What do four women with years of international experience working for the United States government have in common with college students on Semester at Sea?
It turns out the two groups are pretty similar. With lifestyles revolving around diplomacy and foreign learning, both are constantly thrown into challenging intercultural experiences.
Four diplomats joined the Fall 2013 shipboard community in Buenos Aires, Argentina and sailed with the voyage to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, leading discussions on Brazil as well as their work and careers in the U.S. Foreign Service, attending classes, participating in panel discussions and engaging with students.
Kerri Hannan, who works as the cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, appreciated the temporary change from her normal work routine.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve enjoyed being reminded of the passion and angst that comes with being 20 years old and worrying about a job and what‚Äôs next,‚Äù Hannan said. ‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt normally get to hang out with 600 students, so it‚Äôs interesting.‚Äù
Hannan manages one of the largest cultural affairs programs in the western hemisphere for the U.S. Foreign Service. Her position has nurtured a better understanding of Argentina among U.S. residents and what it takes to maintain a bilateral relationship with a foreign country. She earnestly pointed out that although students aren‚Äôt responsible for relationships on this level, every interaction in a foreign country impacts how Americans are viewed.
Kahina Robinson, another diplomat, agreed. ‚ÄúThe work we do is similar to the work that you‚Äôre doing and you just don‚Äôt recognize it as work. You are all representing America and when you meet people in other countries. Those connections are just as valuable and are often extremely strong,‚Äù said Robinson, who works in the consular division at the US Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil. ‚ÄúEven when we‚Äôre wearing our private citizen hat, we‚Äôre still doing that type of relationship building,‚Äù
With the voyage quickly coming to an end, the diplomats stressed the importance of continuing an interest in foreign affairs even after Semester at Sea is over. For some of the visitors, one study-abroad experience was all it took to spark an interest in foreign affairs.
Michelle Kayser, a consular officer in the non-immigrant visa division of the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, hoped to raise awareness of the importance of the U.S. State Department and civil and foreign service.
‚ÄúWherever you are and whatever career you end up doing, whether it‚Äôs writing letters to your members of Congress, or hosting an exchange trip, or being a member of your state‚Äôs council on foreign affairs. All of that is really important. Staying connected and being involved in the formation of U.S. foreign policy is important, whether it‚Äôs as a career or from your home,‚Äù she said.
Students interacted in a range of ways with the diplomats, from dinner conversations to attending office hours and seminars such as, “Considering a Career with the State Department, both Foreign and Civil,” during which exciting career opportunities within the State Department were discussed.
Although ship life can be hard for any new voyager, they all agreed that Semester at Sea is a special experience and wished, regretfully, that they had sailed as students.
‚ÄúVery few people get to be on a ship around the world and we get to be on a piece of that, which is really amazing,‚Äù Robinson said.
One of the biggest focuses of foreign service is working on people-to-people contact, which is something students have had endless experience with over the past few months.
‚ÄúI think something that‚Äôs really fascinating about [Semester at Sea] in particular is the comparative approach,‚Äù Robinson said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs really interesting hearing you guys make connections about Lisbon and what you saw in Ghana and then putting all those pieces together. I think it gives you a much broader vision, and that ties into what we do as foreign service officers.‚Äù
Not only were the diplomats fascinated by Semester at Sea, but also the students‚Äô ability to represent the United States in a conscientious and interested way.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve all commented that you guys are attentive, curious and respectful and that you appreciate our time and ask good questions‚ÄîI‚Äôm impressed,‚Äù Hannan said. ‚ÄúI think anyone who thought this was a vacation cruise doesn‚Äôt think that anymore. It‚Äôs students critically thinking about a career and what the next step is.‚Äù
In addition to the four diplomats, an education reporter from the Brazilian portal iG sailed to Rio as well as a press specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia. (You can read about one of the SAS students, Andrew Gray, on the Brazilian portal by clicking¬†here.)¬†Between Rio and Salvador, Brazil, three additional diplomats from U.S. Embassy offices in Brazil sailed on the MV Explorer: Elias Parra, Benjamin Mills, and Drew Hoster. They also gave presentations about the foreign service and led a crisis management exercise for the shipboard community. Along with them were three young Brazilians, who are members of the embassy‚Äôs youth committee, which works to make great connections and international academic and cultural exchanges between Brazil university students and U.S. university students.