The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. ~Mohandas Gandhi

If I have a single regret from my college years, it’s that I never studied abroad. Admittedly, to this day I have not gone overseas, but I have stepped on foreign soil. Growing up 30 minutes from the Canadian border provided many opportunities to visit Montreal. With its Ikea, hopping nightlife, and freshly baked croissants, Montreal was a welcomed excursion on the weekends—especially before I turned 21.

In high school I visited Mexico and the Caribbean by way of one of those giant tourist boats with a waterslide. But I haven’t been anywhere nearly as interesting as the places I hear about from the Puget Sound students who meet with me in Career and Employment Services.  Brazil, Spain, Germany, China, Japan, and Portugal are just a sample of the places to which many Loggers have traveled. It’s both inspiring and a daily reminder that there is much I have yet to experience.

Many students get the travel bug, either from vacation experiences, service trips, or semesters abroad. For some, that little bug grows into a full blown travel lifestyle. It’s easy to see when a student feels passionate about their cross-cultural experiences: their eyes grow wide as they excitedly tell stories about their host families, lifelong friends, and “oops moments” abroad. There are a number of pathways to translate xenophilia into a career filled with cultural experiences, one of which is to become a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with the Department of State.

Working in Foreign Service is certainly no cruise to the Caribbean. Foreign Service Officers work for the U.S. Department of State to advocate for citizens and businesses abroad and build economic and political bridges across the globe. According to the U.S. State Department website, FSOs follow one of five career tracks: Consular Officers advocate for Americans abroad; Economic Officers build economic partnerships and support American businesses abroad; Management Officers run American embassies; Political Officers analyze political events, and; Public Diplomacy Officers explain American values and policies. When starting the process to become a Foreign Service Officer, applicants choose to pursue one of these five tracks. Once a track is selected, it is extremely difficult to change paths, so applicants are advised to choose wisely.

Part of the process of becoming a Foreign Service Officer is to take the FSO test, which examines job knowledge (how the U.S. government works, U.S. and world history, U.S. culture, psychology, management theory, finance, economics, and world affairs), English expression, and biographic information related to work style, communication skills, and approach to other cultures. To find more information about preparing for and taking the FSO test, visit the state department’s website.

The State Department requires that an FSO candidate demonstrate three commitments: flexibility, willingness to demonstrate public support for U.S. government policies regardless of personal views, and willingness to work anywhere in the world. While fluency in other languages is not required, certain language fluency, like Arabic, Chinese, or Hindi, may give one candidate an edge over another.

The application and screening process for Foreign Service Officers is competitive and rigorous. But with great cross-cultural experience, cutting-edge liberal arts education, and resources to help students prepare right here on campus, anyone can be a contender! Get started today by checking out the following resources:

Career Cruising on Cascade provides profiles for many different careers related to government service.

The Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Network lists alumni who are available to contact for more information.

Books available for checkout in the CES Career Resource Library include:

Careers in International Affairs, 7th ed. School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Jobs and Careers Abroad, Guy Hobbs

Work Worldwide: International Career Strategies for the Adventurous Job Seeker, Nancy Mueller

A few of the many web resources:

U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officer Information

USAID-Foreign Service Officer Information

American Foreign Service Association

Foreign Service Examination Information from ACT

© 2010 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound




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