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Foreign Service Then and Now: Has Anything Changed?

Foreign Service is a well-known professional activity in many global societies whose highlights include travel to far away countries to serve as the representative of a country and its government. Historically, some of the most well known foreign services depictions were seen in films about the French Foreign Legion, the British administrative system and the British East India Company. The films tend to glamorize foreign service without a deep understanding of the pros and cons that could be encountered post-foreign service. Media accounts continue to illustrate many cases of post-traumatic stress encountered by returning military personnel. This phenomenon is becoming more and more of an ongoing experience by non-combat personnel as terrorism is a stark reality in many danger zones of the globe.

The United States is well known for having many military units stationed across the globe in areas such as Korea, Germany, Italy, Afghanistan and the Arabian Peninsula to name a few areas. In terms of non-combat personnel, the U.S. Department of State, which is the lead organization for the conduct of American diplomacy, comprises a corps of 12, 000 employees dedicated to representing America abroad as well as responding to Americans who are living and travelling in many countries globally. There are also an additional 37,000 members who staff foreign service national posts overseas.

The opportunities for U.S. citizens to experience a variety of challenges in an ever-changing world could prove very rewarding for those willing and able to meet the qualifications to occupy one of the many roles that are available in the U.S. Department of State. These positions are associated with consular services where the activities are screening visa applicants and issuing visas, political initiatives such as observing elections in host countries, language specialists, analyzing and reporting on health issues, human rights issues, fair trade, and technology.

Some of the most notable rewards to encounter are: to safeguard and protect cultural history such as temple sights in Cambodia and Mali, aiding our allies from military spillover due to regional strife and instability, spreading American goodwill in far away lands while improving international relations, protecting American interests through lasting diplomatic efforts and being a representative of the United States to businesses and governments globally. Other rewards include working as a partner with foreign governments in issues related to protecting peace, eliminating hunger, suffering and promoting the goodwill of American democracy. On a more individual note, opportunities include learning several foreign languages, meeting a diversity of people, living in a new and very different culture as well as knowing that each individual contribution has a direct impact on the lives of so many.

Foreign service also has its downside especially when serving in what is termed a “hot zone” where there is the need to adhere to added security and understand that issues could easily become volatile without any warnings. One example is the well-publicized Benghazi story where American foreign service personnel at a consulate lost their lives on a day that appeared to be a routine work day to conduct business. Some of the risks include working with people who are dissatisfied and very angry with their social and economic situations, tolerating situations where there may be chance of physical or health hazards, tolerating living in locations with very harsh climates, living in unfamiliar places without familiar amenities, and also enthusiastically supporting and defending actions and policies that are contrary to one’s beliefs, as well as staying very motivated even when assigned to locations that the individual did not choose.

One of the most effective ways to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity is by writing letters to your local congressional representatives and the U.S. Representative to the United Nations to urge them to be mindful and support that all UN member states to ratify the Convention of the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel and its Optional Protocol. In this case, ask for their support and pledge to work alongside the UN to raise awareness on the plight of foreign service officers and specialists. People can b forceful and not relent in their efforts to secure justice for all pending cases of detainment and abduction and prevent further abuses. Also continuing to advocate that all foreign service personnel and partners to have the protection they need to continue their work and commitment to the many people of our global community.

The United States is not alone in its mission to promote peace and support prosperity as there are many members of the United Nations community who share this common goal that their work in foreign service will impact the world from their various consulates, embassies, and diplomatic missions. Foreign service is a constant and open bridge to many global communities. These organizational arms of many governments seek to supply humanitarian aid when there is tragedy or natural disasters, support their allies when they encounter terrorism or hostile invasion or to supply technical support in an effort to advance economic activity and improve the quality of life for millions. Foreign service is not for everyone, however, it offer opportunities in terms of career security and endless global commitment and activities.


Author: Horace A. Blake is a DPA Candidate at Capella University.


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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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