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Career Story: Foreign Service Officer For The US State Department

Foreign Service Officer For The US State Department

Job Title: U.S. Diplomat - Foreign Service Officer

Education: BA in Politics and Economics, University of California at Santa Cruz •• Graduate study in economics, Foreign Service Institute •• Language study, Foreign Service Institute

Previous Experience: I worked for a local California school district on an outreach plan for PL 94-142, Equal Access to Education law passed in 1977. At the same time, I did volunteer work at the local State Assemblyman's office and on his congressional campaign. When he was elected to Congress, I went with him to Washington and worked on Capitol Hill for three years as a legislative aid.

Job Tasks: Foreign Service officers work for the US Department of State. They are responsible for explaining US policy to other governments, for helping American Citizens living or traveling abroad, for issuing visas to people who want to visit or work in the US, and for helping American companies who want to sell or invest in other countries. The jobs are as varied as the countries in which we serve. As an economist, I have spent most of my career helping American companies and reporting on economic events. For example, if a company in Guatemala is making and selling fake Levis, we might work with local police to arrest the sellers and with the government of Guatemala to write and enforce better laws against theft of intellectual property. Or if the Russian stock market crashes, an officer in Hungary might send a report to the Secretary of State giving an assessment of what might happen to the economies of Central Europe as a result. Or we might meet with officials in the British Foreign Ministry to discuss US/UK views on how to encourage investment in newly independent Russian states.

Travel is an important part of a Foreign Service Officer's life. You have to be what we call "worldwide available," that is, ready to live and work in any country in the world where you might be needed. Assignments to any given country or to Washington are usually from two to three years, but in a more difficult environment the tour of duty may be only one year.

One of the most important jobs the State Department has right now is supporting the establishment of democracy in Iraq. Embassy Baghdad is our largest embassy. Dedicated Foreign Service Officers have been supporting our mission there, working with the Iraqi government, for over five years.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is living in foreign countries, learning languages, learning about foreign cultures. It's also nice to change jobs; you're always employed, but you get to do different types of things so you don't feel stale.

The worst part of the job is living in foreign countries. We often feel separated from our families, unable to help with things like caring for aging parents or missing special events like a nephew's graduation.

Job Tips:
1. The Foreign Service application is a test with written and oral components. The best way to prepare for the test is to read the NY Times for a year. Read the whole thing, including all the arts and sports sections.

2. You don't have to major in any particular field and you don't have to know languages in advance, but you do get special credit for certain languages if you have them -- Arabic and Chinese for example. Check the State Department's web site for a list of incentive languages.

Additional Thoughts: We like to say that the Foreign Service should look like America in order to better represent America abroad. We want people from many types of background to consider joining.

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