What if I pursued a job as a foreign service officer? This is not a new question to me, and it came up again today when we visited the US Consulate.
A slightly later meeting time (8:15AM) after breakfast was followed by my favorite lecture of the trip thus far: a history lesson. I learned all about ancient Vietnam and the different religions and ethnic groups that are present in the country. This was followed by a Vietnamese language class (I’m starting to understand some things) and then a delicious lunch at another university. From there, we went to the US Consulate.
After going through security (they just searched our stuff and needed ID), we had a long Q&A with three foreign service officers, two of which had been working for many years and the third a newer person who graduated from Pitt.
Going into the day, I knew what foreign service officers did. They go around the world for about 25 years, staying no more than three years in one location, and then they retire. As they do this, they are in discuss international relations relating to politics, economics, human rights, etc. However, I did learn details that I couldn’t get from looking at the State Department’s website.
Every officer starts off by working with people applying for Visas. Hundreds of people apply each day, and you interview them and look over their paperwork to make sure they, as our hosts put it, “want to see Disneyland and not, say, drive an illegal taxi”. They also mentioned that you can acquire an immigration Visa by working at the Consulate for 20 years, but that seems a little more tedious.
Besides talking with the Vietnamese government and large scale diplomacy, they also do small scale events to do diplomacy with the Vietnamese people themselves. They have an open door policy where people can come into the Consulate and relax or watch American movies or read books that are banned by the Vietnamese government (something that surprised me). Additionally, they’ll host events related to American culture, like Halloween parties or celebrate Black History Month. They’ll have discussions on women’s rights or watch presidential debates (including the SNL versions).
They also discussed relations between the USA and Vietnam and how they’ve changed. Following the Vietnam War, there was a dark period and then relations were normalized in the 90s when Vietnam decided to enter the world economic stage. Since then, relations have been good and the US has a 94% approval rate among Vietnamese citizens. As a main investor and importer of goods like coffee and rice, the US has been a major partner in Vietnam’s path of development. Obviously there are still human rights issues, as Vietnam is a one-party state that refuses to let people talk poorly about the government. Despite this, it seems like relations are good and will only get better.
Would I be a foreign service officer? I don’t think so. To raise a family while moving around the world and rarely going home seems like too much for me. But it seemed like everyone walked out of the Consulate temporarily inspired to drop everything and move to Malawi. Perhaps I’ll do some more research into internship opportunities with these kinds of things or look at job opportunities in the State Department back in the states. For now, though, from my hotel room bed I can hear American pop music playing outside the hotel, and in a few minutes I’ll be going to the lobby to have my fitted suit checked out.