Foreign Service FAQs

Since my announcement that I have been accepted as a Foreign Service Officer, many friends have been asking the same questions about the Foreign Service, so I decided to collect them into a Frequently Asked Questions page.


What is the Foreign Service?

The Foreign Service is the branch of the U.S. government that carries out the foreign policy of the U.S. government and assists U.S. citizens abroad. There are 15,000 active service members. most of whom serve in U.S. embassies and consular offices in other countries.

Wikipedia’s entry for the Foreign Service is pretty informative.

This article is the “elevator speech” about the Foreign Service: Ten Things You Should Know About the State Department.

What will you be doing, exactly?

I will be a Foreign Service officer in the Public Diplomacy area. Here’s a good write-up from the State Department’s website about Public Diplomacy officers:

Public Diplomacy Officers engage and network with the full range of host national society and government to shape the public message and perceptions about the United States. Public diplomacy officers maintain contacts with key people who influence public opinion. They are also managers of people, programs, budgets and resources.

Public Diplomacy Officers engage, inform, and influence opinion leaders, local non-governmental groups, the next generation of leaders, academics, think tanks, government officials, and the full range of civil society in order to promote mutual understanding and support for U.S policy goals. Public diplomacy officers explain the breadth of American foreign policies to ensure that our positions are understood and misrepresentations are corrected in addition to:

  • Explaining to foreign audiences how American history, values and traditions shape our foreign policy.
  • Creating and managing cultural and information programs to help connect with foreign audiences and engage in different cultures.
  • Coordinating various exchange programs to strengthen relationships that improve foreign insight into American society.
  • Communicating with and through a variety of media to promote U.S. interests abroad.

Where will you go?

The Foreign Service has a presence in 265 embassies and consulates around the world. It’s possible that I will be posted to somewhere you have never heard of (do you know where Ouagadougou is?).

However, before being posted abroad, there is a six-week training session in Washington, D.C., followed by additional training. It could be up to a year before I actually go abroad.

“Tours” last between two and four years (most tours seem to be for three years). Foreign Service officers move around the world, serving in different countries throughout their careers.

It’s very likely, because of my language background, that I will be sent to a Chinese-speaking location for my first tour (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Singapore). But that isn’t a guarantee. The State Department cautions us that:

All officers are considered worldwide available and must be prepared to go where needed; you must be ready, at any time, to meet the needs of the Service.