Glimpse of a Diplomat’s Life

What do diplomats do? In the virtual age, is the work of a diplomat still relevant? At a time when even the highest leader of the land or the head of the Foreign Affairs Department can post his/her decisions and sentiments online, available to the public within mere seconds and when news travels more than the speed of light (now, that must be a bit too much ^_^) to any corner of the world, do the efforts of diplomats behind the scenes still matter?

I have these musings because in the past few months, I had several people messaging me about the nature of my work–students who are interested to become a foreign service officer (FSO), a college buddy who surprised me with the news that he is already in the third level of the FSOE (I was thrilled!), and friends who are worried when I seem to be jaded with life (You know, there’s this notion of diplomacy as a dazzling-awesome-all-too-wonderful-career but it isn’t like that many times). Also, since my blog is supposedly about the “journeys and joys of a young diplomat,” I would somehow touch on this topic for those who are interested.

Taking a 2-minute break from work to be with
Dr. Jose Rizal πŸ™‚

Also, by the third week of this month, I would have been an FSO for five years, two years in the home office (in the Philippines) and almost three in my first foreign post here in France. So, yeah, what I will share would be a newbie’s view and quite general in nature, so far from the thoughts of the books “Bababa ba?: Anecdotes of a Foreign Service Officer” and “Champagne on Beer Bottle Pocket” by Jose Abeto Zaide. (Whatever gave me the idea to compare this blog entry to those wonderful books? It must be because it is a cold winter morning, everything is still dark and quiet and it’s a weekend. Haha!)

Here’s a list of what diplomats usually do:

  1. Write lots of reports.
  2. Coordinate with offices for various projects/activities.
  3. Handle the preparation and facilitate the conduct of meetings and activities.
  4. Attend the events of the Filipino community. (for Filipino diplomats)
  5. Address the concerns of Filipino nationals in coordination with appropriate offices.
  6. Respond to the queries of foreign nationals who wish to visit/work/do business, etc. in the Philippines.
  7. Represent the country in meetings.
  8. Establish good ties with the host country and with the international community.
  9. Handle consular functions and the issuance of consular documents.
  10. Be an upright, efficient and eloquent representative of the country.
  11. Do miscellaneous tasks such as answering emails, maintaining the office’s website, handling the office’s operations, managing the personnel and many other tasks.

To answer the questions I posted in my introduction, yes, diplomats are needed. International cooperation and coordination cannot work just by the use of technology or virtual communication alone. Addressing your nationals’ concerns in a foreign land cannot be merely through giving them a list of procedure to follow. Implementing the country’s goals require the assistance of diplomats. Maintaining good and friendly ties with countries require human connection.

I took this photo in 2016 of the menu of the “oldest restaurant” in Indonesia when I was in Semarang.
Walking along the beach in Koh Samui, Thailand at past 6am before the start of a day-long meeting (2016)
All smiles after a meeting in Hyderabad, India (2017)
At an exhibit in Strasbourg, France (2018)

On the personal aspect, being a diplomat has several challenges based on my observation. Work assignments change requiring the need to learn a new language, adapt in a new culture, be knowledgeable in the new country’s affairs, and so on. Also, for those with families, this would mean a spouse needing to change his/her career or to resign from his/her work in the home country to be with the diplomat husband/wife, the children changing schools and learning a new language and culture, or the partners striving to make a long distance relationship work. Based from what I saw, some husbands decided to be the one to stay at home and take care of the kids. On the other hand, wives of diplomats had to manage the household, plan social affairs, and handle the children’s schooling. It is known too that one of the reasons why marriages where one or both spouses are diplomats break up is when the spouses cannot agree on how to manage the family — a partner reluctant to leave his/her work, a partner requiring more time and attention, too much pressure at work, etc.

For diplomats without a family and wanting to have a life partner, it might be challenging to do this. Why? Despite the idea that having the opportunity to travel to several countries and meet many people would mean having a greater chance to meet a possible life partner, it is not as simple as it seems for several reasons, some of which are:

  • One, the activities that make up most of the 24-hr day of a diplomat are work-related.
  • Two, the chance of finding someone to spend life with while in a foreign assignment is hampered by the diplomat’s requirement to have a professional image (You can’t have your face plastered on dating sites or be seen cavorting with someone, etc.)
  • Three, for women particularly those living by themselves, having a baby may be daunting especially if there is no assurance of stability or security.

Please note, however, that there are exceptions. I have heard lovely stories of diplomats having a great family relationship despite the distance or successfully maintaining their family ties while on foreign assignments. Also, there are those who found love and were able to build a family despite having a busy work schedule.

I think these issues are not unique to diplomats but the constant need for change make the situation more challenging to achieve a balance between having a successful and flourishing career and maintaining a beautiful family. But, I guess, I should not discuss further because some ideas are better discussed in person than online. Don’t you agree? πŸ˜€

Happy weekend, everyone. Enjoy!

Author’s Notes:

  • The contents of this blog are based on observations and not a generalization of diplomats. πŸ˜€
  • Part II was added on Jan. 10 to make the essay balanced. Some of my friends requested for a more personal approach. ^_^

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