So: Do I Want to Become a Foreign Service Officer? | #5

Two days ago, for the third time this year, I promptly finished my internship, packed up all of my belongings, and moved to a new city the following day. Now I get to call beautiful Copenhagen, Denmark home for the rest of the year while I finish my bachelor’s degree in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience! Though it’s been a swift and hectic transition, as always, the inevitable end reflection must occur as I’ve had time to critically think about my time in Berlin. What naturally comes with this reflection, of course, is the question: do I want to become a Foreign Service Officer (FSO)?

To be honest, I’m not sure what the answer to that question is. I guess I’ll start with what I do know.

I do know that this experience has reinforced my desire to apply my knowledge of the sciences to foreign affairs in some way or another. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to look at other sections of the Foreign Service like the internship program told me I’d be able to, but I at least know that the Economics section does a report that involves all sorts of topics I’m interested in/I study, like environment and health. So, I may still potentially be interested in becoming an FSO in that respect, just not in the Consular section.

During my internship, I also learned that I am excellent at working with all kinds of people, and do exceptionally well with customer service, across all cultures and languages. This was something extremely valuable I got to learn about my professional capabilities while I was fingerprinting in NIV. It kept me on my toes, allowed me to practice my language skills which I loved, and helped me discover even more ways to communicate with people when it was needed most, perhaps the #1 reason I love to travel so much. The office also seemed incredibly pleased with my efforts to help people within the section communicate more positively and effectively.

What I don’t know, then, is how much of my attitude toward my experience was influenced by external factors, and how much I can attribute to the internship itself. Though I am so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to do an internship with such an elite organization, and call one my favorite countries home for the summer, I really wish I could say I liked my time in Berlin more than I actually did. Any hardships I endured definitely could have been to a number of factors not directly related to the internship, including:

  • I had already been abroad for five months at the time I moved to Berlin, and though I adore traveling, I was starting to get really, really tired of having to say goodbye to people with whom I had made such good friends, especially those in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Germany.
  • When you’re working all the time, two months is just not enough time to establish yourself in a new city where you know no one. Period. Especially since I was working (unpaid) seemingly 24/7, I barely had enough time for myself, let alone for forging new friendships with others. I have learned from my time studying and traveling that a great group of friends is everything for mental health and well-being abroad, and although I expected this challenge and already knew it well going into the internship, it still didn’t make it any easier once I got there.
  • I was (and still am) going through some transition periods with personal things in my own life when I arrived in Berlin. It’s great self-development stuff, but it’s no walk in the park. Compound this with the above point, and some times in Berlin were incredibly difficult.
  • Having to say goodbye at the end to people I did get close to. Again.

However, there were also things directly about the internship I just straight-up didn’t like. But that’s okay. Knowing what you probably don’t want to do is just as valuable as what you do want to do, and though it’s not quite as telling or straightforward, it was still useful for me to learn that if I joined the Foreign Service, I probably wouldn’t choose Consular as my primary “cone.” I wish my work had been more dynamic and gave me more room to be creative and use my knowledge of the sciences. Sometimes it did, but I felt much of it was monotonous and could have been done by someone with far fewer qualifications.

In spite of this, I want to reiterate: I am still incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity. Unfortunately, not every internship in the world can be perfect for everyone, but I still learned some valuable things about myself, both professionally and personally. Overall, I became even more confident in the notion that I don’t need to worry so much about what’s next, what I’ll end up doing one day, etc. Most great things I have encountered in my life so far, I have sort of ended up falling into them, and if I do end up in the Foreign Service one day, I know I’ll probably just fall into it. And that’s okay. That is one way that I do fit so much into the FSO “type”: most FSOs had a completely different career before they entered the Foreign Service, and many were in disciplines that had nothing to do with international affairs, just like me right now.

So: do I want to become a Foreign Service Officer? I don’t know. But that’s okay. For now, I look forward to my life in Copenhagen for the next few months, and I can’t wait to see what the semester brings. Amidst all of this uncertainty in my life, I am confident that everything will work out. It always does.

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