Diplomatic Stories: Ashley T.

by The_ATK
1706 views 3 min read

I grew up in a small, remarkably homogeneous town on the shore of Lake Michigan in Southeast Wisconsin.  And for as long as I could remember, I wanted to leave. 

Of course as a grown adult, I now appreciate the small town atmosphere, but as a kid, I always wanted to see other places, meet different people, learn foreign languages, learn about different cultures.  I wasn’t really sure how I could do that as a kid.  But it was always there–this desire to go. 

I don’t remember how or when I first learned about the Foreign Service.  (It was sometime in college, I think.)  But I do remember it being a light bulb moment.  Like, “Aha! I can do that!  I can be a diplomat.  I can see the world.  They will PAY me to learn languages.  And I can serve my country.”  I majored in Political Science and studied several languages and it just seemed right.  This would be my dream job. 

But dreams aren’t always realized in a linear timeline.  I applied for an internship at the State Department my junior year and didn’t get it.  I looked into the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT)–the test you must pass in order to become a Foreign Service Officer (FSO)–and thought, “No way I can pass that.”  I looked at the qualifications common to FSOs and realized that I did not, at that moment, have what it takes to be a Foreign Service Officer.  So I took the non-traditional route.  I taught English in South Korea.  I joined the Peace Corps and lived in a small village in rural Bolivia.  I learned a lot about living and working in and navigating through foreign cultures. 

Eventually, I came back to the US and went to graduate school.  I studied International Affairs and worked at a non-profit in downtown Milwaukee.  Seven years after graduating from undergrad, I finally took the Foreign Service Test…and I failed. That was a bummer.  But my classmate (eventual boyfriend, eventual husband) did pass the test.  We graduated in June.  He was called up in November; assigned to New Delhi, India in December; and scheduled to depart by February.  We married in January. 

So my foreign service life started as an EFM (eligible family member), working in embassies in India, Kyrgyzstan, and Cameroon.  It was great.  I worked in the Environment Science and Technology section in New Delhi.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came a week after I started and did a Women in Science event that I got to help plan and attend.  (I was very low on the totem pole, but I still helped!)  I worked in Public Affairs in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and helped organize an itinerary on countering violent extremism for a visiting Imam.  In Yaoundé, I was the Community Liaison Office Coordinator, which is a little bit like the MWR officer for folks familiar with the military.  Due to COVID most of the Post was evacuated and I worked to keep a coherent community feeling among people suddenly scattered all over the US and in Cameroon. 

While in Cameroon, I thought I’d revisit my dream of being a FSO.  I loved all my work in embassies overseas, but the jobs don’t build on each other.  Heck, I was lucky to get a job in each post.  I had met and worked with so many amazing Foreign Service Officers, many of whom were very encouraging about me becoming an officer.  I took the test in February of 2019. This time I passed.  I received an invitation to join the September 2020 A-100 class (A-100 is basically diplomat orientation) and was assigned to Guadalajara, Mexico–my top choice. 

Getting to this point has been an amazing journey and I’m excited to see what this new leg of our journey holds.  I’m just learning the consular ropes at this point, but it’s exciting to talk to Mexican people every day and learn more about the people to people ties that make our countries so close.  The US-Mexico relationship is a special one and I’m honored to be a part of it in my own little way.  I am cherishing my time here, but excited to see what corner of the world this lifestyle takes us to next.

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