Local High School Student Interviews Former Foreign Service Officer

Kevin McDermott, a high school senior from Seneca Valley, is working with the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh to create an informational brochure on international careers for his senior graduation project. As part of that project, Kevin interviewed a former Foreign Service officer, Patricia Franz. In his post below, Kevin reports on his interview and provides information about a career in the Foreign Service.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Patricia Franz about her career in the Foreign Service. Ms. Franz was originally hired as a management officer for the U.S. Department of State and worked there for five years. Initially based in Washington, D.C., she was later assigned as a vice consul in the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey, Mexico. She also worked for the State Department as a desk officer for the International Bureau of Narcotics & Law Enforcement and for EducationUSA.  When asked about the educational career track she pursued in order to become a Foreign Service officer, Ms. Franz surprisingly answered that there was no particular career track that can be followed. While many jobs often have clearly outlined or specific educational tracks, the Foreign Service does not. According to Ms. Franz, the Foreign Service looks for people who could be considered as “jacks of all trades.”

Ms. Franz did, however, stress the importance of liberal arts and recalled her own experiences as she inadvertently pursued a career with the Foreign Service. Ms. Franz earned her BA degree in sociology and Hispanic studies from Vassar College and a EdM in higher education administration from Harvard University. She had never heard of the Foreign Service, and she took the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) on a whim. Applying to be a Foreign Service officer required an intense job application process that included the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), submitting assigned essays as writing samples, an all-day interview in Washington, D.C., medical examinations, and a security screening to obtain the necessary clearances.

When she first arrived at the Foreign Service Institute, Ms. Franz was enrolled in the program named A-100. She noted that many of her teachers were fellow Foreign Service officers who shared their own experiences in the field. One of the most memorable things about the Institute was the bid list — a number of countries you would “bid” on, based on your level of interest in working in that country (no actual money is used).  After the bidding, all trainees were gathered in a large room to celebrate graduation from the Foreign Service Institute. Graduation day is also known as Flag Day because all trainees receive the flag of the country representing their first assignment. Assignments would last about two years.

Ms. Franz’ first posting was to Monterrey, Mexico, a large industrial city in the northern state of Nuevo Leon.  Her assignment was interviewing Mexicans applying for visas to the United States.  She also worked for several other departments in the Consulate General, including Public Affairs. After serving in Monterrey, she moved to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City to join the International Narcotics Team.

Ms. Franz discussed her most memorable experiences in Mexico City and at the consulate in Monterrey. She recalled getting off the plane for the first time in Monterrey, Mexico. Although she had studied abroad in Spain, she had never been to Mexico before, and she had to quickly adapt to Mexican culture. Luckily, the State Department offered sponsors to new officers to help them transition into their new assignment. Ms. Franz said she was very fortunate to have a great sponsor who took her to dinner, explained the cultural differences between Mexico and the United States, and gave her a tour of her new home.

According to Ms. Franz, her favorite parts of the job involved leaving the Embassy and Consulate to meet and spend time with the Mexican people. She recalled her opportunity to become a guest speaker for Monterrey’s morning news program, where she taught the public about American traditions such as Thanksgiving. She also recreated a Thanksgiving feast with the news anchors.

When asked about the challenges living abroad, Ms. Franz talked about being away from family and friends and the little, everyday things. Tasks like trying to find your local grocery store, learning to drive around Mexico, not having filtered water for your sink, and trying to make a Thanksgiving dinner without turkey, cranberries, and potatoes.  Despite these challenges, Ms. Franz has had no regrets on the path she has taken, and she loved working for the Foreign Service.

For more information about international careers, please see the packet:  A Student’s Guide to Internationally Focused Careers in Government. I created this packet to supply readers with a list of possible career options that could be obtained with degrees in international studies.