Foreign Attache

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Foreign Attache


The United States, like most countries, sends representatives, known as ambassadors, to other nations around the world, in order to represent the American government, facilitate relations between nations, and act on behalf of the US during times of international negotiation and crises. Each ambassador brings along an entourage of assistants, a staff of educated, worldly Americans who concentrate on certain areas (like military, press, trade or cultures), defending policy and implementing programs, as well as advising the American government in Washington.

These assistants are known as foreign service officers, or foreign attach�s. These government employees are attached to foreign service abroad, assisting the ambassador in representing the US in foreign lands. They let the American government know about political and economic developments in their host country, help Americans who are traveling abroad, evacuate refugees, or explain and defend America's potentially contentious foreign policies.

Not all foreign attach�s work abroad all the time. They can work up to half of the time in Washington, and spend the rest traveling to, and living in, different countries. In Washington, they assist in developing foreign policy, and spend time studying all areas of the government. It is important that they understand many aspects of American laws, policies, and programs. As an attach� may be sent to Norway as the military representative, but may work in Uganda three years later, this time on behalf of American trade policies.

All this constant moving around is difficult for many people, so attach�s are generally very adaptable, with a near-unquenchable thirst for travel and discovery. The challenges can be invigorating, stressful, and rewarding, especially when you are able to bring about peace and partnership between your host nation and a neighboring one.
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  Interests and Skills  
It takes a special person to work as a foreign attach�. For one thing, it takes someone who is a citizen of both the US and the international community--it is a job that demands a respectful, open mind, and a dedication to international relationships. It requires an adventurous, adaptable spirit, an organized negotiator who can work through red tape and bureaucratic protocol patiently and effectively. If interested in a diplomatic career, individuals should be confident, and at ease when meeting others. They need a professional attitude, and should be able to complete tasks under pressure and stress. They should love traveling. Finally, a quick mind and a second language are also assets to bring to this position.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Work in the US and abroad, developing and administering America's development assistance programs
  • Review political and economic development in the US and host country
  • Assist in developing foreign policy
  • Write regular reports about activities
  • Negotiate treaties and agreements with other countries
  • Meet with local authorities in host country
  • Provide information and advice to other government departments on international issues
  • Keep American government and industries informed about host country' s trade policies
  • Communicate the US position on a variety of platforms
  • Protect the interests of American citizens overseas
  • The typical tasks for a foreign attach� will differ from country to country, department to department. The constant self-education about international situations will be an everyday task, as will be revision of American policy in relation to other nations. A foreign attach� will spend much of the day in meetings, with other members of the ambassador's staff, as well as with diplomats from other nations and representatives from the host country. A foreign attach� will spend a lot of time writing reports, letting people back home know about what's going on, as well as working with international organizations to implement programs. It is most definitely a career that offers many opportunities for travel and for meeting interesting, intelligent people you may never get to know otherwise.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • As employees of the federal government, foreign attach�s will work either in Washington, developing foreign policy and programs alongside other members of the foreign service, or they may work in other nations, implementing and overseeing these policies and programs. During their time away from the US, foreign attach�s can find themselves in any number of interesting and different locales--wealthy, well-fed nations to poor, war-torn countries. They will be posted where ever the US is interested in establishing or maintaining a relationship.
  • They will spend time at American embassies, high commissions and consulates. The typical workday for a foreign attach� varies, depending on where they are working, and the political climate of the host country. A volatile nation on the brink of war will require long days and emergency meetings, whereas a peaceful, settled nation will allow for regular, 9-5 workweeks with weekends and evenings off. Still, when working representing the US abroad, no matter where they are, or who they are with, an attach� must always remember that they are representing the US, and behave accordingly.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Promotions for foreign attach�s are based on annual performance evaluations. Each attach� must spend a minimum amount of time at each level. Training, travel and development courses are available at each level so that an attach� can expand their exeprience and develop skills before moving on to the next level of responsibility or department. Eventually, an attach� can become the head of a department, or become a full-fledged American Ambassador abroad. Those who do not want to remain in foreign service can always move on to work in law, with an international non-profit organization, with the World Bank, or as a professor of international relations and politics.

  Educational Paths  
This is not an easy job to get. Attach�s will need a bachelor's degree in either international relations, politics, economics, commerce, business administration or law, as well as a master's degree in any field. If individuals only have a bachelor's, but they are fluent in Japanese, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian or Korean, they may still be considered for the position. It is also a good idea to try for an internship at at a foreign service office or embassy in the US before applying.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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