Foreign service officers are diplomats who perform many important duties.
Their specific responsibilities depend on the branch of the foreign service
in which they serve. They may inform their home country of political and
economic developments in their host country, help fellow citizens who are
traveling abroad, evacuate refugees, or explain and defend their homeland's
There are just over 12,000 American foreign service officers. Of those,
7,000 are generalists and 5,000 are specialists, says Sara Rosenberry. She's
a senior foreign service officer and is responsible for assessing foreign
The specific duties of U.S. foreign service officers depend on which
career track they choose. They can be generalists or specialists. For generalists,
there are consular, economic, management, political and public diplomacy tracks.
Here's how the State Department describes the five tracks:
- Consular: Consular officers protect Americans abroad and strengthen
U.S. border security.
- Economic: Economic officers work on economic partnerships and development,
support U.S. businesses abroad, and cover environmental, science, technology
and health issues.
- Management: Management officers run our embassies and make American
- Political: Political officers analyze political events.
- Public Diplomacy: Public diplomacy officers explain American values
Specialists have various job titles. These could include diplomatic security
officer, information specialist, regional medical officer, construction engineer
and many more.
U.S. foreign service officers may work in one of 269 missions around the
world or in Washington, D.C. They must go where they are most needed, which
is often in developing countries.
While the traveling may sound glamorous, you should carefully consider
if it's for you. Culture shock can be tough to deal with. Travel experience
and knowledge of a foreign language can help a lot.
"If they have basic [foreign language] ability, that's a big advantage,"
says Thomas Switzer with the American Foreign Service Association. "That means
people can parachute into a crisis and... go to work on day one and not suffer
that natural culture shock."
The typical workday for a foreign service officer varies. Sometimes it's
a 9-to-5 job, and sometimes special circumstances require more time.
For those yearning to see the world while serving their country, a career
in the foreign service can be a dream come true.
"Some days you have to pinch yourself when you think of how exceptional
a life we end up living," says Rosenberry.