During a visit to the Johnson & Wales University Providence campus last month, Philip Beekman, the Diplomat in Residence for New England, spoke to a group of students about a career in diplomacy through U.S. Department of State.
Professor Kevin DeJesus, Ph.D., who organized the event, said having someone like Beekman on campus to interface with students was a win for all majors, especially those studing political science. "JWU's political science program continues to provide students with dynamic opportunities to develop their breadth of knowledge around the study and practice of politics," he said. "This is critical validation of the curriculum that is the essence of our major."
Beekman, who has been an officer in the Foreign Service for 14 years, is no stranger to politics. Before returning to the U.S. last year, he spent the past three years in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as U.S. embassy’s public affairs chief. During his presentation, he highlighted the many opportunities available to students, both undergraduate and graduate, who are hoping to live abroad and work in diplomacy.
U.S. Foreign Service, At a Glance
The Foreign Service consists of 70,000 employees across the globe: 14,000 Foreign Service Americans (generalists and specialists) and 45,000 Foreign Service Nationals (non-U.S. citizens employed at overseas missions). According to the U.S. Department of State, “the mission of a U.S. diplomat in the Foreign Service is to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad.”
In other words, a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) works in one of the 270-plus U.S. embassies or consulates throughout the world, assisting citizens with documentation questions and acting as a resource to Americans living or traveling abroad. He said that protecting the interests of Americans overseas is the “most important thing” an FSO can do.
Why Join the Foreign Service?
There are many benefits of joining the Foreign Service. “[It] is the single best way to marry an international career that’s adventurous and interesting with public service,” Beekman said. Here are four of the top benefits of becoming an FSO.
1. There is something for everyone.
The Department of State is always looking for a variety of candidates with different backgrounds to join the Foreign Service. “We are looking to be representative of America,” Beekman explained. “We take this really, really seriously, so we’re looking for a hugely diverse group of people because the United States is incredibly diverse.”
Once you apply to the service, there are several different career paths for you to consider. For example, Beekman and his wife Cynthia are both generalists, meaning they entered the service and chose from one of the five available career tracks: consular, economic, management, political, and public diplomacy. Cynthia is a consular officer and Beekman is a public diplomacy officer. If you have a strong subject matter expertise in a specific area, like a background in finance, human resources, law, or medicine, you can also apply to the service as a specialist. Click here to learn more about Foreign Service career tracks.
2. Overseas travel is a job requirement.
Adventure awaits for those who join the service, as this career will pay you to live and work overseas at a U.S. embassy or consulate. An FSO will spend about two-thirds of his or her career serving overseas and one-third back in Washington, D.C. working at the main State Department building. According to Beekman, Diplomats traditionally rotate in and out of different locations every one, two, or three years, based on the level of risk at a post. FSOs can expect a tour to at least one “hardship” post, or a place that is isolated or considered dangerous.
Worldwide availability is required when joining the service and the first two assignments you are given are directed by the State Department. After that, you have a little bit more control of where you end up. Beekman said his first tour was in Slovenia and his second was in Trinidad and Tobago.
3. It is an opportunity for life-long learning.
Working as an FSO provides you with many different opportunities for cultural immersion and exploration. There is also a unique benefit in that the service will pay you to learn the languages you need to know, though some officers get their assignments based on skills they already have. For example, Cynthia is a heritage Arabic speaker and, because of her background, she was assigned to the Middle East for her first three tours. Beekman, on the other hand, said that he was not much of a linguist in college, so he was sent to school for a year to learn Serbo-Croatian before going to Bosnia and spent six months learning Slovenian before his tour in Slovenia.
4. It is incredibly rewarding.
As a member of the Foreign Service, you have the opportunity to see and experience things that many people do not, all while doing the public service and international relations work you are passionate about. Beekman said the service has also provided him the opportunity to raise his young sons with his wife in an environment that is different from the traditional American upbringing. “The extraordinary becomes the ordinary,” Beekman said, explaining that the things that are out-of-this-world for some people are really just part of another day on the job for him.
To learn more about joining the Foreign Service, click here.
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