In the first few weeks, I worked on setting up consultations for post officers with bureau program officers. Let me explain. As a reminder, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) manages all State Department-funded exchange programs, which includes both American and foreign participants. The bureau’s programs are quite expansive and cover a broad scope, ranging from the titular Fulbright program (which itself consists of different types of programs) to sports envoys. Program officers work in the different program offices within the bureau and oversee the different programs the bureau manages. Each program officer is usually confined to a specific geographic region, which parallels the portfolio of a regional bureau, such as South and Central Asia. Post officers, on the other hand, are foreign service officers who work at posts abroad, hence the name. The foreign service divides foreign service officers into five areas of service, or cones: consular, political, economic, management, and public diplomacy. As you can likely tell, there are already many topics that require further elaboration (or so I think).
I, however, refuse to fall victim to my tendency to engage in tangents and will persevere. I promise I will talk about the cones at some point, but please stick with me. In the tangled web of the State Department, ECA falls under the public diplomacy family, which includes several other bureaus that all report to the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Public diplomacy is the front-facing aspect of diplomatic work and involves communicating and building relationships directly with the people of the host country. Logically, foreign service officers whose portfolios cover public diplomacy are those who selected the public diplomacy cone. Public diplomacy divides into press operations and exchange programs. Thus, public diplomacy (PD) post officers, at least those whose portfolio includes exchange programs, are the ones who manage on the ground operations of ECA programs. To facilitate knowledge of ECA programs in-country and to create points of contact with those overseeing the programs in Washington, PD officers or regional bureaus will reach out to ECA to set up consultations with program officers. The Policy Office handles these consultation requests. Before FSOs leave for a posting, they ask for consultations, and program officers will brief them on ECA programs at the post. PD officers might ask about which programs are the priorities of the post, what a program involves, what the logistics of a program are like on the ground, or how to expand a program at the post.
My job involved finding the right points of contact in the program offices for a given consultation, scheduling a time, and reserving a room ahead of the consultation. Then I had to communicate the date and time of the consultation to the relevant points of contact and make sure that program officers signed up for time slots. Reminder emails are key! On the day of, I would escort the post officer to the meeting location and make sure the consultation ran smoothly. Although not the most intellectually engaging work, I enjoyed the administrative work and got a lot of useful event planning experience. Plus, when trying to smooth over the tardiness of some, I had engaging conversations with career foreign service officers about their experiences. I find that these conversations were not only illuminating, but more candid. Plus, I did get to organize an ECA roundtable with an ambassador-nominee, also a career foreign service officer, which I then sat in on. So, altogether a great experience.
As I set out to write this, I hoped to squeeze in more job experiences, but I am running a bit low on space and wouldn’t want to bore you longer. I hope I will do a better job next post!