for Foreign Service children and assistance for those with special educational needs who accompany their parents on a mission abroad.

As the FSYF celebrates its 30th anniversary, it continues to enjoy support from FLO, AAFSW and the Foreign Service Institute. The last three Secretaries of State have sent congratulatory messages to the winners of the FSYF Youth Award. Susan Pompeo gave the keynote address at last year’s awards ceremony and joined the FSYF board of directors as an honorary member. US Senator Chris Van Hollen, a former Foreign Service youth, has long served on the FSYF advisory board. Generous donors continue to fund FSYF programs, led by Clements Worldwide Insurance, Jim McGrath-Re/Max Premier, State Department Federal Credit Union, AFSA and AAFSW.

FSYF has over 400 active members drawn from all overseas assigned agencies under the authority of the Head of Mission. Since many only retain their membership through their children’s teenage years, this constant turnover means that more than 5,000 young people have been served by the FSYF since its founding.

To look forward

The FSYF reaches out to all members of the foreign affairs community through State Department cables, FLO newsletters, and other means. Paying members receive updates on programming and have access to additional resources in the members-only section of the foundation’s website.

Looking to the future, FSYF is expanding its use of interactive webinars to reach young people and their parents around the world. He is also expanding his social activities in the DC area to bring together the scattered TCKs in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. To support these programs, FSYF is looking for adults to serve on its board of directors and to help organize events (to learn more, visit or email [email protected] org).

Let’s leave the final word to two beneficiaries of FSYF programs. One parent writes: “Our daughter’s eyes lit up when she found out that the judging panel had selected her artwork as the 1st place winner in the 5-8 year old category. As a parent, it’s great to be part of a community that values ​​the development of our children. And one youth said, “As a member of a military family associated with the Foreign Service, I am extremely grateful for your organization’s mission to provide highly mobile students with affirmation and mentorship.

John K. Naland is president of the Foreign Service Youth Foundation. He has served on the AFSA Board as President (two terms) and as State Vice President; he is currently in his second term as retired vice-president. He and his wife raised two daughters in the foreign service.

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