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So You Want to Be a US Diplomat

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Life as a US diplomat is a constant challenge; one has to develop strong leadership and communication skills, keep track of international political developments, understand the dynamics of foreign cultures, be willing to travel to remote areas and most importantly, one has to uphold the reputation of the United States of America. If you have the enthusiasm along with the ability to adapt to demanding situations, read on for more information.

 

Are there any specific educational requirements?

Well, strictly speaking, the US government does not lay down any specific requirements in terms of educational qualifications. This means that a fresh high school graduate and a PhD holder are equally eligible to appear for the FSOT or the Foreign Service Officer Test. Having said as much, there are some educational degrees which can give you an edge over other applicants. According to foreign service statistics, a majority of officers have degrees in social sciences, political science and history. With the changing face of global politics, specialized degrees in fields like environmental sciences, technology, management, narcotics control, etc. have also become lucrative options for FSO aspirants. Over the years, people with a Master's degree in International Relations or International Public Policy from institutions like The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Georgetown University and John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies have made their way into the foreign service in large numbers.  

Multilingual speakers can go a long way

Irrespective of the major or degree, knowledge of a foreign language always strengthens an aspirant's chances. As a US diplomat, you will be expected to travel around the world and you must know multiple languages to communicate proficiently in these foreign lands. Currently, the State Department prefers people who are well versed in Middle Eastern and Asian languages like Chinese, Hindi, Farsi, Arabic, Urdu, etc.; however, once in the foreign service, you are often provided language training before your posts so don't feel like you necessarily need to know a ton of languages - just showing the ability to learn languages could be enough.  

Practical experience always helps

Practical, hands-on experience can be a big boost in your profile as it suggests that you have witnessed the workings of a professional organization and will be more equipped to deal with challenging situations. If you are passionate about becoming a US diplomat, you should volunteer or intern for the US Department of State or other government or international organizations. Such internships will be extremely beneficial for your individual and professional growth; not only will you learn immensely from your superiors, you will also make important contacts simultaneously. Also, spending time abroad either studying, volunteering or working will show that you can adapt to different situations, cultures, languages, etc.  

What is the State Department looking for?

The US Department of State has officially released a list of 13 dimensions they look for in candidates. These qualities largely fall in the following groups - leadership and planning abilities, communication skills, cultural adaptability, in-depth knowledge of US and international political and cultural policies, and the ability to take sound decisions in extremely challenging situations. As a US diplomat, you will be in-charge of several things, from understanding national policies to implementing them, from communicating with people in foreign countries to brokering peace treaties with their governments in times of political crisis. Clearly, being a diplomat requires an equal measure of theoretical knowledge and practical application.

 

Personal flexibility is a major criterion

Traveling is obviously a huge part of being a US diplomat. However, it doesn't stop there as you will also settle down in foreign lands, not all of which will be as agreeable as the US. While some of you might be lucky enough to be stationed in Venice or Paris, others might have to stay at more remote locations which won't be equipped with all amenities found in the US. Therefore, personal flexibility is an essential quality for an aspiring US diplomat.  Under normal conditions, you will shift locations every 2 years and a balance will be maintained in terms of the countries in which you are posted i.e. if you have recently spent a few years in a relatively difficult country, you might be assigned a more comfortable location for the next few years. Significantly, you will have to take some major life decisions based on your job and not the other way round. For instance, will your husband or wife and kids travel with you even to remote locations? How about your kids' school? While the government provides accommodation and other benefits, it is still a major decision for your family. Think of all these aspects beforehand. Above all, you really have to care about the world to invest so much of your life in the job. It might sound cliched, but your genuine passion and concern is bound to translate to professional success.