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Mastering diplomacy, one week at a time

So, now that the orientation period (aka A-100) is over, what does my life look like? Well, I wake up at 6:45 every morning to go through the latest version of what the State Department considers necessary training for budding diplomats.

In the last few years, there appears to have been a slight shift in thinking about what new hires should get in terms of education and preparation before being sent out to the field, as in, we get more of it and there is an increasing number of different courses. When I looked at my training schedule for this month, I could almost see an outline of a curriculum.

I say “almost” because none of the courses I’m taking are actually required, and some of my fellow classmates are following the courses in a different order, or get only a few of them. Still, in my mind, the classes follow a certain progression that makes sense.

In the first week, I was to learn the foundations of diplomacy. Taught by an experienced Foreign Service Officer, the course focused on acquiring (or practicing) diplomatic skills, or “core competencies.” We brainstormed to solve typical embassy problems; we learned how to use a PICK-chart to make decisions; we honed our writing and collaboration skills by writing cables together; and we learned to distrust statistics and make strong arguments.

In the second week, I was to expand my horizon in a brand-new course called “thinking globally.” I think it should have been called “thinking interdisciplinarily”—except that’s not a real word. A handful of distinguished professors taught us about human geography (which, in hindsight, is totally what I would have liked to study), governance, identity, history, civil society, religion, and artistic expression.

We were lectured to a lot, but thankfully each module came with an entertaining activity that trained us in things like writing really quick and catchy cables by making stuff up, and delivering speeches impersonating the leadership of Hamas, ISIS, and the Taliban. All in all, I thought it was a week well spent. I even managed to gain some new “proponents” of the Islamic State (no, not really). The course was basically an update of what I learned in graduate school.

In the upcoming week I’ll be in “area studies,” which means following workshops focused on US-Europe relations. Looking at the schedule, we’ll be hearing the perspectives of various experts and government agencies on political, strategic, and economic cooperation (and conflict). Also, we’ll work on an individual project. Hopefully, this will be a chance to learn more about U.S. relations with Germany, because my first assignment is in Berlin!


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