May I have this job?


“How do you do?” inquired a man dressed in navy slacks and a striped tie as he shook my hand at the door. I was struggling to locate a response to the unexpected greeting when he asked, “Did you sign up in time for a sandwich?”

The man was Brian Flora, the foreign-service recruiter for the Midwest; the sandwiches were provided by CAPS at a July 17 information session at Ida Noyes Hall about State Department jobs. Twenty-five students, many in suits and ties themselves, attended the session. Vinayak Ishwar, ’09, admitted that he had begged his supervisor at Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office—where he has a summer internship—to allow him to attend the presentation.

“The Foreign Service is for people who are extroverted,” Flora said, “and don’t like to get stuck in a rut. It’s for people who don’t mind packing their stuff—their junk, their lives—and sending them around the world at the government’s expense.” The benefits Flora listed included good pay, health insurance, and the fact that the government will ship your dog anywhere with you.

But the jobs are easy neither to attain nor perform. “You don’t waltz into it,” he warned. He stressed the advantage of being at least 25, having graduate education, and speaking critical languages such as Mandarin and Arabic. You can take the Foreign Service exam once a year until age 58, he said, “but most people give up before then.”

The government sends first-time employees to the locations they request. But after spending time in “fun” places like Western Europe, he explained, “the computer spits out your name for hardship and danger tours,” which include regions that are isolated, impoverished, at high risk for disease, or under dictatorships. Flora, whose tours included time in Vietnam, where he’d been stationed during the war, as well as in Chad and Romania during violent revolutions, emphasized that danger and hardship tours are higher paid and last for only one year.

“Have you ever been in a position when your personal ideas conflicted with what the government told you to do?” asked Joy Wattawa, who is receiving her degree from the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences in August.

“You are expected to defend U.S. foreign policy,” Flora answered. “And usually that’s easy to do.” But, he added, “Most of us thought Iraq was the wrong thing to do.” Officers who disagree with U.S. policy make use of official rhetoric, Flora explained, pointing out that “for Vietnam and Iraq there were very good justifications.”

“And,” he said, “you always have the option of resigning.”

Shira Tevah, '09

Photos: U.S. Department of State official seal.

July 23, 2008