Archive for December, 2008

Networking: stay open to the unexpected

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Sherry and I got a nice little holiday notice in the American University Alumni Update for a networking breakfast we headlined back in November. It was flattering to be invited back to our shared alma mater (MA for me, BA for Sherry), much as it was for me to be invited back to Notre Dame, my undergrad alma mater. It was also slightly ironical to be invited to speak at a networking event, since I’ve historically been horrible at navigating networking events.

Here’s what gets me: even though I’m (at least I think) a social and extroverted person, when I find myself at a networking event, I pull a Benjamin Button and actually revert to the awkward, gangly, socially-inept version of myself from junior high and most of high school. Who do I approach? What do I say? Where do I stand? What should I do with my hands? The situation seems to play out like this: 1) I choose a networking event; 2) I go to said networking event; 3) I walk into the room said networking event is being held in; 4) I think to myself, ‘What the crap do I do now? ‘

And this AU networking event was no different. I thought I would feel different being one of the “featured” networkers in the room. This was not the case. I was as awkward and ungainly as I ever. Even so, I managed to follow the advice so often given to introverted networkers: suck it up and do it.


Careers in the Foreign Service

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Last week, Mark blogged about this article from the New York Times.  If you haven’t taken the opportunity to read his post and the related article, I would recommend doing so.  While Working World presents a variety of paths to a rewarding international career, the Foreign Service is still one of the most attractive magnets for young Americans who want to serve their country in a very direct way and who are willing to be sent wherever they are needed most.  Over the years I have been privileged to observe many Foreign Service Officers at work at our Embassies and consulates around the world, as well as here in DC.  Almost always, I came away impressed by their hard work, dedication, and wide array of tasks their daily responsibilities entail.  Those drawn to this career should definitely peruse this article.

Love, Kind Of

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

I am a big fan of the falsetto. Merry Christmas.

1,500 new jobs in the Foreign Service

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

A ray of hope for job seekers in the fields of international affairs and interested in the U.S. Foreign Service, courtesy of the New York Times. Despite the economic downturn, the Foreign Service is actually expanding: it asked for funding for 1,500 new jobs for the current fiscal year.  An interesting wrinkle on the heels of the “NGOs v. Foreign Service” discussion from two weeks ago. In that vein, the Times article offers a bit of editorial regarding the fact that, perhaps, the Foreign Service isn’t for everyone:

Not everyone is cut out for Foreign Service work, which can be stressful and highly demanding. About two-thirds of a diplomat’s career is spent overseas; officers usually move every two to four years and can be exposed to dangers like disease and war…

Yet career diplomats like Ronald E. Neumann, a former ambassador to Afghanistan who now heads the American Academy of Diplomacy, called it the best job in the world. “I enjoy what I’m doing now but it’s nothing like working on foreign policy,” he said. “In my 37 years of service I may have gone home tired or frustrated with how a decision came out, but I never went home and asked myself if what I was working on was worthwhile.”

But it seems to be for a lot of people, or so they seem to think: it’s worth noting that this story currently ranks as the most emailed on the NY Times site.  I wonder if this is an indication of the fact that there’s that many people out there who suddenly want to join the Foreign Service, or maybe its more of an indication of where people’s heads are at these days.  That is, things might be redirecting. With the sudden bottoming out of the financial sector, talented people from/headed to that field may be reconsidering their career trajectories, with international affairs as a potentially attractive destination.

Fulbright got its start in China

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Fact: the first Fulbright program anywhere took place in China.

According to IIE’s U.S.-China Educational Exchange, the program was established by a formal agreement between the U.S. and Chinese governments in 1947.  By August 1949, 27 American scholars and students and 24 Chinese students and scholars had taken part in the program, though the exchange between the two countries was soon shutdown with the founding of the People’s Republic in October 1949.  The program was not reestablished until 30 years later, in 1979, and today is one of the largest Fulbright exchanges in the world.

I though this was an interesting tidbit to learn while in China, and reminder that the Fulbright program is a respected and well-established way to get significant and in-depth abroad experience.  More about the program and application details here and here.

