So, what is the point of it all?
Perhaps I should narrow that question just slightly. Coming back full circle, why did I choose State and what do I plan, keyword here is plan, on doing? Hopefully, this, along with the rest of the blog, will not just be an exercise in vanity, but provide some direction to you. As I might have mentioned previously, I chose State for the simple reason that I want to become a foreign service officer. But there are a couple of things that I want to do prior to turning to the foreign service, which, I believe, reflects a general trend. As people pursue other careers or more winding paths prior to taking the foreign service exam, the entry classes of foreign service officers have become older. After finishing my undergraduate degree at Penn, I would like to complete a tour with the Peace Corps and complete a master’s degree in some field of international affairs.
Many current and former foreign service officers have served in the Peace Corps and speak fondly of the experience. A tour in the Peace Corps will not only get you in a ‘club’ at the State Department, but also will, I hope, prove a rewarding experience, that, although different from the foreign service, provide some insight into working in communities around the world, the hardships, and the perks. One of the perks from the outset, which I, for the record, was not aware of until my internship, is that Peace Corps offers scholarship assistance for officers who have completed their tour and want to pursue a graduate degree. And, a Peace Corps tour counts as two years of government service, which comes with a pay bump if you ever work for the government, such as in the foreign service. Just things to keep in mind.
Starting a career with only an undergraduate degree is definitely possible, but now, more and more, expectations are shifting. So, in all honesty, I want a master’s in part because of the additional career opportunities. But not wholly due to career ambitions. Although both a master’s and a doctorate increase your pay grade in the foreign service I do not feel complete without at least some additional study, and believe that a master’s, although less so than a doctorate, will provide a deeper understanding of international affairs and better professional training. Right now, I am interested in international political economy, which I view as an intersection between my interests in political science and economics. To be fair to my undergraduate degree, I was inspired by a course I took at Penn on the subject. There are several fellowship opportunities as well for like-minded people who want to join either the civil service or foreign service AND pursue a graduate degree, such as the Pickering Fellowship. You should keep in mind that, while definitely possible, the opportunity to complete a graduate degree while already working in the State Department is much more difficult. Unlike the Department of Defense, the State Department has fewer professional development opportunities.
Obviously, I do not know what I want exactly, and I do not think anyone does. If you do, count yourself lucky. The above are just some of my current ideas, subject to change. Right now, I have kept a healthy distance from pursuing a doctorate, but who knows? Maybe, as I sit at home during this quarantine, and bake day in and day out, the thought of opening a bake shop has crossed my mind, as I am sure it has to others across the country. I am learning, which is why the internship has been insightful. I have learned what the State Department does from the inside. I am the first to admit that I have only just scratched the surface. I have learned that my fears about being a Ukrainian immigrant and not being able to serve in posts in eastern Europe are unfounded. To the contrary, there are many current foreign service officers who are immigrants and now proudly serve the United States in their countries of origin. I have also learned a bit of wisdom on cones of the foreign service, which I will pass along here..
Upon becoming a foreign service officer, you will be required to select among five cones: political, economic, consular, management, and public diplomacy. The word of caution is to choose your cone carefully, because the State Department holds you to it throughout your career. I think if you can intern prior, do so just to get a feel of at least one cone. For me, that was public diplomacy, which is what the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs primarily does. That way, you can either rule out a cone or realize that is what you want to do. The bureau’s job and the job at post are going to be different, but I think that it is a useful experience nevertheless. There are opportunities to change cones, especially early on in the career of a foreign service officer, so I do not want to scare you completely. For me, as an indecisive person, I came in knowing that I was interested in the political and economic cones, but now I am also partial to the public diplomacy cone. The political and economic cones both involve the standard conceptions of what foreign service officers do: managing political and economic relations with another country. Public diplomacy is much more people-facing. From my conversations with foreign service officers, each cone is rewarding. Just know what you like best.
Regardless of what cone interests you, or what you plan on doing prior to joining the foreign service, or if you have no interest whatsoever in joining the foreign service and are just reading for the entertainment value (bless you), I hope this blog has provided some insights and some pointers.
In my next post, I will end the series with a reflection on my experience both at State and in the Penn in Washington program.
Next week: Reflection