About the Author: Preeti Shah serves as Vice Consul at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey.“Um, so… can you tell us a little about your personal life? Like, do you date and stuff?” the 16-year-old with furry boots asked, as her classmates giggled in response.
“That’s a good question actually,” I responded, smiling. “Dating in this line of work can be tough, but it can also be pretty exciting,” I continued, sharing with the 25 high school juniors some of the pitfalls and bonuses that come with being a Foreign Service Officer.
The opportunity to serve as a Hometown Diplomat during my two week vacation at home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan was one that I had looked forward to for almost a year. A proud graduate of the local public school system, I was eager to share my experiences as a diplomat. More importantly, my goal was to raise awareness about the myriad career options about which I, at the same young age, was completely unaware.
Though it was immensely gratifying to hear from students, both after the presentations and via emails, that they were now seriously thinking about government service as a career option, I’m certain that I am the one who benefited the most from the experience. Not only was I asked questions about issues I hadn’t considered in a long time, such as how I reconcile my personal beliefs to that of official policy, but I was also reminded of what an adventurous career I have in the Foreign Service. The “war stories” I shared took on a new life as I saw them through the eyes of young adults who had never heard of this job and life.
My high school has always been very ethnically diverse, and was even more so when I returned as a Hometown Diplomat 10 years after graduating. I was careful to emphasize my school’s diversity by sharing with the students the times when I had negative experiences based on stereotypes about Americans. I told them that one of the best parts of my job is getting up in the morning and knowing that I, just by being me, represent one of the United States’ strongest assets. By encouraging these young students to consider themselves as examples of America’s opportunities, I renewed my own faith in the very same and returned to my job with newfound energy and enthusiasm for being one of the faces of American diplomacy.