Monday, July 25, 2011

US Diplomat in Mexico Writes Salon Advice Columnist About Her Foreign Service Blues

American Blues 'Is Here'Image via WikipediaI totally missed this one on diplomatic blues until I was alerted by one of DP's readers. Below is an excerpt from advice columnist Carey Tennis of Salon's Since You Asked column. Apparently written by a US diplomat posted in Mexico with "Diplomat Adrift" as signoff:

I am a 31-year-old woman. I am Foreign Service officer (read: diplomat) with the Department of State posted to my second assignment, in Mexico. I have experienced profound professional development in this unorthodox career, for which I am unequivocally grateful. As a prospective grad student of 25 I agreed to a fellowship that committed me to a minimum of three years of service (I'm now at nearly four years) after grad school as a diplomat.
In the past nearly four years, I've exited an engagement (by my choice, months after entering the Foreign Service, to a wonderful man not enthused by the Service and the complications his life would have undergone) and have had a series of at best minor relationships with people of equal transience and of otherwise committed situations. These are dating compromises I would not have otherwise made had my situation not been circumscribed (by regulation and a limited dating pool).

Being a typical, generalist diplomat whose life is dictated by "the needs of the Service," my life is mostly governed by external forces. Admittedly, the work is rewarding. But the personal sacrifices are proving unbearable.

I am quintessentially American. As much as I revel in and love foreign cultures, I identify essentially as American. And in as much, I want an American male companion. I have no interest in having children and am honest enough to not expect -- of myself or a companion -- a lifelong relationship. What I want is a viable, nurturing, fun, loving and intellectual relationship with a like-minded adult. Thus far, this has been somewhat elusive since I entered into this weird, transient world of the Foreign Service. For example, the only meaningful relationship I have had in four years was for five months with a married military representative who recently returned to his wife and son after spending years apart. Dysfunction and awkward compromises abound in government work done abroad. We all need intimacy, will seek it out, and act upon it no matter the violations of integrity.
So, my question is: How do I transit into life as a civilian? I have skills (government program coordinator of a $37 million portfolio, grants warrant officer, government contracts representative, diplomat, bilingualist, M.A. in international policy and nonproliferation, etc.), but I do not know the path ahead and it scares me to leave government employment without a strategy.

Mr. Tennis writes a response here. Also, apparently the Mexican company Grupo Bimbo is now the biggest baker in the U.S. and he notes that "And any company that names itself Bimbo could use some diplomatic skills..." Well, I think he's right on that one.

Read the whole letter and advice here. Just as interesting, read the comments section - 52 comments and counting.

A Salon commenter who uses the name —roadlesstraveled makes a good point:
[G]iven your life of diplomacy, tact and discretion, what prompted you to provide so many identifying characteristics about yourself?

Happy to be told that the foreign service office(s) in Mexico are big enough that you can't be as easily identifiable as it seemed to me you would be.

Perhaps the good news is that US Mission Mexico has the largest consular operations in the world. That's where a good chunk of entry level officers spend their first and some second tours. The mission adjudicated almost 1.1 million  temporary visas to the United States in 2010. Its consular staffing in 2009 indicated a complement of 154 consular officers and 484 consular Locally Engaged staff. Yes, it is that big.

But just how many second tour officers are working in Mexico and how many are women who are 31 years old? No idea, but you can bet that in the small pond of the Foreign Service, folks may be counting them off already and trying to figure out the writer's identity. Not only because she's suffering from angst and sharing a personal fork in the road publicly (her self-disclosure and candor took some guts, I think), but also because of the other details in her letter, particularly her "meaningful relationship." I suspect that the latter more than the former will generate disapproval inside the very traditional big house.      

The thing that I find most sad about this is - here is a 31-year old diplomat who is on her second tour, and she had to write to an advice columnist for "mentorship and guidance?" Where are her friends? Where are her official mentors?

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