Public Diplomacy Forum - USIA

Spotlight

September - October 1998

  • Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age
  • USIA Jazz Ambassadors
  • A Day in the Life of a Foreign Service Officer

  • Spotlight is PDForum's online journal of public diplomacy events, themes, policies and ideas. Readers of this site are welcome to contribute articles to Spotlight for online publication, or comment on the themes addressed here.

    The Center for Strategic and International Studies released the study "Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age," which focuses on the information revolution, the widening participation of publics in international relations, and the concurrent revolutions in global business and finance, the panel's recommendations constitute the architecture for transforming the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and calls for a revolution in diplomatic affairs.

    The United States Information Agency and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts collaborated once again in an overseas tour of American musicians, Jazz Ambassadors. Seven duos of jazz musicians and vocalists toured a total of 33 countries in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, plus Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus.

    Foreign Service Officer Ed Loo paints a picture of the varied activities he has undertaken in different assignments for USIA, both abroad and at home. As he shows, a "Day in the Life of a Foreign Service Officer" is anything but routine. He also presents a behind the scenes view of the unusual demands and rewards of a career involving frequent relocation and living far away from home. 




     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    "Democratization and the constitutional process, economic reforms and trade liberalization, conflict resolution, environmental protection, human rights -- these are just some of the issues Foreign Service Officers deal with on a daily basis." 
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    "Press officers are also asked to serve as spokespersons for the U.S. embassy and are contacted daily by local and American media looking for comment on important issues." 
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    "While moving every two to four years may prove draining to some, most of us view these changes as opportunities to explore different cultures and environments. I have traveled from New Zealand to Outer Mongolia, from the Great Wall of China to Moscow's Red Square, all as a result of being in the Foreign Service." 
     
     

     

    A Day in the Life of a Foreign Service Officer

    By Ed Loo
    U.S. Information Agency 

    Imagine a career where you get to be involved in the making of U.S. foreign policy while, at the same time, you are always learning about new countries and cultures, new technologies, and new trends in American political, economic, and social development. This description fits what I do as a Foreign Service Officer for the United States Information Agency (USIA). 

    USIA's mission is to act as the public affairs arm of the U.S. government in our embassies and consulates abroad. In contrast to our colleagues at the Department of State who conduct more traditional government-to-government diplomacy, we design active public diplomacy strategies to reach a broader cross-section of people around the world: editors and journalists, academics and researchers, artists, social leaders, and many others. The tools we use include the latest electronic media like the Internet or digital video-conferencing as well as more time-tested methods like the exchange of visitors and experts or good, old-fashioned face-to-face dialogue. Our goal in these efforts is to make sure that people around the world understand the U.S. and our policies and what the background for these policies is. Democratization and the constitutional process, economic reforms and trade liberalization, conflict resolution, environmental protection, human rights -- these are just some of the issues Foreign Service Officers deal with on a daily basis. If we do our jobs right, foreign opinion leaders will understand who we Americans are as a people and why we take the actions we do. 

    Junior and mid-level Foreign Service Officers serve overseas usually as press officers or educational/cultural officers. I have held both types of positions in our embassies in China and the Philippines and at the American Institute in Taiwan. A typical day for a press officer might have included arranging a press conference for visiting American Cabinet officials like the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense or for Congressional delegations, holding a satellite television discussion program between a leading American AIDS researcher speaking from Washington and Chinese scientists sitting in Beijing, or e-mailing important policy documents to a Philippine journalist working on an analysis of the U.S. policy towards Iraq. Press officers are also asked to serve as spokespersons for the U.S. embassy and are contacted daily by local and American media looking for comment on important issues. 

    As an educational/cultural officer, my day might have included accompanying one of the leaders of the modern American women's movement on a meeting with the founders of Beijing's domestic violence hotline as part of a speaking tour organized by us, giving an orientation briefing to a group of Philippine journalists going to visit the U.S. on a professional exchange program funded by the U.S. government to study racial diversity, or participating in a seminar on economic reform with American and Chinese officials, economists, and business people. We also administer the Fulbright Educational exchanges and, on any given day, may be working with the American lecturers or researchers participating in the Fulbright program in our country of assignment or with the foreign students or researchers going to American universities to further their studies. 

    The first step in becoming a Foreign Service Officer is to pass the written Foreign Service Examination, a free test that is offered annually which aims to measure a candidate's general breadth of knowledge and analytical skills. My colleagues and I come from a variety of educational and prior occupational backgrounds, so no one academic field of study or professional experience is a prerequisite for a successful Foreign Service career. In fact, we encourage diversity in all ways. What counts is a sharp mind, an intellectual flexibility, excellent writing and speaking skills, a knack for studying languages, and cultural sensitivity. 

    As the term Foreign Service implies, we will spend the majority of our careers in assignments overseas -- from Albania to Venezuela and everywhere in between -- but will have opportunities to break up our overseas assignments with tours of duty in our Washington headquarters or our New York offices. While moving every two to four years may prove draining to some, most of us view these changes as opportunities to explore different cultures and environments. I have traveled from New Zealand to Outer Mongolia, from the Great Wall of China to Moscow's Red Square, all as a result of being in the Foreign Service. Getting "homesick" for American life does happen, but it just makes us appreciate our time back in the U.S. all the more so. While overseas, we can still maintain our links to our families and communities, and every embassy or consulate also develops as a surrogate family and community. In addition, there are expatriate communities which include other Americans where we can find people with shared interests and hobbies. 

    A Foreign Service career is a good idea for someone with a strong interest in world affairs, an adventurous spirit, and the motivation to perform government service. Being a representative of your government is not always easy, but Foreign Service Officers can take pride and satisfaction in knowing that what they accomplish helps to further the interests of the nation. 

    Ed Loo graduated from Dartmouth College, and holds a Columbia University MA in American History. After working as publicity and marketing director for China Books & Periodicals and as a private business college admissions officer, he joined the U.S. Foreign Service. His assignments include service at the American Institute in Taiwan, as assistant information officer in Beijing, deputy press officer in Manila, and again in Beijing as Center Director. His languages are Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Tagalog, and French. 

    Related links:
    Foreign Service Careers Index, U.S. Department of State
    "Public diplomats" overseas (from "About PDForum")

    Top of page
    Spotlight back issues

    July-August 1998
    "Public Diplomacy as a Second Career"
    "Undertaking a Public Diplomacy Career"
    "Presidential Public Diplomacy in China"

    June 1998
    "Building Peace in Cyprus"
    "Sound of Global Change"

    May 1998
    "Conflict Reporting in West Africa"
    "Public Diplomacy in the Iraq Crisis"

    April 1998
    "Free Market Tough for TV in Kyrgyzstan"

    About The Public Diplomacy Forum

    Homepage | Spotlight | Rostrum | PDNationwide | Citizen Diplomat Links