Friday, September 27, 2013

Public Diplomacy

The Foreign Service has five "branches" (called "cones" or career tracks) of generalists (different from specialists), and as you all probably know, I'm Consular-coned. However, we are considered generalists which means that we're supposed to be willing and capable of filling any position: Consular, Management, Political, Economic and Public Diplomacy. In Ciudad Juarez, our primary function is Consular, especially considering that we process 25% of the world's immigrant visas and a whole heck o' tourist visas. But we also have a Political/Economic office with two officers and a Public Diplomacy office with one officer and a host of super local staff. Their job is to let the local public know about the U.S. (cultural affairs) and also to let them know about the services the Consulate offers - namely visas.  Quite frequently a call for volunteers goes out to the crew of 45 entry-level officers here (which means on their first or second tour) asking for people who want to do public outreach events regarding any number of subjects. Recently I took up the challenge: first it was with visitors to our Benjamin Franklin Corner in the capital city of Chihuahua where folks come to practice their English or to learn more about American culture. I spent a few afternoons discussing via digital video conference with visitors about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and what the Civil Rights movement meant/means to the U.S., and another time we chatted about the lighter topic of popular movie themes. These two outreach events were in English, no preparation required and enjoyable - easy peasy, right?

So a few days ago I decided to risk putting my hand up and volunteer for an in-Spanish presentation on student visas at a large annual book fair here in Juarez. Along with one other Consular Officer, we were to discuss the how-tos of applying for a student visa to prospective Mexican students. Fortunately we had a Power Point presentation to follow along with, but it still entailed standing with a microphone in front of a (small, but interested) crowd on a stage.  I think it went well, actually, and I don't think I shamed my FSI teachers nor promised visas to any and everyone. Okay, it was actually kind of fun. We have these opportunities come up frequently and I guess it's time that I keep trying to push myself to do something slightly uncomfortable.  Heck, many of my coworkers do radio interviews, online Facebook chats and even TV spots on popular topics, usually visas.  But in the back of my mind is our "Composure Under Fire" segment of A-100 where we practiced being cornered in a public event by someone who is particularly ticked off with some recent U.S. policy. So far, the crowds have been very kind - but still - I'm waiting for that luck to run out and for someone to mention something very political or, well, something I haven't exactly been keeping up on. 

However, because I'm a pinky-sworn generalist, I have to be ready to take an assignment outside my particular cone. I've been testing the waters a bit, trying to imagine if I could be an Economic officer or Management Officer, and now I'm seeing if Public Diplomacy might be something I could wear, even if just for one tour. Jury is still out, we'll see.

In the meantime, it looks like my time in the non-immigrant section will come to an end shortly as I've been slated to rotate over to the immigrant section in the coming months. Once again, it feels like as soon as I've gotten comfortable somewhere - it's time to move on. But that's what keeps things interesting, right?  

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