Political Officers Michelle and Mary Share Their Journeys to the Foreign Service

and I’m public diplomacy career path, and I’m currently working
in the Bureau of Public Affairs. MARY, FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICER,
and I’m a political career track, and I’m currently working
on the Poland Desk. I always knew that what I wanted to do
with my life was public service. I wanted to work in the government. I didn’t really wanna go into the military,
in the army like my dad, so… and I was interested in foreign affairs,
interested in foreign policy. I studied diplomatic history.
Got a PhD in diplomatic history. Realized I didn’t wanna teach. Still was interested in foreign affairs
and diplomacy, and applied for the… Foreign Service…
took the Foreign Service exam and passed, and thought that I would give
this career a try and see how I liked it. MICHELLE:
She was going to blow the exam off and I told her, “No, go ahead and do it.” MARY:
It was a seven in the morning. MICHELLE:
And then she passed it. And then she was going to be blow off
the oral assessment, and I said, “No, we’ll go to D.C.,
we’ll do the tourism thing, it’ll be great.” And then she passed that too. And then they gave her an offer to join
and we’re like, “Well, OK, I guess I need to figure this
out now. She was living in Azerbaijan. She was working with these really smart,
fun people. She was getting to really get to know
another culture, another place, another language, and that just seemed like that would be
a really exciting way to spend your life. And then, when we were there,
we would go on trips, whenever I would go to visit,
we would go on trips to the upper reaches of Azerbaijan and, who back in South Carolina
where I’m from, has even heard of Azerbaijan? And I have pictures of me and Mary
in the mountains up in Gobistan. MARY:
Guba…Up in Guba. And it just seemed like that would be… it would be a lot of fun
and really interesting, and a way that we could both
serve the country and still be together. I am the one who wrangled Mary into this,
and I’d love to get the opportunity to talk to people about the work that we do
and the experiences that we get because it’s just a lot of fun
and, I feel like we do very important work for the country, that our service
is very valuable to the country, and yet we’re getting to have these experiences
that most people can only dream about. I grew up in a very small mill village
in South Carolina. My family are American Indians.
Most of them have never left the country. Most of them have never even had a passport,
and when my grandmother referred to trips overseas, she called them,
“Once in a lifetime things.” And I don’t think about those
as once in a lifetime things anymore. When we were in Jerusalem…
“We have a long weekend, let’s go to Cairo.” And for so many people
that is a once in a lifetime adventure, and while we’re going through Cairo,
and only there for a long weekend, we said, “Well, we missed this
but we’ll just come back.” And, being in the Foreign Service,
you know that it’s realistic to talk that way. One of the reasons why the Department
has selected you to serve is because they want to be able show
the full spectrum of the United States and what our population is like. And that means having gay people
and straight people, and people of all colors
and people of all ages. It also means people with children
and people with pets. And if we all gave up the things
about ourselves that made us different and spoke to sort of
what the fabric of America is, then there’s no reason for them
bringing that diversity into the Foreign Service to begin with. And so, you have to sort of select
what are the things that are important to you that you need to take with you overseas
to still be the person you are and the representative of people
like you back in the United States. And for us, we don’t have children
but we have children with fur…. and that’s our choice. MARY:
…feathers… MICHELLE:
…and feathers…and so, that’s… that’s the thing that we haven’t given up. For example, we had an opportunity
to bid this year on Cairo, they don’t allow birds,
we didn’t bid on Cairo. One of the things
that I’m getting to do now is… I’m the Special Assistant
to the Assistant Secretary in Public Affairs, and there are a lot of times
when he needs to bounce ideas off of someone in terms of how
we’re gonna craft our message, what we’re gonna say to the public
when he gets up on the podium and starts talking to the reporters. Particularly when he’s dealing with issues
concerning the Middle East, I’ll go in there and we’ll just talk about ideas and I’ll be able to help him craft the best way to get our message across to the reporters,
and it’s an area where I can then flip on the TV and watch him do
the daily press briefing and say, “That was my sentence. That was me helping him
think through his process.” And I feel like that’s an area
where I get to make a difference. MARY:
When I think about the more memorable experiences,
they all center around helping. And so, I guess, one of the most recent ones
was…I’m on the Poland Desk… I’m the Poland Desk Officer,
and when the plane crashed, the Polish President’s plane crashed
a month ago and killed not just the President and the First Lady,
but a lot of other really important people in that government and a lot of people,
a lot of the Polish people here at the Polish Embassy,
were deeply affected by this. It was a really, really hard time for them
and because I had that relationship with them already and I was able to go there
and I felt like I was actually able to do something to help. I mean, it was hard to put my finger
exactly on what it was that I could do to help but working here and working
with our Embassy in Warsaw, we could see that we were…we did matter
and that this relationship did matter. I am an American diplomat,
I represent my country and my government, and advance the interests
of the people of the United States. MICHELLE:
Oh, I don’t know how I can top that. I went to the University of South Carolina,
which is…it’s a small school, it’s… who thought of going into the Foreign Service
from University of South Carolina, majoring in English. And yet I did,
and I have something to contribute. And I think that most people
who find they have any kind of interest in serving the government,
serving the country, and experiencing the world,
living overseas and living with other people, will find that there is something
that they can do within the Foreign Service. There is within the five career tracks,
some area that will be of interest to them and probably that they’ve had experience in. There probably is already something
that they could contribute to our mission here and overseas,
and they just don’t realize it yet because they haven’t been thinking
along those lines. They’ve been thinking,
“Oh, if I didn’t study in international studies or in foreign service,
then this isn’t a career for me.” And it absolutely is.

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