Friday, February 24, 2017

About Us

N is a Foreign Service Officer (FSO). M is her husband.

We are both Virginians, born and raised, but very excited to begin our adventure in the Foreign Service in Spring 2017. We hope this blog can help keep our loved ones up-to-date on our daily lives as well as serve as a resource for anyone else interested in a diplomatic career or what the heck Foreign Service members do with their taxpayer dollars.

You can subscribe by email at the bottom of the page. My application timeline can be found here. If you want to read all of my advice (for some reason), go here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Excrement Occurs... Sometimes

Last night, with 20 days to go before our start date, the 190th A-100 received our exemption from President Trump's hiring freeze. After months of the mental and emotional rollercoaster of wondering whether we would have jobs or if we would be indefinitely delayed, this is wonderful news.

Yet, it's worth mentioning that our experience could probably be considered decent preparation for what to expect in the Foreign Service. We could arrive to a dream post only to be evacuated for security reasons later. We could be forced to resign from the highest position we'll ever have due to politics. A spouse's illness could temporarily break up the family. All of our most treasured belongings could be dropped into the ocean mid-shipment. Almost anything can happen in this career, so flexibility and adaptability to change are crucial! This recent episode was a good reminder of that truth.

Sometimes, "excrement occurs"... we just happened to be lucky this time.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What's Your Cone?

One of the first questions I'm asked by those who are familiar with Foreign Service Officers is, "What's your cone?" or "What track are you?" There are currently 5 different career tracks for Foreign Service Officers (FSOs, also known as "Generalists"), so this post doesn't apply to the many, many other roles that fall under the "Foreign Service" umbrella.

The 5 FSO career tracks (also known as "cones") are: consular, economic, management, political, and public diplomacy. You choose one when you begin the FSO application process.

So what's the point, especially if everyone applying is being judged based on the same criteria? Some will tell you that certain cones are "easier" for getting into the Foreign Service than others. Some of those same people may suggest to you (as they did to me) that "you can always change to the cone you really want later." I don't recommend this strategy. From what I've heard, it's quite difficult to change cones. You should go in assuming that whatever track you chose when you applied will be your primary track for the rest of your Foreign Service career. Moreover, people from all cones are being selected in each class of new diplomats. One of those lucky applicants could be you! After all, choosing the track that best resonates with your background, skills, and personality should help your candidacy. tl;dr Pick the cone that you actually want.

Which track are you? I'm Public Diplomacy, also known as "PD." My cone includes roles in educational and cultural diplomacy as well as press and media diplomacy. PD work can range from promoting studying in the U.S. to international students to being grilled on U.S. policy on foreign language television.

So can you only do Public Diplomacy jobs? No, tracks aren't like that. Many FSOs do tours outside of their career track during their careers. The cone still indicates each FSO's primary track, where he or she will serve most frequently, but jobs aren't so restricted that all other opportunities are closed. In fact, one of almost* everyone's first two tours must be consular, regardless of his or her cone.

If you want to learn more about the 5 FSO career tracks, I highly recommend starting on State's website here. If you would rather talk to a human being, Diplomats in Residence (DIRs) are a wonderful resource, too.

*I've heard of waivers being granted for exceptional circumstances, but they seem to be extremely rare.

Monday, February 6, 2017

So You Want to Learn About the State Department...

I've heard from enough loved ones and strangers who are interested in the Department of State (and especially the Foreign Service) to know that most Americans aren't aware of what State does or how it's relevant to them or what their representatives abroad are doing.

This is a problem. After all, diplomats serve the American people! I thought I'd contribute a small part and offer some recommendations for further learning on the State Department and the Foreign Service (not designed just for interested applicants). Here are a few of my favorite resources:

  • State by State: I was blown away by how my home state (Virginia) benefitted so directly in so many ways from the State Department's work (for only about a 1% federal budget investment). Find out what State is doing for your state here: https://www.state.gov/statebystate
  • America's Other Army by Nicholas Kralev: This book is simply fantastic. It's written by a journalist and expert on international affairs, who writes fairly and candidly about the positives and negatives of the Foreign Service using the real stories of American diplomats.
  • Inside a U.S. Embassy by Shawn Dorman (Ed.): I love how this book introduces a wider range of Foreign Service roles that the average citizen might not think of when hearing the word "diplomat." It also includes day-in-the-life accounts, crisis stories, and details about the Foreign Service application process. All of these can help you understand what your taxpayer dollars are supporting and what (insanely) varied responsibilities all fall under the umbrella of American embassies and consulates.
  • Discover Diplomacy: State now has a cute web portal for "Diplomacy 101" on its "Discover Diplomacy" site. You can get short answers to FAQs about diplomacy and the State Department here: https://diplomacy.state.gov/discoverdiplomacy/diplomacy101
  • U.S. Diplomacy Center: Okay, this one is kind of cheating, because technically the U.S. Diplomacy Center is not yet open. Nevertheless, the Diplomacy Center will be a museum and education center housed in the Department of State in Washington, DC where visitors can learn all about American diplomacy through interactive exhibits, artifacts, roleplays, and more. If you're a museum nerd like me, this will probably make you giddy! (Hence, I included it in the list even though it's not quite open yet.) You can get Diplomacy Center updates and access to online resources here: https://diplomacy.state.gov

I know those things helped me before starting this crazy journey, but I also love to share them with family and friends. I hope that quick list was useful for you, too. :)