Thursday, April 27, 2017

Cowboys in Kybartai

Sometimes my job is awesome. This is me in my cowboy boots at the opening of an exhibit of cowboy and rodeo photographs by Lithuanian artist Zinas Kazenas. Zinas is a wonderful spokesman for America, so we've turned him loose in a number of small, out-of-the-way towns in Lithuania to show his work and talk about his love of America and the Wild West. This event was in Kybartai, right on the border with Kaliningrad.



To keep things in perspective, here is another picture of me doing my job. Sometimes my job is awesome, but COLD. This was welcoming a U.S. Navy ship to the port city of Klaipeda.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

It Meant Nothing to Me

Living in a place, it doesn't take long to see the character of the city and what crafts, arts, and food the city wants to share with you. What Lithuania is proud of, among other things, is its amber, ceramics, and linen. You can't walk a block in Old Town without seeing a store that carries these items. I've bought some lovely ceramic pieces, a nice amber brooch, and a unique linen scarf. I will always think of Lithuania when I see these things.

Recently I was in another Baltic city, Tallinn. I explored the Old Town, which was similar in many ways to Vilnius. I found myself browsing the windows of shops that sold amber, ceramics, and linen. It felt so natural to stop and admire these things. At one shop, a woman came out and offered me a discount coupon. And suddenly I felt guilty. Why did the thought of buying amber jewelry in Tallinn feel like I was cheating on Vilnius? Can you betray a city by buying souvenirs?

I didn't buy amber, ceramics, or linen in Tallinn. I remained faithful to Vilnius. But I wonder if the temptation will strike again the next time I visit.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dropping a Truth Bomb

Recently I was asked to write a guest post on a blog for people considering joining the Foreign Service. Specifically, a post about what this career and lifestyle are like when you do it solo. Here is the introduction to my guest post:

This week, Heather, from the blog Adventures Around the World, shares her perspective as a single “solo” Foreign Service Officer. Her story is one shared by many in the Service, but not one readily discussed because of its hard truths. A career in the Foreign Service has many perks: the profession, the chance to visit and live in new and beautiful places, the opportunity to meet cultures and people you normally would not be able to, and much more. However, there are many drawbacks, and it is critical that you be made aware of them, and understand them.

Read the full blog post at Path to Foreign Service.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Service

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the word "service." With all the talk surrounding the transition of presidential administrations, it's important to understand that Foreign Service Officers are professionals, many have served through multiple administrations, both Democratic and Republican. Federal employees are sometimes easy targets for directing frustration toward "the government." Especially when what we do is not widely understood or is considered irrelevant. Here are a few examples of how FSOs serve our country:


  • We represent America; we are often the only Americans foreign audiences have ever met
  • We protect and assist American citizens abroad
  • We advance U.S. interests and build alliances
  • We engage with foreign governments, businesses, and the general public about U.S. policies & culture
  • We advocate for U.S. companies doing business in foreign countries
  • We inform DC policymakers about current events in foreign countries


FSOs deliberately use the word "service" when talking about their work. I didn't just live and work in Lithuania, Afghanistan, Nepal, Iraq, and Romania. I served in those countries. There are many ways people can serve their country. I would make a terrible soldier, but representing the U.S. as a public diplomacy officer in the Foreign Service is how I can serve my country. I take it seriously.

FSOs come in different shapes, with various backgrounds and political affiliations.  And while there are channels for expressing disagreement with policy, we are required to conduct our work professionally even when we find it personally challenging to do so. If a Congressman slams the State Department in a speech one week and the following week requests embassy assistance for an official visit to a foreign country, embassy staff will make sure that Congressman gets what he needs. That's what it means to serve.