We asked the Head of Non Immigrant Visas at the Embassy in London to Discuss her Foreign Service Journey so far.
In undergraduate school I studied English and Philosophy. Before I joined the Foreign Service I was a lawyer in the Department of Justice in the tax division. It was about as boring as you can imagine. I didn’t really know much about the Foreign Service. I hadn’t heard about it when I was going to undergraduate or graduate school. But my partner who is in the Foreign Service was an international relations major when she was an undergrad. She joined the Foreign Service first and then in true government fashion, I took the exam but then the government did not have any money for quite a while because it was on a continuing resolution which meant they couldn’t hire anybody new. I was waiting and waiting and waiting so eventually I moved to Seoul of my own accord which was my partner’s first post where she was living and I worked at the embassy there in a non officer position. Then I fell in love with the Foreign Service and decided that was definitely what I wanted to do.
After getting into the Foreign Service, my partner and I were able to work together in Washington D.C. (where the State Department in located) in the Dominican Republic, Athens, Greece, Islamabad, Pakistan and now here in London. That gives you an idea of the range. If you are a person that has particular language skills or you are really interested in East Asia for example, there are people who focus regionally. As you can see, I did not do that. I went all over the place. Who knows where I will go next?
Once you are in the Foreign Service there are different paths or divisions called ‘cones’. They are like a major in college. I picked the economic cone but when after joining I did a bunch of consular work and that’s all I have ever done since. So I have never actually done any economic work even though I chose the economic cone at first.
Consular work is a range of things. So if you are an American citizen who is studying overseas and your passport gets lost or stolen you need to get a new one. You come into the embassy and the American Citizen Services section helps. If you are robbed or God forbid you are overseas and you are with someone who has an illness or dies overseas we help with all of that. Then there is the visa section where I work now. All the foreign and UK citizens, who want to go to the United States for study, or work or just for tourism come to my section and apply for visas. That is they apply for non-immigrant visas The corollary to that is someone who wants to immigrate for example someone who is here studying, meets an American citizen, falls in love and decides they want to marry and move to the United States. We do those as well.
In terms of languages I did not get Korean training from the Foreign Service because when I went to Korea I was not with the Foreign Service and did not have a job until I got there. I did get Spanish and Greek training but not Urdu because at that point I was a manager and was not interviewing visa applicants every day and some of our posts are a little more dangerous than others. For example in Islamabad, most people are there for only one year so the government did not want to invest in language training for someone who was only going to do a couple of interviews.
As far as the Foreign Service test – it’s a very gruelling exam but it’s just a hurdle that you have to get over if you really have a passion for it. If you don’t pass it the first time, you can take it again. A lot of people don’t pass the first, second or third time and still go on to have illustrious Foreign Service careers.