Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Gaining Insight

Last week we split up into three smaller groups, which has made class discussion and organization considerably easier. Parallelling the move to smaller group size, we've also begun looking at particular issues in a more fine-grained way. This has been enlightening on several fronts.

Most importantly, I had no idea that the State Department handled so many different issues. Of course, I had anticipated that the diplomatic scene would be different from country to country, but it's truly amazing what all we are involved in. Combatting drug use, stopping trafficking in persons, dealing with border disputes, aiding in the detection of money laundering groups... The list goes on and on and on. Even if we're not direct participants in a matter, we often act as mediator or contact point for groups that are. The variety of foreign and domestic agencies we deal with is sometimes surprising (for example, who knew that State and the Coast Guard were so intimately involved?). Being a Foreign Service Officer is not just about diplomacy; it really is about furthering broader democratic values, such as human rights and the rule of law. This thought is both comforting and daunting.

The end result is that, for such a small organization, we have a lot of bases to cover. The sheer depth of knowledge each issue requires is mind boggling, and I wonder if I'll be able to keep up with it all. My father told me once that many doctors go into specialties because restricting your claim of knowledge to a very small area is a safe way to avoid criticism and self-doubt. I definitely understand that temptation. If I learn something, I like to understand it completely inside and out before I take on any single portion of it. But as a Generalist*, I have to be able to step into any job at any post at any time. I think a lot of us are wondering how successful we'll be at these constant transitions.

Despite these slight misgivings, I am more proud now of being involved with this Department than I have been at any time since my hiring. Administrations come and go, policies change, but the commitment State has to overarching ideals of basic human freedoms and values has remained consistently high. The "Service" side of Foreign Service is becoming more meaningful for me.

*The Foreign Service hires both 'Generalists'; i.e., your typical FS Officer; and 'Specialists', people who focus on either administration, construction engineering, IT, international information/english language programs, medical services, office management, or security. The security specialists in particular are interesting, in that some of them have the power to make arrests.

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