Pelican grad, Perham native both in foreign work with U.S. Department of Commerce

(From International Trade Commission website)

Rural areas are known for open sky, forests, fields, and small towns. While thought of as being distant from foreign affairs, rural America is an export powerhouse, with billions of dollars in exports from rural companies a year. 

Lisa (Johnson) Foss, 1992 Pelican Rapids High School graduate.

Lisa Foss, with Pelican Rapids roots, and Andrea Staebler Berton, Perham area native, are two U.S. Commercial Service Officers who grew up in rural Minnesota in towns thirty miles apart, both with populations less than 4,000. 

Foreign Commercial Service Officers are an elite diplomatic corps that work in U.S. Embassies all over the world. The staff in those offices work closely with the local U.S.-based CS offices to provide export support to American companies in each of the 50 states. Lisa and Andrea both became interested in international trade, though in separate ways, while living in their rural communities.  

Lisa Johnson Foss grew up in the rural community of Pelican Rapids in central Minnesota. 

Her interest in foreign cultures was piqued early in life when her grandmother Esther taught Lisa to say the German alphabet on a car ride to Fergus Falls. 

Lisa’s mom Elaine taught English as a Second Language in Pelican’s elementary and high schools, which enabled Lisa to interact with students from around the world. Nearly fluent in German by the time she graduated high school, Lisa had also added basic Spanish language skills and, as a member of her church choir, was able to sing some Norwegian Christmas carols. 

She had also grown to love celebrating the Vietnamese New Year, Mexican wedding festivities, and Laotian food, thanks to the time enjoyed with her mom’s students.

Lisa received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations and German Studies from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Arts in European Studies from The George Washington University in Washington, DC.  

An opportunity to take part in a work/study program at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration first introduced Lisa to the U.S. Commercial Service (CS). While intrigued by a possible career in the foreign service, she enjoyed her civil service work assisting U.S. exporters facing overseas trade barriers and wasn’t ready for a career switch. After several years serving in Commerce headquarters, including working remotely to DC from her home outside Minneapolis where she had moved with her husband, Lisa took a temporary assignment in 2009 with the US Commercial Service in Minneapolis. She was inspired by the work she saw in Minneapolis and the positive benefit to Minnesota companies. 

A 2019 temporary assignment in the CS office at the U.S. Embassy in Mozambique convinced Lisa that service as a diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) was where she could have the most impact. Following a rigorous assessment process, Lisa was conditionally accepted into the FCS in September 2019. 

In July 2020, while leading Scouts on a 5-day hike on the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota, Lisa received word that she would finally be confirmed into the FCS. Lisa and her family arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, on January 1, 2021. 

Her current portfolio includes building international networks of women entrepreneurs, matching U.S. exporters to market opportunities in Thailand, and growing the regional opportunities for U.S. businesses through the CS ASEAN ‘One Region – One Team’ initiative. She’s also started studying Thai language.

Fellow Trade Adminisstration colleague Andrea Staebler Berton grew up on a hobby farm near Perham. 

Her parents started out out as teachers but during her childhood, her dad had opened an insurance practice and her mom took her teaching skills home where Andrea was taught through fifth grade. Andrea credits her parents and growing up in a rural community for instilling in her a sense of independence and ability to impact her environment that has served her throughout her career. 

She frequently visited the public library in Perham, and as an avid reader, entered her college with a dream of serving in the Foreign Service.  

While attending Hillsdale College in southern Michigan, Andrea interned with Minnesota Senator Rod Graham’s DC office where she learned first-hand how our political system works and determined that she would pursue a career in international trade.

Editor’s note: This story about 1992 Pelican Rapids High School graduate Lisa (Johnson) Foss, was originally published on the official Website of the International Trade Administration, which is under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The article profiled two small town, Minnesota lakes area Trade Administration staff, Foss and Andrea Staebler, who graduated from nearby Perham High School. 

Lisa, daughter of Cary and Elaine Johnson, was involved in the speech team, drama club, Knowledge Bowl, band, choir theater and cheerleading, one-act plays and class plays. Her international interests were developed early, with a  Summer Homestay in Germany and at the Concordia College Language Villages. In addition, she was a Sunday school teacher and sang in the church choir.

Elaine also updated the Press on their son Heath, an AeroSpace engineer who has his own company -VirtusAero. Youngest daughter, Sherrise, is  a very busy mother with a “very precocious 3-year old-daughter,” Esther.  Sherisse’s husband, Adam, has his own Civil Engineering business.  Heath and Sherrise are also Pelican graduates.