As I prepare to begin my Foreign Service career tomorrow, I can’t help but to think back to the first Foreign Service Officer I met. It was my junior year of college, when I was studying abroad in West Africa. Early in our stay the Deputy Chief of Mission (the #2 person in the Embassy, below the Ambassador) invited us students to a reception at his home. We spent the evening chatting with diplomats, missionaries, teachers and Peace Corps volunteers, who all shared stories about this place where we were so excited to spend the next four months of our lives. Some FSNs (“Foreign Service Nationals,” locals who work at the Embassy) were there too; their stories were most interesting of all.
A few weeks later, as a “thanks for the good time,” we invited the DCM to a small dinner party we put together at our apartment. We knew he had much more important things to do than hang out with college students, so of course we didn’t expect him to actually come, but he did.
Not only did he come, but throughout the evening he was refreshingly down-to-earth. He spoke just as comfortably about the region’s history and political climate as about the low-brow TV shows we were obsessed with at the time. Then, when a group of neighborhood children wandered over to see what was going on, the DCM greeted them warmly and chatted with them in their language.
There’s a stereotype of the American diplomat: he isolates himself within the expatriate community, never really experiencing the local culture; he’s snooty, too good for anyone but VIPs and Heads of State.
That was far from the impression I got of this DCM, the first Foreign Service Officer I met. The many FSOs I’ve met since don’t reflect that stereotype either. I can’t say with complete certainty say that there are no “Ugly Americans” out there — after all, there are 12,000 members of the U.S. Foreign Service working around the world — but I do know it’s not the sort of FSO I’ll be.
Here goes nothing…