Foreign Service Officer. Diplomat. Department of State. An employee of the Unites States Government. This career choice is not for the faint-of-heart, weak, or intimidated. However, it is an indirect but crucial part of our life and society, for Foreign Service Officers (FSO) are the ones who “promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad.” FSOs are usually known as the role of Ambassador or a representative of a country, but those roles are merely the surface of an entire system of people working together to advocate diplomacy and forward the affairs of our government.
Being an FSO was a career choice that seemed out-of-reach for me, always wondering what connections would I need to be, at least, an intern for the Department of State (DoS.) I have always had a deep love for history and the constant changing of international affairs, dating back to September 11, 2001. My mother is a civil engineer and contractor for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and was deep in conversation between phone calls as I was walking through the door to the images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Sparing the details, I'll never forget myself asking ‘Why would anyone do this?' do which my mother answered, ‘Some people do not prefer our way of life and would rather destroy it than respect it.' As I grew older and found myself living through different conflicts such as the Iraq War, the 2012 Benghazi attack, and so on, I had always wanted to understand other peoples and countries point of view, and how to coexist with one another, while abiding by their views. As I graduated high school, I enjoyed designing and advertising, leading me to pursue a career in marketing. I enrolled in SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) and stayed for a year and a half before realizing that this was not the career for me. After much thought, I discerned that a career in international affairs would suit me much better. Discussing it with my mother, my passion for history and diplomacy paired with my persistent and legal argumentative debates would be great skills needed to achieve a career in government.
With the hierarchy of the United States Government, under the Executive Branch, you'll find the DoS (along with the other departments). In the DoS, the chain of command begins with the Secretary of State, along with the undersecretaries of various divisions, leading to the position of FSO (also known as a diplomat). An FSO's purpose is to help assist in public service, negotiate with foreign diplomats, and represent the United States on a global level; all while being given the chance to live, experience, learn, and work around the world and understand other cultures and languages. The title of an FSO is an umbrella term for five separate career tracks (previously known as cones) which include: Consular, Economic, Management, Political, and Public Diplomacy Officer. A Consular Officer deals with more daily tasks such as helping facilitate adoptions, approve or deny visas and permits for foreign nationals attempting to enter the country, issuing passports, and if needed, can help assist in evacuating U.S. citizens during crisis. An Economic Officer is given the opportunity to work with foreign governments and other organizations to discuss issues that impact economic trade and travel, including technology, environmental, and scientific subjects. A Management Officer are critical in overseeing embassies and consulates, and administer budgets, resources, and facilities. The Political Officer position is very important in the DoS, as they inspect different country's political parties, views, and events along with negotiate and persuade with representatives from foreign governments, seeking consolation and affirming the United States' relations with said governments. The final occupation is the Public Diplomacy Officer, which revolves around spreading the mission of the United States, in terms of its' interests, policies, and reputation. They are pivotal in explaining the actions of and shaping opinions towards the U.S. alongside changing pre-perceived notions towards its' citizens.
After making the choice of being an FSO and deciding which of the five career tracks would be suitable, you must register for the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test). This is an online test, given only three times a year at pre-selected test centers (February, June, and October), which is used by the DoS to survey if your skills and interests are eligible for employment as a diplomat. The FSOT is comprised of three sections that include ‘job knowledge' such as U.S. history, culture, and affairs; ‘English expression' to assess proficiency in English; and a biographical section to determine personal work habits, interactions and communication with others, along with sentiments towards other cultures and religions. After taking the test, which takes an estimated three hours to complete, an assigned topic will be given to write about. The essay, known as a Personal Narrative (PN), will only be judged if the multiple-choice sections have been passed. Subsequently, if tests indicate that you contain the skills necessary for an FSO position, the PN will be reviewed by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) which is a panel comprised of trained, currently employed FSOs. After a consise review of all tests and the PN, the QEP will approve you for a day-long Oral Assessment (OA). The OA is given only in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco, CA, and is to help measure your qualities (known as dimensions) such as composure, cultural adaptability, and integrity. If everything is approved, you will be asked to complete and be subject to medical and security clearances before being added to the Register. The Register is the hiring register ranked based on the career track chosen and your OA score. If qualified, you will be contacted for an appointment to begin training specific to the career track along with a six-week orientation program known as an A-100, located at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, VA. New FSOs have the possibility to be in training from three months to a year maximum before being considered for an assignment abroad.
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