Oh the Places You’ll Go!
by Claire Ruffing, class of 2011
On Thursday, October 14th, Foreign Service Officer and BC alum Colin Cleary sat down to lunch with students to discuss a career in Foreign Affairs. Having worked in the State Department for 23 years at 6 embassies and assorted “state-side” assignments, he gave great insights into the application process and life of a Foreign Service Officer.
Uncle Sam Wants YOU: The Foreign Service is a career opportunity, not a job placement. Beyond the free housing, paid R&R, and subsidized travel, the Foreign Service invests time and energy into developing YOU into a tool of foreign policy, including language training, regional casework, and leadership skills.
Variety is the Spice of Life: While the Foreign Service asks you specialize in a “cone” of responsibilities (Political, Economic, Consular, Public Diplomacy, and Management), you change positions and countries every two to three years, so there is always an adventure around the corner.
Serve Your Country: As a Foreign Service Officer, you get to be the face of the United States; depending on your post, you may be one of the only Americans people meet. As such, you get to learn about your own culture, be involved in critical situations and decisions, and constructively serve your country.
Take the Test: The application process takes a while to go through, so if you are thinking about the Foreign Service as a career, log on to the website http://careers.state.gov/. If you pass the initial written test, the next stages in a series of short answer questions, then an intensive day-long session of interviews. Remember- the test is free, so good luck!
Read, Read, Read: The Economist, the Foreign Service Journal, the New York Times, American literature, political blogs, your coursework for political science/journalism/economics/anything foreign policy related that interests you.
Listen to Jazz: Imagine you’re at a fancy embassy party- what would safe topics be for someone to start a conversation? Jazz, art, sports, and pop culture. That doesn’t mean you have to like them, just be familiar with them- everyone loves a good conversationalist!
A Word to the Wise:
The Foreign Service is not for everyone.
For one, the process is very competitive. Applicants can, and are encouraged to, reapply, so don’t worry if you have to take the test or interview a couple of times. If you really want it, keep trying!
Another thing, your personal life becomes a challenge. Some people do just fine- some couples travel together, or are both in the Foreign Service and try and coordinate their job placements. But for others the constant change can get in the way of having a “traditional” family life and makes keeping in touch with friends and family back home more difficult.
Finally, politics matter. You are an instrument of foreign policy, but that doesn’t mean you get to write the music. You may find yourself disagreeing with aspects of foreign policy that you are, nevertheless, expected to implement and promote abroad. Also, with the new structure of the Foreign Service, young-and-single Officers are being encouraged to look at placements in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan to help develop a civil government-based foreign policy in those militarized areas.
Puzzlingly under-represented at Boston College, the Foreign Service fits well with Education of the Whole Person, and Men and Women for Others, two fundamental tenants of education here at BC. If the Whys outweigh the Words to the Wise, then the Foreign Service may be for you. As always, explore more on the web at http://careers.state.gov/, and good luck in your adventures!