First Asian-American PCV to become Ambassador — Julia Chang Block (Malaysia)

A Profile in Citizenship

Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963-65)

Julia Chang Bloch, a Peace Corps Volunteer English Teacher in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo) from 1964-1966, is an exceptional human being with her humanitarian and leadership accomplishments in positions too numerous to name here. Her inclusion in 2017 as only 1 of 147 women from U.S. history to make the list in Langston’s “A to Z of American Women Leaders and Activists” is almost as significant as being the First Asian-American Ambassador. Julia has maintained the highest professional standards in her leadership positions at USAID, USIA, Department of State, U.S. Senate, and other private, philanthropic and educational organizations in the U.S. and China among other countries for the last 50+ years.

Julia Chang Block

Julia learned from her Father and Mother in Shandong Province in China where she was born that a person can always do better, challenging yourself, pushing boundaries, creating new paths and leading others. With no English until she was 9 and moved with her family to San Francisco and spent her childhood there earning a BA degree in Communications and Public Policy from UC/Berkeley, and in 1967 a Masters’ degree in Government and East Asia Regional Studies from Harvard University on a Ford Foundation Scholarship. She was awarded an honorary PhD of Human Letters from Northeastern University in 1986. While at UC/Berkeley, she became a U.S. citizen and was attracted to John Kennedy’s Peace Corps as a way she could contribute as well as learn more about herself being Chinese and American. She asked to be sent to Asia so she could draw on her Chinese and American background and find out more about herself by drawing on both cultures.

In Malaysia, the students and their families were comfortable with Julia who enjoyed their food and their culture and they took her into their lives. On a visit 20 years later to her province, she was met by busloads of her former students who were in the middle of their lives and told her that they had experienced “the best times of their lives during her time with them”.  As she finished her PC assignment in 1966, the Peace Corps Malaysia Director contacted PC/HQ and told Talent Search not to lose Julia. When she completed her graduate program at Harvard, Julia came to work at PC/HQ for 3 years in the Dept. of Training, and then Evaluation. It should be mentioned while she was at Harvard, she met a law student, Stuart Bloch, with whom she has shared the past 50+ years.

In 1971, Julia joined Senator Percy’s staff with the Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs handling both domestic and international issues. She also represented the U.S. at the UN World Conference on Women. In 1977 she became Deputy Director of the Office of African Affairs of USIA and was given the Hubert Humphrey Award for International Service. She was invited to take a Fellowship at Harvard’s Institute of Politics/Kennedy School of Government in 1980 where she ran a Study Group on American Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics, before joining USAID where she served as a Special Assistant and then Assistant Administrator of USAID and Near East Bureau.

In 1989, Julie became the first Asian-American to serve as a U.S. Ambassador and went to Nepal. She worked hard to facilitate and promote dialogue between “the people” and the monarchy to help establish a new constitution and legal system. She played a strong role in creating a democratic Nepal without humiliating the King.

In 1987, Julia was named “Woman of the Year” by the Chinese American Women Organization and also received the Peace Corps “Leader for Peace Award”. Julia left public service in 1993 and joined the private sector where she worked in leadership roles with Bank of America, America West Airlines (later American Airlines). She founded the Women’s Policy Group; and then served as President and CEO of the U.S Japan Foundation. In 1998, Peking University asked her to rebuild its American Studies Center. And 2004, Julia established the U.S.-China Education Trust, a non-profit working to promote better relations through education and student exchange. She is also an Emeritus Director of the American Himalayan Foundation focused on improving healthcare, education and prevention of human trafficking. And she has contributed to many other excellent organizations with whom she shares her talents and time.

When reading through an account of Julia’s career in public service since serving as a Volunteer in the jungles of North Borneo, then her Ambassadorship in Nepal, followed by her philanthropic and corporate activities, one can be excused if they felt a sense of exhaustion. There’s more in that one life-time to sufficiently warrant her a well-earned Profile in Citizenship.




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