“Sindhu Chidambaram, London, United Kingdom, Consular”
I saw the words pop up on the screen during our virtual A-100 (diplomatic orientation) Flag Day, where we received our first diplomatic assignments. My dad turned to me with tears (of relief) in his eyes (I had been joking with him that I’d be posted to a war zone, even though first-tour officers are not allowed to serve in danger posts – shh!). He said, “You know, I received my first visa to the U.S. in London when I was a student there.” I was stunned. I hadn’t realized that my American journey began 30 years before at the U.S. Embassy in London, where I was now about to embark on my diplomatic journey. I was coming full circle.
I am a Foreign Service Officer currently serving in the Passport and Citizenship unit. Consular work is foundational to why embassies exist – to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens overseas. We serve U.S. citizens every day during their most important moments – births, deaths, disasters, arrests, and medical emergencies. We also protect U.S. borders and facilitate legitimate travel to the U.S. Consular officers are the face of the Department of State, as we interact with the public the most during hundreds of interviews every day.
While the Foreign Service is made up of five tracks of officers—consular, economic, management, political, public diplomacy—we are all required to do at least one consular tour because the work is essential to our operations overseas. No matter what track you are, when in crisis we all become consular officers. During the Afghanistan evacuations earlier this year, embassies all over the world, including our team in London, worked around the clock to get thousands of people to evacuation points on flights. It was riveting to see the entire consular section, including managers and locally employed colleagues, come together within minutes to reach out to people in Afghanistan and make sure they were accounted for and could evacuate with their loved ones.
In my current role, I have been privileged to be a part of intimate moments in people’s lives – witnessing a 17-year-old autistic applicant sign his name for the first time, supporting a 16-year-old navigating the gender change process so he can live his true self, or registering a birth abroad for a same-sex couple transmitting U.S. citizenship to their child—no day is the same and each moment is meaningful.
Beyond the consular section, one of the privileges of serving in London is the endless stream of high-profile events and visits. I served at the U.S. Pavilion at COP26, the United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow, in November. We hosted 80 events over 11 days featuring President Obama, Secretary Blinken, Secretary Kerry, multiple cabinet-level secretaries, U.S. senators, members of congress, and governors, academics, CEOs and business leaders, youth activists, and more. It was an incredible experience to engage with these leaders, support the U.S. on a global stage, and witness history in the making.
I joined the Foreign Service to build bridges between nations and cultures and to use diplomacy to make the world a better place. To me, being an American diplomat is using the diverse skills and experiences I have to represent and serve U.S. interests overseas. When people see me at the consular window they are seeing a first-generation, Indian-American U.S. diplomat, whose American journey began at the same place where they are standing. It is a privilege to embody the American Dream.