Embassy sweets: An international love story

by J. Besl  |   

I AM UAA: Kailey Ibsen, B.A. Anthropology '11, turned a Confucius Institure scholarship in to a continent-hopping career to China and Thailand. Here, she attends a presentation at a rural Thai school (Photo courtesy of Kailey Ibsen).
I AM UAA: Kailey Ibsen, B.A. Anthropology '11, turned a Confucius Institure scholarship into a continent-hopping career to China and Thailand. Here, she attends a presentation at a rural Thai school. (Photo courtesy of Kailey Ibsen)

Most people find it difficult to balance career and travel, opting for one at the expense of the other. Those people could learn a lot from Kailey Ibsen, B.A. Anthropology '11.

Kailey possesses that most rare of traits — career-minded wanderlust. She's made the most of the past four years since graduating from UAA. She studied Mandarin in China for a year, took the LSAT in Shanghai, completed law school in her native New Jersey, staffed the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, worked at a Bangkok law firm, studied for the bar in Ohio, and now serves as a federal prosecutor out of New York City. Joining her throughout the journey is her husband, Jason, whom she met while studying abroad in China as an undergrad. It's a passport-stamping, continent-crossing whirlwind, a series of increasingly larger dominos that all started with her decision to attend UAA.

Kailey's journey kicked off in high school when she first visited Alaska to see her aunt, a decades-long resident of Sitka, Talkeetna and Anchorage. The visit stuck with her and, after finishing high school, she decided to return. While her friends and classmates mostly moved to jobs and schools around the East Coast, Kailey instead headed north and enrolled at UAA.

She already knew law school was in her future, and decided to follow her interest in cultures as an undergrad, declaring a major in anthropology and signing on for Mandarin classes. It was a simple decision with epic results.

"Our professor was really encouraging of us going to China, studying abroad and visiting if we could," Kailey recalled. "Not to overstate its influence, but if I hadn't taken Mandarin at UAA I don't know if the rest of it would have happened."

Kailey made her first of many moves to Asia when she decided to study in China through the University Study Abroad Consortium.

"After taking Mandarin at UAA, I was just looking for a program to go to China and then I found USAC and they had programs in Shanghai and Chengdu," she explained. "So for no particular reason I decided to go to Chengdu." And good thing she did. "I met my husband there while I was studying abroad," she smiled. Jason had completed the same USAC program the previous year and stayed an extra year to teach English. When Kailey returned to Anchorage in the fall, he came back too.

Jason and Kailey met in China, shot wedding photos in Thailand and married in the good ol' USA (Photo courtesy of Kailey Ibsen).
Jason and Kailey met in China, shot wedding photos in Thailand and married in the good ol' USA. (Photo courtesy of Kailey Ibsen)

The two would return to China soon enough. While Kailey finished up her senior year, Jason tutored on campus and hosted a Chinese opera in Anchorage. They both applied for and received full scholarships from the Confucius Institute — a Chinese cultural program with an office at UAA.

"I don't know if I would have gone back to China if I didn't have a scholarship," Kailey noted. "That kind of made the choice easy and it was a really good opportunity. My Chinese level increased that year exponentially."

For their return to China, they were off to study Mandarin at UAA's sister school in Changchun, a city of over 7 million in the province sandwiched between Russia and North Korea. "It was actually colder than Alaska," Kailey laughed.

But after a year in China's frigid North, it was time to focus on her next goal-law school. She took the LSAT in Shanghai and enrolled at Seton Hall while Jason stayed behind to finish his master's degree in Changchun. It was quite the long-distance relationship, but Kailey planned to find an embassy job that would allow her to return to Asia in the summers.

Although originally focused on China, she extended her embassy applications throughout Asia and, through a series of fortunate email forwards, her law school background caught the eye of the intellectual property attaché in Bangkok. He'd never had an intern before, but couldn't pass on Kailey's law background, so she ended up in Thailand's largest city working for the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.

"That was a really good experience," she said of the reroute to Thailand. She worked in intellectual property, aiming to convince foreign governments to implement domestic business legislation that aligned with the U.S. and other nations to increase business opportunities.

While staffing the US Embassy in Bangkok, Kailey attended US Patent and Trademark Office conferences with Southeast Asian nations (Photo courtesy of Kailey Ibsen).
While staffing the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Kailey attended U.S. Patent and Trademark Office conferences with Southeast Asian nations. (Photo courtesy of Kailey Ibsen)

Things kept rolling from there. The internship led to her next Asia gig the following summer, working at Tilleke & Gibbins — Thailand's oldest law firm — specializing in intellectual property law. That opportunity, paired with her Mandarin skills, led to an internship with immigration and customs enforcement back in New York City.

During this time, Jason worked in D.C. for a spell, then for a year in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. It was a bit of a novelty for the couple-both of them were (finally) stateside for an extended period of time. They made the most of the moment and got married, making a temporary home together in Dayton-he worked, while she studied for the bar.

But, like every other piece of their last few years, this chapter in the heartland proved short-lived-soon, both she and her husband received phone calls with job offers, taking them out of Ohio and across the country again. Since September, Kailey has worked in New York City as a federal prosecutor. But after years apart, they at least have the luxury of being only one time zone apart.

It's a bit overwhelming just to read about Kailey and her husband's globe-hopping lives, but the wealth of opportunities and experiences can all be traced, in some way, to her decision to study abroad.

Who knows what happens next, but it's been a pretty wild ride for a federal prosecutor who just graduated four years ago.

"It's kind of like a domino effect... I might be single and unemployed if I never took Mandarin at UAA," she laughed.

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