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My father enjoyed an extensive, rich career with the U.S. Foreign Service for a span of over thirty years. After passing the rigorous exam containing several portions (written, oral, medical, security clearance), he launched himself into serving at posts around the world and living a unique life full of travel and palpable culture which few careers can offer as a benefit. I traveled with my father to five different posts until I returned to the U.S. for university. The demands of a career in the Foreign Service adapt and accommodate throughout the years to the international relations concerns of the day. Many of the risks from decades ago are still present, but the world is a dynamic place and risks adjust with the changes. The rewards, however, are still present, and dispersed among several facets of life.
All Foreign Service candidates are expected to accept the reality that the needs of the Service are the priority, and a member may ultimately be called to serve in a location deemed unstable. It has become increasingly common for these required “hardship” posts to include countries such as Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which pose severe security hazards not found in other locations. Residing in such areas for years can put diplomats in fragile environments for lengthy amounts of time, and unfortunately the State Department community does suffer casualties due to their exposure to the more violent acts occurring in these locations.
As stated, the hostile form of risk is more likely to occur in some regions rather than others, but every post bears its own level of risk including kidnapping, robbery or the targeting of Americans to list a few. When my family was stationed in Moscow, Russia from 1997 – 1999, the U.S. Embassy was fired upon with a shoulder-held missile launcher which caused extensive damage. This spurred U.S. Marines to visit each residence in the nearby compound to initiate a lock-down. It was an unnerving experience, but thorough protocol is put in place to protect as capably as possible when events such as this occur.
There is a Foreign Service “community” developed not only by the shared occupational aspects of the profession, but also by the shared experiences and common interests which create a version of a family. This community may be large in numbers, but it is tight-knit. I have a memory of when the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed and recall feeling a deep anguish at the loss of our own even though I did not know or meet any of the victims. They were stationed in those posts just as any other Foreign Service members are, and it was a tragic end to their service.
Despite the dangers diplomats face serving overseas, it has to be understood that individuals who ultimately serve in this profession do so because they have a passion for the cause that outweighs any precarious conditions likely to be experienced. I think it is important we recognize the dedication of these individuals and their accomplishments in shaping the global arena. The mission is to promote American interests and policies; to build, nurture, or maintain alliances; to develop influential dialogue and understanding with nations not completely aligned with the American government; to protect American citizens travelling abroad and to regulate U.S. immigration; and to serve the evolving needs of the U.S. State Department. Foreign Service Officers play an integral role in the United States’ diplomacy and are responsible for presidential and department head visits to the post for meetings with local government officials. Without the Foreign Service there would be no means to practice diplomacy in a world where it is a key method in establishing constructive communications. We are increasingly becoming a more global society, with intricate and complex connections between countries – the Foreign Service is necessary to maintain and strengthen those connections.
The rewards of this distinctive career are numerous. The education provided to the children of diplomats overseas is of high quality and comparable to that of private schools in the United States. The numerous cultures of the world are encountered first-hand for years – through cuisine, architecture, the landscape and of course through the native peoples of the country. Values are shaped to truly appreciate and admire the diversity present throughout the world. Even though relocating every few years can be perceived as a hassle, there is an excitement in arriving at a new post and there is always a Foreign Service community that will provide support during the transition.
People sometimes ask me if living the life I did while growing up – moving often, making and losing friends, dealing with language barriers, changing schools – was “difficult” and something I would trade. I always respond with a no. In fact, I aspire to follow in my father’s footsteps and serve in a public role overseas. In my view, each of those perceived hurdles has a positive light – living in different countries, meeting an array of people and learning new languages. Because of the Foreign Service, I am a more globally-minded and inquisitive person today, with a unique perspective of America’s relationship to the entire world and each of her nations.
Author: Natalie Hauptmann is now living in Kansas City and works for Park University. She is the granddaughter of the founder of Park University’s Hauptmann School of Public Affairs, Dr. Jerzy Hauptmann. Dr. Hauptmann also founded the Greater Kansas City Chapter of ASPA.