Diplomatic Life Is More Than Tea Parties

Most of the evacuations are due to political violence, but a few can even be due to natural disasters. As hurricane season begins, diplomats in places like Jamaica are preparing to leave at a moment's notice.

Tough Situation for Children

The bulk of those evacuated are usually returned to Washington, where they are "officially lives on hold,'" Barnes said. They are kept in limbo in 30-day increments, she said, but their indeterminate status can't last longer than 180 days.

Meanwhile, if they can't find family or friends to stay with, the State Department finds residential hotels for them. Still, many in the diplomatic community agreed that evacuations can be traumatic, especially for those with children.

Not only are their kids' educations interrupted if the evacuations happen during the school year, but many times the transient life prevents youngsters from making lasting friendships.

Rauland described one difficult experience after his family was relocated to Wisconsin. They lived out of suitcases for five months before they returned to Pakistan.

When one of his son's school acquaintances had been invited to come over and play, Rauland recalled, the other little boy said, "Why would I want to come to your house? You don't have anything and there is nothing to do."

A Good Job Nevertheless

Despite the hardships though, most members of the diplomatic corps had nothing but praise for their job.

"I've enjoyed every minute of it," said Rauland, who has, in less than a decade, worked in Pakistan, Germany, Ecuador and Azerbaijan, and will next head to Yekaterinburg, Russia.

John Williams, a career foreign service worker who retired five years ago, praised the flexibility and variety of assignments, as well as their gravity.

"You pick your own assignments," he said. "You're furthering the interests of the United States rather than the bottom line of a company."

The foreign service has an attrition rate of less than 2 percent, according to one State Department official. But that's not because life is as easy as hobnobbing with elites all day.

In fact, "the worst thing in the world is going to one of these dinner parties when you're not in the mood," Williams said.

It's even worse at the smaller posts, when you see the same people over and over again. "It tends to get a little tedious," he said.

If Not Parties, Then What?

Foreign service officers who talked to ABCNEWS recognized that it's often unclear to outsiders what they do all day. Basically, explained one State Department official, "we are the people who say 'what my government thinks' in a certain area."

Jobs in the foreign service are divided into five tracks, or "cones" — political, economic, public diplomacy, consular and administrative. People in the first three tracks are what one State Department official called "classic diplomats," those who influence policy.

The official, a former economic officer in Rome, described a typical day as half spent interacting with representatives of the host government, promoting the U.S. trade agenda and getting the host country to cooperate with sanctions, and half spent interacting with the home office, working out strategy and briefing superiors on the situation.

"The devil is in details," he said.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...