What is the day to day experience of being a Foreign Service Officer?

At our recent Diplomatic Careers panel this question was asked and it’s a great question! We are all used to hearing speakers say “that’s a great question.” This phase can mean everything from ‘thank you for asking because I forgot to talk about that’ to ‘HMM! This questioner is very knowledgeable – too knowledgeable in fact!’ However, ‘what is the day to day experience of being an FSO?’ really is a fantastic question because describing a typical workday is not easy for diplomats. The exception might be consular officers making decisions on issuing visas but even there, each day will vary just as the people at the visa window vary. And consular officers have said they have just as much trouble explaining their jobs to their families back home as their colleagues in other sections. The very fact that it is difficult to describe a typical day is what makes the Foreign Service such a fascinating career.

Instead of ‘this is what a typical day looks like’ many officers will discuss specific parts of their job which are constants – such as the need to meet with contacts and to read, listen to and watch everything the country officials, press and in some cases the public are saying about the area of US country relations they are assigned to engage. Some roles even involve organising events. The activities of the US Consulate General in Edinburgh which is responsible for relationships between the USA and Scotland: political, economic, educational, cultural – as well as taking care of US citizens gives an idea of the range in each area. A quick perusal of their twitter feed reveals involvement in trade fairs to assist connections between US and Scottish businesses, presentations of American culture including American recipes (especially when we are all cooking in lockdown) and also useful advice to US citizens or people in Scotland seeking to visit the United States. If you ignore all the tweets except the ones pertinent to the area that interests you – say trade – you get an idea of the ‘day to day work for an FSO who job involves trade and economics.

The day to day question is certainly a fun question for diplomats when they speak about special situations that in effect become the day to day. Presidential visits are an example of special events that take precedence over normal work schedules while enhancing the officers’ work in many ways. For press officers a presidential visit can bolster contacts with the country media and press corps. It’s also fun to listen to several officers answer this question because everyone’s experience will be different. In the meantime, there is a website that offers a glimpse into special situations (like natural disasters) you might encounter as an FSO. The website is part of the careers division at the State Department and is called diplomats@work

Diplomats@work presents you with a scenario such as a trade summit or an earthquake. You select the kind of officer you want to be in that scenario such as political, consular, economic etc and you make decisions based on the information you are given. Not only do the scenarios give you a feel for having responsibilities in an unusual situation but you learn information that may help you in the FSOT (the Foreign Service exam). And who knows, perhaps you will think back on it when you are sitting in an embassy someday dealing with a trade summit or an earthquake.