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The wildest jobs in the Foreign Service

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Here’s a cool thing you might not know about being a US diplomat: there are tons of different types of jobs out there and not all of them are in embassies! Not that working in an embassy is boring – I’m just saying that there is a surprising amount of options for those who want to branch out further.

First of all: if you want to work in Washington DC instead of going overseas, you are definitely in luck. There are so many job opportunities for diplomats in DC that it’s pretty easy to achieve. A common job for diplomats at the State Department is serving as a country expert or special assistant.

But there are many other possibilities in the State Department, including (and definitely not limited to!): working on child abduction issues, refugee resettlement, human trafficking, Antarctica, or counter-terrorism. It is possible to work stateside for up to five or eight years at a time, and there are other US-based job options too. For example, a stint at the UN in New York!

Then again, you may have something more adventurous in mind. Like, let’s say, living in the Sinai desert to monitor the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel with the International Peacekeeping Force. There won’t be many receptions to go to, but it’s definitely something different!

Or maybe you want to stop narco traffickers in Latin America from bringing their illegal goods into the US? Consider working for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law (INL) in one of the many drug producing or transit countries. You may soon be plotting boat interceptions and helicopter surveillance strategies.

And if you want in on all the action in the entire world, try a yearlong stint at the Ops Center – also called the State Departments 911 help line. The Ops Center operates 24/7, so your 8-hour shift will sometimes start in the middle of the night. Duties include connecting Heads of State to each other by phone, briefing the Secretary of State, and receiving emergency calls from embassies under attack.

Alternatively, you can choose to work on an issue that’s close to your heart and take a real deep dive. For example, if you are passionate about LGBT rights or climate change, there are functional bureaus in DC where you can get posted – or you can work in the field on that portfolio.

If you are higher up in the Foreign Service, you may get the chance to be a Special Envoy, traveling the world and advising senior government officials on a specific cause. Currently, there are envoys for Syria, Holocaust Issues, Israeli-Palestine negotiations, Hostage Affairs, ISIS, Ukraine negotiations, and the African Great Lakes Region.

You know you are an up-and-coming diplomat if you are hired to do a tour in the National Security Council (NSC), which means working directly for the White House. The NSC is where the President debates national security and foreign policy matters with his advisors and cabinet officials. As a diplomat you are likely to directly brief the President on the countries in your portfolio.

Rather not be in the spotlight? Go to a tiny consulate where you can be in charge of everything. Some countries or territories are so small that the State Department maintains a minimal presence. In some cases, you’ll literally be the only American there! Options to choose from include Durban (South Africa) and Marseille (France).


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