Majors at CSB/SJU: Spanish & Peace Studies
Graduation Year: December 2001 (class of 2002)
Graduate School: Master of Science in Higher Education Administration, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN
Additional: Certificate in Translation & Interpreting (not graduate work, but related to my career path), University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Current Job Title: Foreign Service Officer (Diplomat), Department of State, posted at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil
Description of current position:
I work in the consular section of the Embassy and am in charge of American Citizen Services (ACS). ACS work includes accepting applications for passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, notarizing documents, helping U.S. citizens in emergency situations, and preparing for possible crises that could affect U.S. citizens in the host country.
As a Foreign Service Officer, I will serve at U.S. Embassies around the world and at the State Department in Washington, D.C. Our "tours" (assignments) are generally 2-3 years in duration. My first tour was in Caracas, Venezuela, where I also served as a Consular Officer. However, I am actually in the Public Diplomacy track of the Foreign Service. My next tour starts later this year in Kampala, Uganda, where I will serve as the Embassy's Information Officer. In this role, I will focus on how the Embassy communicates with the Ugandan public, including working with the Ugandan press corps and managing the Embassy's social media presence.
If students are interested in diplomacy, they should visit the Foreign Service careers website: www.careers.state.gov. I also recommend speaking with Professor Dick Virden at SJU. He is a retired Foreign Service Officer and was an excellent resource for me.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
Mine was not a typical path into the Foreign Service (not that there is a typical path, but many people do graduate degrees in some sort of international field). I graduated from CSB in 2001, worked abroad for a while, worked at a Latino family organization in Minneapolis (La Oportunidad, Inc.), and then ran the Fast Forward Youth Program for CSB/SJU for about three years. I did my master's coursework while I was at FFYP.
While working for Fast Forward, I took the exams for the Foreign Service. I've always been interested in international work and this seemed like a good fit. I passed the written exam and thus was invited to take the oral exam. A couple months after passing the oral exam, I was offered a position with the Foreign Service.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Do your best to get work, internship, volunteer, and academic experience in areas that develop your language and intercultural abilities, leadership, passion, and understanding of the world. Learn to write very well. Watch documentaries about different countries and global issues. Read a weekly news magazine that covers global news. My personal favorite is The Week.
In addition, meet with people who have jobs that you think you would like to do someday and ask for their advice. (People LOVE to talk about work that they're passionate about - you won't be bothering them at all. Remember that someone helped them out at some time in the past as well.) This is actually how I learned the most about the Foreign Service and decided to take the test.
What skills are important in your field?
Intercultural skills, language ability, flexibility, optimism, leadership, analytical ability, decision-making, ability to work in challenging settings, teamwork, and willingness to try new things.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job? Most challenging?
The most satisfying part of my job is getting to meet and work with incredible people from around the world and having the opportunity to live and work abroad. I love that I get paid to learn new languages and immerse myself in new cultures! In addition, in my current position working with U.S. citizens in Brazil, it's gratifying to be able to help people who find themselves in difficult situations overseas. The most challenging aspect of my job is being so far away from my family, friends, and home. I miss out on many important events in the lives of the people I love.
What activities/experiences were helpful in preparation for this career?
My Peace Studies, Spanish, and graduate coursework provided excellent preparation. However, I don't think this career path would have materialized if I hadn't studied abroad in Central America while at CSB/SJU. Learning to read, speak, and write Spanish well has opened many doors for me. In addition, working as Director of FFYP allowed me to develop and practice a number of the leadership and management skills I use every day as a diplomat and State Department employee.