UC Riverside Alumna is Ambassador in Africa

From the beginning, her studies cultivated a global mindset

Julie Furuta-Toy, a U.S. ambassador and UCR graduate.

By Amy Zahn

UC Riverside alumna Julie Furuta-Toy was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate as U.S Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, after having served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires in Norway.

Furuta-Toy’s UCR experience began long before she enrolled at the school as a comparative literature major in 1978.  A Riverside native and the daughter of a UCR professor, Tokuji Furuta, the university was an indelible part of her childhood. “I grew up a lot on that campus,” she said, reminiscing about playing on the school’s grounds as a ten-year-old.

She credits many of the experiences she had as UCR student, including her liberal arts education and studying abroad in England during her final year, with the attitude that prompted her to seek a career in the foreign service after her graduation in 1981. From the beginning, her studies cultivated a global mindset that encouraged her to view the world from a lens that included much more than her own surroundings.

“You have to look outside at the rest of the world for the literature, for the criticism,” she said about the courses she took, including a Shakespeare class, that, more than thirty years later, she still thinks about.

Her major also required her to learn a foreign language, an endeavor that has carried her far beyond her studies at UCR. She began her study of the Russian language, which she has since mastered, at the suggestion of a TA.

“I think just the discipline of having to learn a foreign language, trying to make it work, trying to understand the words on the page that are written differently, that’s helped me an awful lot, not only in the foreign service, but also in organizational skills, how to work in an organization and how to approach a problem,” she said.

She has brought these skills, in addition to the skills she acquired participating in one of UCR’s early music performance groups, with her to the various places she has worked throughout her 29-year career in the foreign service, including Russia, Ghana and the Philippines. Her duties have included facilitating inter-country adoptions, reviewing visa applications, helping small businesses become self-sustaining and more.

“The ability to be able to take a problem, to deal with the human beings that are behind it, and then reconstruct it so you can find a solution, it’s something that I actually really think started in some ways with studying languages and literatures, because you have to take them apart,” she said.

Furuta-Toy went on to pursue comparative literature at the graduate level, earning her M.A. from Indiana University in 1984, and entering the foreign service alongside her husband, Steven Toy, also a UCR graduate, not long after.

She departed for Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on Jan. 6, and is in her first weeks of the job.

She encourages the current students of UC Riverside to explore career opportunities in the foreign service, where she says she has been able to have a direct, palpable impact on people’s lives. She keeps track of the campus through her brother, Ken Furuta, who is a reference librarian on campus.

“Being able to help people realize their full potential is something that I think embassies are well placed to do,” she said.

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