Church and State

About a month ago I applied for a summer internship with the State Department to work in an embassy or consulate overseas. The diplomatic corps has been on my mind more and more since first going overseas and meeting people who work in the various branches of the United States' Foreign Service. Fun fact: It's not just the State Department. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Commerce all have employees engaged in work abroad, helping to advance American interests, cultivate markets for American goods and services and, where possible, nudge the needle of democracy and good governance in the right direction.

There is a reason the eagle's head is turned toward the olive branch and not the arrows.

Before I go further, some background is necessary.


Working as a diplomat has lingered in my mind's background since I was around twelve years old. My dad went to a work event and met the then-American Ambassador to Cape Verde, Vernon Dubois Penner. Because of my interest in geography (due in no small part to my parents gifting me Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego when I was eight years old), my dad thought I'd really like something signed by an Ambassador. I think he also wanted to test me on whether or not I knew where Cape Verde was. I did not. To my memory, neither Carmen nor her henchmen ever hid there.

Who knew a video game given to an 8-year old might spawn a career twenty years later?

My dad gave me the business card the following morning and I was captivated by it. Wow. An Ambassador! That was highfalutin stuff for a 12-year old in rural Connecticut. I remembered thinking, for a hot minute, that such a career would be exciting. But. I also thought such work was reserved for the mighty and powerful, the good and great, the well-connected. Besides, math and science were emerging as my lane and a future as an electrical engineer was promising.


Fast forward twenty years and the work does not seem so distant. Having met a few professionals in the industry, I now understand that the majority of ambassadorships are filled by career diplomats. Some of them are in fact appointments of the well-connected and moneyed, but only around 25 to 30 percent. Achieving that level as a professional diplomat can be rare, but there is a lifetime of honorable public service and exciting work around the globe for those chosen to join.


Apparently, becoming a Foreign Service Officer is a very difficult process and a small percentage of those who apply are actually chosen. I do not yet fully understand the entire rigamarole, but an internship seemed like a good opportunity to explore it further. Recall I started this blog as I wrestled with quitting a job and finding a life more meaningful. Along the way I was deeply inspired by the example of Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps and an appointed Ambassador to France, who once said this:

An inspriation to us al. Or at least he should be.

"Be servants of peace. Weep with those who are sorrowful, rejoice with those who are joyful, teach those who are ignorant. Care for those who are sick. Serve your families. Serve your neighbors. Serve your cities. Serve the poor. Join others who serve. Serve, serve, serve! That's the challenge. For in the end, it will be servants who save us all."


So as I look for a chance to do my bit, and following the example of my parents, - my dad served in the Navy for 20 years and my mom has been a teach for nearly 30 years - perhaps this is my avenue.


During the internship application process, applicants can request - though they are not guaranteed to get it - a specific location. I penciled in the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. What better way to serve my country and my faith simultaneously? And the more I look into it, that particular ambassadorship would be terribly interesting. However, it appears one of those appointments for prominent Catholics in political circles who deliver money, votes, or both. So, while it may be a pipe dream, it's a damn nice one.


And some good news. Today I received word that the U.S. Mission to the Holy See was eager to have me. (I'm guessing not many people actively seek them out and they'd be grateful for a free intern.) My background investigation is underway and might take some time but if the cookie crumbles a certain way, I'll be in Italy longer than originally planned, working for a branch of the State Department that connected to a truly global entity calling for justice for those on the margins. Not a bad gig methinks.


And in case you are wondering, I still have Ambassador Penner's business card. It is currently tucked away in my Chicago storage locker. If anything comes of this, I'll have to track him down and thank him for humoring my dad's request.


As always, stay tuned for more.

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#Career #SAIS

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© 2020 by Mark Konold