By GARY S. ANGELO
Tribune Chronicle correspondent
During orientation for the U.S. Department of State, former Warren resident Joel Burger was given a list of 100 places he could possibly be assigned and asked to rank them in order of his preference.
Joel Burger is shown while in Burma last September.
"They give you a list of posts as far as Mexico, Spain and Ghana," Burger said. "They have a ceremony at the end of the orientation and they show the flag and the name of the place and announce where you are going."
Burger said that India was his No. 1 choice out of all the 100 places on the list. He got his wish, and in late April, left the United States for his new position in Mumbai, India.
His interest in international travel began early. While attending Warren G. Harding High School, he was an exchange student in Germany, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Warren. He graduated in 2002.
"The Rotary Club helped support me when I was an exchange student in Germany," he said. "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the Rotary Club."
Chris Shape, member of the Rotary Club of Warren, was the Youth Exchange Chairman during the time Burger was an exchange student in Germany.
"Joel was an excellent student who was involved in his community," Shape said. "He was involved in the Civil Air Patrol as a student, and I remember when we interviewed him, he said he always wanted to work for the State Department and be a diplomat overseas. Joel was a very successful and driven person."
While in college, Burger continued to pursue his goal, doing temporary clerical work for the State Department while attending the Virginia Military Institute. He said he saw everything diplomats did and the effect they have on the world. Also during college, Burger returned to Germany for a one-year internship with the U.S. Consulate in Dusseldorf.
Burger had to undergo a lengthy process to get his post with the State Department.
"It starts with a written standardized test," Burger said. "If you pass it, you go on to the essay test, where you write five essays and you send them to the Department of State. This year, they had 300 foreign service officer postings.
''If the Department of State likes your essays and they approve, they invite you to a one day, eight-hour interview and about 20 percent of people pass the interview."
Burger said those who pass the interview go through the Department of State Diplomatic Security Investigation, which is a security clearance. He said that during this process, the State Department talks to people you have associated with, such as former teachers or personal trainers.
"They investigate you and put together a comprehensive report of you and who you are," Burger said. "If you pass the security clearance, then a final review panel decides whether you are suitable to be a diplomat. When you finish the interview, you get a score at the end of the day. How you do at the interview portion determines whether you receive a job offer."
Burger said you are then ranked and they bring people at the top of the list to an orientation.
He said he has had great experiences traveling but has never been to India.
"I wanted to go somewhere different, very different from where I had been in the past," he said. "I read about Indian culture and I am fascinated by the people, food, culture and religion. India has thousands of languages. Mumbai has a lot of modern culture - it's like the New York of India."
With his experience in world travel, Burger said his favorite country he has visited was Burma. He said he traveled to Burma in September 2013.
"I love Burma, and it's relatively untouched," he said. "Burma has no tourism industry and you really see how people live. I just went to Burma for a vacation. I liked the people and the culture. Interacting with the people was the best part. I met monks and teachers, and I saw how they lived. I met a monk in Burma and he took me to the Delta Village in Burma, and we went into a Buddhist temple that was full of snakes outside of Rangoon."
Lydia Burger, Joel's mother and a current resident of Pittsburgh, said she is proud of her son's accomplishments and his drive to achieve his goals.
"Joel has always had a goal. Whenever he sets his mind to something, he achieves his dream," she said. "We are so proud of him. He is a good son, friend and brother."