About the Author: Aaron Snipe is a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State. He recently participated in the Hometown Diplomat Program.
Explaining our foreign policy to audiences abroad is one of the many tasks faced by U.S. diplomats serving overseas. During my previous assignment on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Iraq, my colleagues and I often explained to the good people of Muthanna Province how the State Department partners with Iraqis to build greater stability and prosperity.
Now that I am home from Iraq, I recently had an opportunity to participate in one of the State Department's lesser known but important public outreach initiatives: the Hometown Diplomat Program. Each year, the program asks recently returned Foreign Service Officers to volunteer their time to explain the work of diplomacy abroad with hometown audiences. While an understanding of the Department’s work abroad is ubiquitous in places like Washington, this is not necessarily the case across America. Members of the State Department's diplomatic corps hail from every corner of the U.S. (all fifty states, in fact), and through the years, diplomats from across America have returned home to talk to universities, high schools, and civic organizations about the work of the State Department. For me, combining a little of mom's home cooking (nothing in the base chow-hall in Iraq compares to my mother's famous spaghetti sauce) with a dash of diplomacy was the perfect recipe for some old fashioned outreach in Red Sox country.
Last week, I had the honor of returning to Arlington High School - my alma mater - in Arlington, Massachusetts, to spend the day with some of the school's best and brightest students. The kids were engaging, knowledgeable, and eager to learn more about the work of diplomats abroad. Strolling down the very same halls I walked almost 20 years ago, I was cornered by a student who heard a diplomat was coming to speak.
A bit hesitant at first, he said, "I'm Frank. You're from the State Department, right?""Yes," I responded.
He then told me that he was really interested in a career with the Foreign Service. A high school kid? Interested in becoming a diplomat someday? Wow. At his age, I think my greatest interests were being on time for Mr. Obelsky’s history class and never missing lunch. Frank's curiosity really inspired me. It made me proud that the kids from my alma mater were already thinking globally. While it might be too early to call it, I think I met a few future diplomats at Arlington High last week. World peace, here they come!
But, I suppose we should let them finish their book reports due next week first.