FS: The Journey

Since many people will end up at this blog because of their general interest in the U.S. Foreign Service (rather than my witty day-to-day musings), I thought I'd put together a overview of my journey and process.

Prior to my life in D.C., I knew about the Foreign Service, but never considered it as a realistic career option. At some point I picked up a brochure at my college's career services center (where I worked) but I assumed it was for Ivy League east-coasters (i.e. - not me).

I forgot all about the Foreign Service and the State Department until I joined the Peace Corps and headed off to Belize in 2006. My two years as a Peace Corps volunteer offered me only occasional glimpses of U.S. diplomats as they sped by in their air conditioned SUVs and drank cocktails I could only dream about affording at the nicer establishments. The Belize PCVs were never invited to the brand spanking new Embassy or even the Ambassador's residence.  During our "Close of Service" conference an FSO came to give us a required recruitment speech, but this being my first real interaction with anyone from the embassy, I didn't feel particularly inclined to join his privileged ranks.

In 2008, I returned to Seattle to finish graduate school with images of diplomats as "ugly americans" firmly etched in my mind (fairly or unfairly). Back home, I assumed that I would find a job in Seattle with a non-profit or a local government, working to save the environment. Plans changed, however, when I received the Presidential Management Fellowship and was handed the opportunity to vie for some of the most coveted positions for young people in Federal government. I headed to D.C. over Spring Break to participate in the notorious "PMF Job Fair" and see what the Capitol had to offer.

The PMF Job Fair was where I had my second not so great taste of the State Department, but this time I have to place the blame on the other PMF candidates and not on the DOS employees. The job fair is a highly competitive two-day interview-fest most aptly compared to speed dating, with the State Department being the supermodel of the bunch. Everyone who's anyone wants to land a spot there, and unfortunately not all of those people were very nice to wide-eyed westerners who don't know SAIS from the Elliot School* (and I sure didn't). But all's well that end's well because the PMF process did land me an amazing job (not at State Department) that I loved and brought me to where I am today.

I quickly settled into my life as a bureaucrat, working on environmental issues that I cared about and meeting really great colleagues who defy every picture that the media tries to paint about Federal employees. Eight months into my fellowship, I started considering where to go for my "development rotation"- a requirement of the PMF program to spend 6 months outside of your home office. I thought about staying within my Department, but a spot at State Department caught my eye and I decided to give it a shot. The position was in OES, the environment/science bureau, working on air pollution and chemicals. I'd had some experience prior related to black carbon emissions, so I was offered the rotation.

I could write pages about my time in OES, but I'll condense it down to the vitals. I worked some crazy long hours, but on issues that I firmly believed in with people who were incredibly smart, passionate, and amazing. I got to travel around the world and sit at the negotiating table on behalf of the U.S. government. I wrote demarches, cables, talking points, and the whole gambit of diplomatic communications. And I LOVED every second of it. I seriously felt like an addict, and going back to my home office (again, one that I love) was like hitting a brick wall. I knew I needed to go back to State.

So within a year of leaving my temporary position in OES, I had taken and passed the written section of the Foreign Service Office Test (FSOT). This is the first step and one that seemed easy enough to me after spending so much time immersed in policy and foreign affairs. I passed that and was invited to submit essays to be evaluated by a panel of current FSOs. I passed this step as well, and was invited to the Foreign Service Oral Exam, a process and day that I've detailed at length here and here. I made it through that gauntlet and breezed through the clearance process thanks to the security clearance I had already obtained from my time at State. Three and a half months after the OA, I was invited to the 167th A-100 class of FSOs, 11 months after taking the FSOT.

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