Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Here's a More Accurate View: The Foreign Service, A Rewarding Life But It’s Not for Everyone

Now here is a better view of what we do, and as far as the title is concerned, truer words have never been spoken!

The Foreign Service, A Rewarding Life But It’s Not for Everyone

On the diplomatic side, they implement U.S. foreign policy. On the compassionate side they distribute humanitarian assistance to impoverished peoples. They promote American business; bring American culture to millions through American art, literature and music. They help American citizens who become stranded abroad; by invitation of the host country, they teach the best American agricultural techniques to poor countries, which in turn become productive trading partners rather than aid recipients.

If you know little about this army of civilians who work at our embassies and USAID (Agency for International Development) missions around the world, you’re not alone. Fact is, most Americans don’t know what an embassy or USAID mission does. Maybe you question whether your tax dollars are getting the best bang for your hard-earned bucks? Since I’ve spent half my life working for these institutions my view is biased. The few ugly Americans I ever saw were tourists. But of one thing you can be certain, for the pure joy of writing, I’m telling–not selling.

For example, if you’re thinking of taking the Foreign Service Officer exam with an eye toward working for the U.S. State Department (it’s not for everyone), you might want to read an excellent manual published by the American Foreign Service Association, “Inside a U.S. Embassy, How the Foreign Service Works for America,” http://www.afsa.org. At the very least, it will give you insight into whether working overseas for Uncle Sam is the career for you. But manuals are not my forte. As in fiction, where I’m scrupulous in the accuracy of historical ingredients before mixing them into my fictional pie, when it comes to non-fiction I’m just as accurate, but I prefer to write from the heart.

In future articles I’ll introduce you to the people who literally are America’s first line of defense. From seasoned diplomat to Peace Corps volunteer, they’re bright, they’re unique and they’re totally committed. A highly trained cadre of tux at the table and boots on the ground, you’ll see them in hellish holes and in paradise. You’ll learn who does what and why–yes, even how it affects you directly.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, I’ll take you to where tribal residents feed on crocodiles–and vice versa, where yogis run naked in the snow and yoga meditation is an every day practice, rather than the vogue. You’ll drop in on an American jewel in the crown of an African Kingdom; schmooze in a local coffee house and listen in at an embassy party. Ultimately, I hope you’ll be informed and proud of these dedicated folks, who under tough and often dangerous conditions make a difference in the lives of others, maybe even yours, every day.

4 comments:

FS, here we come! said...

Wow, sounds awesome. What a teaser. It sounds like the intro to a new reality TV show. (In a deep announcer voice): They do it all. In a tux, in muddy boots, eating crocodile, who will be voted off the register next?

Bryn said...

So awesome and so true! I hope one day FSO's get the credit the deserve!!!

lindsay said...

So. You are kind of like my hero right now. True Story.

Anonymous said...

So here's my dilemma - I've made it to the top of the Econ register, but have asked for a "temporary postponement" while I sort out my family and current job options.

My concerns include: as a female potential FSO in my early 30s, I'm worried about my young family's safety and about my husband's job track. He's been a steady career guy all his life and is nervous about following me around into the Great Unknown.

I'd also be giving up a much greater salary (not to mention my husband's income). So here's the question - just how great is the FS? Is it worth it for me to take the risk(s) or should I pass? Is it all it's cracked up to be, or is it a lot of bureaucracy and not as much on the job learning?

Any insights from other FSOs would be greatly appreciated!