Publishing as an international career

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Georgetown University Press, our esteemed publisher, was named by Book Business Magazine among the top ten best book publishing companies to work for in the United States, ranking #3 on the list. GU Press is certainly in good company on this list as the only academic publisher among a slate of well-known companies such as Chronicle Books and Random House. So why is GU Press a great place to work? Here’re director Richard Brown’s reasons:

Our publishing program is consonant with principles underlying Georgetown University—intellectual openness, an international character, and a commitment to justice and the common good. All of that tends to attract publishing professionals who care about ideas and their impact on the world. We love what we do, and we have fun doing it.

Sherry and I extend our congratulations (and thanks, of course) to Richard and the rest of the great GU Press staff for this well-deserved honor. We also extend the idea to you, dear Working World readers, of publishing as a possible international career. Not only are the ideals of the publishing world similar to those we espouse in the fields of international education, exchange, and development (as Richard explains above), but you also get to work with an international slate of authors and possibly take some trips abroad from time to time too.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention that the weather in Beijing has been incredibly strange. When we arrived on Tuesday night, the smog was so bad that it had drifted into the airport and our hotel, giving everything a hazy feel and campfire smell. You could actually taste the pollution. But by Wednesday morning, a nice northwesterly wind from the Gobi had cleared it all out and gave us a brilliant, sunny (albeit very cold) day. I’ll post a picture when I actually get around to downloading some from my camera.

UPDATE #2: The rest of our time in Beijing was marked by clear and sunny skies.  Five days in a row of clear skies in winter is, from what I gather, pretty much a miracle in Beijing.  It makes the city a pretty pleasant place to be, that’s for sure, even if the bitter winds sometimes made me want to curl up and cry.  Here’s the famous Bird’s Nest, first back from my visit in June on a normal, smoggy day, then from last Wednesday on a cold and sunny day.  The difference is not un-noticeable:

How a communications job became international

Monday, December 15th, 2008

The weather in Shanghai so far has cooperated quite nicely: moderate temperature, sunny, and mostly clear. Below, a pretty decent view of the sunset from Sheshan, a 328 foot hill about 30 km outside of Shanghai and the site of both an observatory and the “Far East’s first cathedral,” the Sheshan Basilica:

We’ll see what it’s like in Beijing, where I’m headed tomorrow.

A brief word on what the heck I’m doing in China anyway. On a macro level, I’m here traveling with the Dean of Georgetown College (Georgetown University’s undergraduate arts and sciences school), expanding our linkages and partnerships with various Chinese universities, including Fudan University here in Shanghai, and Renmin and Beijing Universities and the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. On a more specific level, we’re using our expertise at Georgetown as a practitioner of the liberal arts to help Chinese universities establish and grow their own liberal arts programs. Chinese universities have a tradition of pre-professional education, but not of general education in the liberal arts tradition. There is a new interest at top universities, however, in developing this liberal arts tradition. We, as representatives of Georgetown College, are here to act in something of an advisory role.

Yang Xinyu, Secretary General of the China Scholarship Council, said it well when discussing (in this IIE publication) U.S.-China exchange in higher education:

China’s development has unique characteristics, and it can be difficult to adapt the experiences of others to this context. By opening their doors to the outside world, Chinese higher education institutions could discuss these problems with partners from other countries, see their own problems from a broader standpoint, and make changes based on what they have learned through this exchange.

I think this gets to the core of what Georgetown College is trying to do with its Chinese partners in their development of liberal arts programs within their universities: present our model of the liberal arts not as the solution, but rather as just one model, as well as a gateway to dialogue about the “Chinese model” in the hopes of making progress based on what is learned through the exchange.

So, now that the question of what I’m doing in China has been answered, the next question could reasonably be: why am I, as a communication director at Georgetown, involved in this China work? The answer after the jump.


