What is a Foreign Service officer?

Update 1/4/12:  I am no longer a Foreign Service officer as of 2011. Visit my updated blog entry on the Foreign Service for additional information.
Whether you’re a new visitor to this site or a long-time reader, you might be wondering–what do I do for a living?  What brought me and my family to Korea?  Am I a soldier?  No, I am a civilian assigned by the U.S. Department of State to work in the Republic of Korea (South Korea).  I am a Foreign Service officer, also known as a Foreign Service generalist or diplomat.  I am an officer commissioned by the U.S. Congress to perform a specific duty.  I’m commissioned by the U.S. Government to protect U.S. interests overseas and promote American values.  The term “diplomat” is a general term that can apply to anyone who works in an official capacity overseas.  The term “diplomat” conjures images of cocktail affairs, intense negotiations, and photo ops.  While these events happens from time to time–usually at a more senior level–reality is different than perception for Foreign Service officers. 
I presently work at the American Embassy in Seoul, although my wife and I will leave soon to return to the U.S. for vacation and for training in Washington, D.C.  Next year, we will move to Paraguay, where I will serve for two more years in the Foreign Service.  In Korea, I have issued visas to foreign nationals to visit the United States, and I have helped many Americans who need assistance.  I absolutely love my job.  Although no job is perfect, I consider myself blessed to be in a career that I love and serve my country.  There is no job like it in the world.  No other job would give me the opportunity to do consular work in Asia one year and political work in South America the next.  If I weren’t doing what I’m doing now, I would probably be in Phoenix, Arizona with my family, working in the semiconductor industy and living a quiet, suburban lifestyle.  Instead, I’m overseas, living a dream.
If you are interested in working overseas and serving your country, consider becoming a Foreign Service officer.  Many people do.  BusinessWeek Magazine recently named the U.S. State Department the sixth best place to launch a career.  According to BusinessWeek, recent college undergraduates named the U.S. State Department their third most desireable employer, after Walt Disney and Google (I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer working on cutting edge diplomacy than working at a theme park or writing code).  Simply put, this is an exciting career, and there is never a dull moment.  You see and do things you would never have an opportunity to see or do in other fields.  It isn’t easy to become a Foreign Service officer.  The selection process is competitive, and few who apply are chosen to serve.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the Foreign Service, visit the State Department’s Careers web site (careers.state.gov) to learn more about jobs with the Department and how to begin your career as a Foreign Service officer or specialist.  The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) also offers great information about the Foreign Service.  AFSA’s “Inside a U.S. Embassy” book is perhaps the best resource for learning more about what Foreign Service personnel do for a living.  AFSA also publishes the Foreign Service Journal (FSJ), a monthly publication dedicated to the Foreign Service community.  The FSJ offers in-depth analyses of contemporary foreign policy issues.  Finally, my friend Editfish writes one of the best Foreign Service-oriented blogs, Tumbleweeds (http://editfish.blogspot.com/).  His site chronicles his quest to join the Foreign Service.  It includes a variety of helpful links related to the Foreign Service, including a list of other blogs written by members of the Foreign Service community.
I know this doesn’t give you a detailed description of what I do for a living, but I hope it gives you an idea of what it means to be a Foreign Service officer.  I hope you’ll also consider a career in Foreign Service.  Chances are, you won’t regret it.