On dual citizenship and passing the Foreign Service test
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
Having dual citizenship is not a source of pride in the Foreign Service. How could it be, when patriotism and representing American culture are part of the job? Being born and raised elsewhere is often frowned upon—it’s not something people expect.
In fact, having dual citizenship stops many from applying for the Foreign Service in the first place. Some of it is just fear of failure, of course. I often wondered how could I “beat” other applicants having limited knowledge of American society. How could I ever know more than someone who lived in the United States their whole life?
Another part of it is fear of standing out. I never thought of myself as a minority because I’m white, but I’m still a woman in a man’s world and I have a foreign accent. That I hate. I’ll talk to someone new and just wait for it—one minute, five minutes max, until the question comes: where are you from? Honestly, I thought I’d never be taken seriously taking the Foreign Service test because of that. I was convinced it would count against me. It didn’t.
Finally, there’s a bit of imposter syndrome. I probably would have become a diplomat in my native country too, but to be a diplomat in a country I’m not originally from feels a bit like I’m taking a job that belongs to someone else.
As a result, I try to hide my accent. And I never know what to say when people ask me where I’m from. Feeling more comfortable with my situation—being born and raised in the Netherlands, and getting U.S. citizenship through marriage—is a slow process.
The most comforting thought is that I’m certainly not the only dual national in the FS, and not everyone acts “surprised” when they find out my roots are in another country. The truth is that we’re all different and thus we react differently. That’s the whole point. It’s what makes it so damn interesting to be a diplomat and live all over the world.
So I can choose to feel like an imposter, worry about my accent, and feel insecure about never knowing everything about American culture or, I can try to get over it.
The truth is that the FS is full of dual citizens and Americans who lived overseas for many years, most likely because they have a lot to offer. One thing is language skills. Good luck learning Chinese or Arabic from scratch, but it’s mostly immigrants who speak it spectacularly well. Another thing is an acute awareness of how much we appreciate American life over everything else, and understanding on a deeper level what the difference is with other cultures.
Maybe I’m not an American as defined by some—people who argue you can’t really understand the United States if you didn’t go through the education system.
I recently had an uncomfortable discussion about this with a colleague. He claimed he wasn’t talking about me when he said immigrants could never be real Americans—he was talking about hypothetical “others” who could never truly grasp concepts like freedom and democracy because they’re from different cultures. I’m still good friends with this colleague. I don’t feel personally attacked by his arguments because it’s just a way of reasoning. And if I didn’t like people with different ways of reasoning I wouldn’t be a diplomat.
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