‘Tis the Season to Network

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Perhaps the number of Holiday parties is inversely proportional to the degree of economic distress.  Perhaps events celebrating the Season are the best antidote to scary economic news reporting an onslaught of gigantic financial forces beyond our control…

This year it seems that I am receiving a great number of invitations to Holiday parties of varying types and in contrasting venues.  Most notable about these invitations is how many are billed as “networking” events.  The two that were in my email this morning were from vastly different but equally interesting nonprofits.   

            The first:
                        IPOA Stability Operations
                        Winter Networking Reception
                        The Tabard Inn

FYI: IPOA is the International Peace Operations Association.

Its members are the for profit security firms the U.S. government (and others) hire to do everything from protect diplomats to secure neighborhoods and deliver supplies in war zones.  IPOA was founded by Doug Brooks, a talented young man I hired when I worked at IIE many years ago.  We still get together for the occasional dinner to compare notes on our work.

Also this morning there is an invitation from the DC Young Professionals Chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy, “For a Holiday Networking and Social Event – A chance to enjoy a drink and holiday cheer with other young professionals in Foreign Affairs.”

Seth Green, the founder of Americans for Informed Democracy (AID) is one of 12 remarkable people Mark and I profiled in Working World.  Seth is one of several younger colleagues whose accomplishments and career advice we showcase in the book.  Learn more about AID at

This is a roundabout  way of reminding us all – particularly job seekers – that we are in the midst of one of the best possible times to network – to expand our circle of contacts and personal acquaintances.  So accept those invitations and keep business cards at the ready.  Then proceed to do what is done infrequently – follow-up.  Contact one or two new people you met and suggest coffee.  Even if they are also job seekers, you can be on the look out for opportunities for each other.

To smog or blue skies?

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Blogging will be from China for the next nine days, as I leave tomorrow on a Georgetown College Dean’s delegation to Shanghai and Beijing.  We’ll be engaging several Chinese universities (Fudan, Beijing, and Renmin, to name a few) in various partnerships and outreach activities. More on all that once I’m there.

For now, the first of what will undoubtedly be several James Fallows references.  Fallows has, for the Atlantic and for the past two years, chronicled anything and everything about China and his life there, including the state of pollution in Beijing.  Here’s to hoping for skies a little like this, on September 12:

I’m not necessarily hopeful, though, given the state of the skies in Beijing today:

I suppose we shall see. Until China.

NGOs or the Foreign Service? Or does it even matter?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Reader Garrett Kuk (who blogs himself on “focused communication”) writes in response to my post on changes in the Foreign Service:

With all of the pre-election parallels drawn between JFK and Obama , it will be interesting to see how/if Obama’s foreign policy harnesses the enthusiastic young demographic. JFK created the Peace Corps during his administration, and the global worldview of Gen Y seems to suggest the right sort of strategic foreign policy will yield tremendous volume of talent and impact. Are we better off encouraging private NGO involvement rather than Foreign Service?

I hope it’s a “how” and not an “if.” Obama undoubtedly has the influence, the hipness, and all the right conditions to call upon an enthusiastic young demographic to “ask not what your country can do for you…”. But unlike in the Kennedy era, when it was the Peace Corps, the Foreign Service, USAID and that was about it, there are infinitely more opportunities out there for meaningful international work, whether it be at NGOs/nonprofits, universities, foundations, consulting firms, etc. The Foreign Service is certainly a place where meaningful international work is done (and it seems like that will be especially true in an Obama administration: they’ve got this weird notion that we should talk to other countries…). I’ve tried to encourage international job seekers not necessarily to lean one way (the government) or the other (the private sector) but rather to expand their notion of international work. No longer is it solely the Foreign Service, the World Bank, and the UN. There is so much more. So as long as you are aware that the Foreign Service is but one choice among many, I suppose it doesn’t much matter where you end up throwing your enthusiasm for international work, as long as you throw.

After the jump, a mini-rant of some other thoughts Garrett’s question provoked.


