Erik Angamarca was born in Queens, N.Y., and lived there until he was 10 – and then, something unusual happened. His parents, who had little money, sent him to their native Ecuador to live for two years. Once they saved enough money, they brought him back stateside, this time in North Bergen.
The experience of learning different languages and cultures affected him so much that eventually he wanted to become a U.S. diplomat.
In November, Angamarca, now 25, found out he had won a 2018 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship, to train him to help represent the U.S. in foreign affairs.
The designation goes beyond the doors it will open for him. He wants his story to inspire local kids to do whatever they want in life.
“For me, it was more than just a success story,” Angamarca said.
The fellowship supports individuals who want a career as a Department of State Foreign Service officer.
“I really want to show them that they can rewrite their own narrative, if they just work hard,” he said. “It’s something that can inspire the young students here in North Bergen. Growing up sometimes in these areas, it’s a little hard to dream big.”
When Angamarca headed to Ecuador as a 10-year-old, this new environment was challenging. He traded friends and a sense of familiarity for something different.
But it changed him for the better, he said, and began leading him into a public service career.
“Instead of shying away from it, I ended up taking a lot of positives from it,” Angamarca said. “I adapted to the culture, I became fluent in Spanish, and it really got me to love and become serious about language and cultures and traveling. That eventually led me to want to be a diplomat.”
He was a part of North Bergen High School’s Key Club, a student-led service program, and volunteered for the town’s annual Winterfest celebrations and its nursing homes.
“I’ve always had a love for public service,” Angamarca said. He wanted a career that meshed both serving others and experiencing different cultures.
Working for a U.S. Rep
An opportunity for him came during his freshman year at Fordham University in 2011. He acquired an internship with then-U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel. “When I was there, he actually introduced me to a career in the foreign service,” Angarmarca said of his time working for Rangel. “He said, ‘You have a love for public service, you like languages, you like culture, you like traveling. Why don’t you look at this career?’ ”
The following year, the Rangel International Affairs Summer Program accepted Angamarca. The six-week intensive program, for undergrad students, helps hone their foreign policy knowledge. Recipients train in writing and speaking and learn more about the Foreign Service.
“That really reaffirmed my interest in becoming a diplomat, through that program,” he said.
Later on, he had an internship with the Department of State, which led to studying abroad in China. There, he became fluent in Chinese. He also participated in service learning projects in Ecuador, South America, and Kentucky.
After graduating from Fordham in 2014, Angamarca worked as an English teacher and cultural ambassador in South Korea for two years. He also received a Fulbright Scholarship, enabling him to study in Taiwan for a year.
The vetting process for the International Affairs program is rigorous.
Out of 540 people who applied for the program, only 60 students were invited as finalists. Those students then went to D.C. for an interview and written exam. Then the list was whittled down to the final 30 fellows.
As a part of the program, Angamarca will work for a Congress member on international issues this summer.
The following summer, the Department of State will send him overseas to work in an actual U.S. embassy to get direct experience with U.S. foreign policy. After graduating the program, he will officially become a U.S. diplomat.
“Anyone who wants to be a doctor, can be a doctor,” Angamarca said. “Anyone who wants to be a football player can be a football player. The American Dream is that with hard work and dedication, you can achieve your dreams.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at email@example.com