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Diplomacy Starts at Sea: A Few Words from US Diplomat Kelly Adams-Smith

Students listen intently as Kelly Adams-Smith delivers the convocation on the Fall 2013 voyage.

What is a diplomat? There are probably several definitions. One that students on the Fall 2013 voyage received from Semester at Sea (SAS) alumna Kelly Adams-Smith was this: “[A] diplomat is just a representative.”

As participants in Semester at Sea, each of the students is already a “diplomat”, Adams-Smith said, a representative of many areas.

“Each time you get off this ship you are representatives too, of your school, of this program, of America or the country you come from, and of your country’s values,” Adams-Smith told the students.

She should know. Adams-Smith is a diplomat serving as economic counselor in the U.S. Embassy in London. She has been a Foreign Service officer for 16 years in countries including Russia, Estonia, and Bulgaria. However, long before that, she was a student sailing on Semester at Sea, on the Fall 1988 voyage, trying to figure out her future, just as many of the students on this current voyage.

Adams-Smith credits her time on Semester at Sea with putting her on the path toward her work in the Foreign Service. It was on that 1988 voyage, while staying with a family in what was then part of the Soviet Union, that it clicked for her: she wanted to focus her studies on Russia and Eastern Europe.

SAS alumna (Fall '88) Kelly Adams-Smith challenged students to think about the diplomats they'd like to be while aboard the 50th anniversary voyage and beyond.

Twenty-five years after completing that pivotal semester abroad Adams-Smith provided some sage advice to those sailing on this 50th anniversary voyage. She also urged them to think about the type of diplomats they want to be, whether on the voyage or in life.

“All successful diplomats bring to their work an open mind, respect for other cultures and a desire to bridge misunderstandings,” Adams-Smith told them.

In addition to her work overseas, Adams-Smith received the U.S. State Department’s Cox Sabbatical Fellowship and spent a year, in 2011, working with Semester at Sea to further strengthen SAS’s international programs. She most recently worked as the deputy executive secretary of the National Security Staff at the White House.

Her return to the MV Explorer to speak to students as the voyage began was special for many who already are entertaining the idea of working in the Foreign Service.

“She is a real inspiration and I got so much from hearing her speak about her career,” one student said.

Adams-Smith reminded students that their SAS experience is but one journey for them: “What I see in front of me is a group of student diplomats about to set on two journeys: the first is a voyage on a ship. The second is your life after Semester at Sea.

“My first journey let me sail around the world. The second took me from a ship to the White House and back. Now you get to decide where your two journeys are going to take you. So good luck, stay safe and enjoy it.”

  • Education

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