Georgetown gets $75 million

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

A surprising and not unwelcome announcement just came out of Georgetown’s (my employer, in case you forgot) Office of Communications and is now being picked up by the Washington Post and other news outlets: the university received its largest donation ever, an estate gift of $75 million to support faculty compensation and research, technology, and staffing infrastructure.  No real career connection here, perhaps other than to note that the benefactor, Robert L. McDevitt, graduated from the arts and sciences school here at Georgetown.  I think this serves as another reminder to us liberal arts majors fretting that our course of study will take us nowhere: yes we can.

Senator Drescher is one thing, but PD Envoy Drescher?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Some very disturbing news from CNN’s Political Ticker:  Fran Drescher, the actress of “The Nanny” fame, may be seeking Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat.  What’s perhaps even more disturbing is that in the article, Drescher is described as a “women’s health advocate and public diplomacy envoy for the U.S. State Department.”  Hold up.  So Fran Drescher is being used to better the image of our country?  Sending out The Kid is one thing, but subjecting on the world someone with an “adenoidal voice that could strip the rust off an engine block” and then hoping that they’ll like us better afterwards seems an ill-informed move indeed.

(Props to Ari Gerstman for the lead on this.)

Helping Immigrants Become “Upwardly Global”

Monday, December 8th, 2008

I recently ran across Upwardly Global, a unique career site designed to help “highly-skilled immigrants, refugees, and asylees reclaim their careers here in the United States and help American employers discover and understand this hidden talent pool.” While I presume that most of the readers of this blog (all 12 of them) are American citizens looking for international jobs and to build international careers,* for all you non-American readers of Working World, Upwardly Global strikes me as a useful job hunting, networking, and cultural assimilation tool.

And for “established” American professionals working in any field (international relations or otherwise), Upwardly Global is looking for mentors and advisees who can help immigrants swim the waters of the American professional environment. Meet someone from somewhere else. Establish more professional contacts. Help someone with their career. Sounds like a good gig.

*I probably shouldn’t assume this, especially given the fields we’re talking about here, but anyway.

Foreign Service: “Redheaded stepchild of the U.S. foreign-policy apparatus”?

Friday, December 5th, 2008

The Foreign Service faces something of a crisis as baby boomers go into retirement: in the next decade, 60 percent of federal workers will reach retirement age, said this Washington Post article in 2006.  An even bigger problem, the Post article goes on to point out, could be this: that young people don’t necessarily want a career in traditional diplomacy.  It points to a Gallup survey that concluded internationally-minded folks of the ages of 18 and 29 think “the private sector offers more creativity and attracts the best minds.”*

In order to make itself more competitive and attractive amongst the array of specialized international NGOs, as well as to get the best candidates, the Foreign Service thought it might shake things up a bit:

In a proposed overhaul of its hiring process slated for next year [2007] and to be announced to employees in coming days, the State Department would weigh resumes, references and intangibles such as “team-building skills” in choosing who represents the United States abroad, according to three people involved in the process. The written test would survive, but in a shortened form that would not be treated as the key first hurdle it has been for more than 70 years.**

So how is the new test faring about a year in?  Andrew Curry thinks not so well. In his article in the October 2008 Foreign Affairs, he finds, after sitting for the new exam himself, that it is a far better judge of a candidate’s knowledge of management jargon than international affairs:


Lawyers head overseas

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

The New York Times reports that an ever-increasing number of lawyers are headed to places like Doha, Tokyo, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Hong Kong, and Dubai:

As applications pour into places like Dubai, American firms are stoking the attraction of overseas work by downsizing at home….

Mr. Ahluwalia, 30, grew up in Dubai, went to law school in Michigan and began his career in New York. Now, he says, he sees a big push from young lawyers hoping to find work in the Middle East. “Even kids currently in law school are coming by Dubai for jobs,” he says. “I met a very enthusiastic candidate from a Chicago law school in his second year who basically flew to Dubai for four days and actually cold-called and made visits to a bunch of firms.”

While many are headed abroad because work has dried up in the U.S., it seems that many others also see the value of experience abroad for their careers:

For some lawyers, looking abroad for work is also a chance to evolve personally as well as professionally — as long as they have the requisite skills to stand out in increasingly competitive markets.