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. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Adjustment

Since arriving in Vilnius, the biggest adjustment I've had to make is accepting that everyone here seems to be in a good mood. Maybe it's because I'm American, or a diplomat, or it's just my naturally surly disposition, my guard is always up. But day after day, Vilnius proves to be a happy place where people are among the most content and satisfied of all the European capitals.

The young guy at the cash register doesn't get angry when he can't understand my pidgin Lithuanian, he just smiles and speaks English. The taxi driver isn't taking the long way to run up the fare, the kooky layout of the city means the long way really is the only way to get to my apartment. And I believe the girl in the bakery really does want me to have a nice day.

Is it possible that an entire city can be in a good mood all the time? It will be interesting to see what three years here will do to me. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Best Idea We Ever Had

I really love being a Public Affairs Officer. Mostly. One down side is that I don't get to do as much of the fun stuff because I spend a good deal of time managing the budget, doing HR-related paperwork, supporting the front office, and responding to requests from DC. But recently I got to give a presentation to a school group on a topic close to my heart - National Parks.

My presentation skills may have been a little rusty, but my enthusiasm for the topic made up for it. For me, this is the perfect American culture topic - it combines America's natural beauty, American history, and maybe one of the best ideas America ever exported to the world - protecting the nation's most glorious natural wonders for the public. And, of course, it's a chance to show lots of pretty pictures. (If you want to know more, visit PBS's National Parks documentary page.) 


After all the craziness of the elections, it was nice to talk about something fun and positive. And, I hope, it left a good impression with the students.