Careers at the U.S. Department of State: Ben


Ben, a Foreign Service Officer on a consular career track, discusses his experiences working at the U.S. Department of State.
BEN, FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICER,
CONSULAR CAREER TRACK:
Hi, I'm Ben and I'm a Consular Officer. So, I work in the Office of Children's Issues
in Overseas Citizen Services. And, so what we do,
is we work with parents who've had their children abducted
and we work to try to get their children back from overseas
when they've been taken by the other parent
back to another country that that other parent might be from. And, so we work with them
to try and explain the remedies, the different resources
that might be available to them. We work with the foreign
government to try to find where the child is
and to use, in some cases, we use a treaty arrangement
to get the children back and, then, in other cases,
we work with our embassies to try and find the children
and get them back to the United States,
so the families can be reunited. It's very hard,
but at the end of the day we're helping American citizens
get their families back together and to return those children back home so that the procedures, the processes
can be properly followed. As more and more
Americans travel overseas, there's a full range of issues
that we deal with and, in my time as a Consular Officer,
I've done everything from document a new American citizen that was
born to parents who were traveling abroad to help families who had a loved one die
while taking a vacation overseas. I grew up in western North Carolina,
just where the mountains start, and I went to the University of North Carolina
as a Morehead-Cain Scholar. When I was there,
I started studying journalism and I thought that I wanted to be
an international journalist, but, as these things often times happen,
I ran into a friend and said, "Gosh, you should take the
Foreign Service Exam," and, the next thing you know,
I'm standing in Mexico in a visa section,
getting to meet hundreds of new Mexican citizens
every day as they get ready to travel to the United States. Now, I can't imagine any other life. It's given just a tremendous amount
of opportunities to my family and to me to go and explore and be part
of a global community at the same time that
we're serving our country. I actually worked for an internet start-up
company and it was a city guide. I have to say, in those days,
it was quite a shock to leave an internet start-up
and come to work for the State Department. It was quite a change in mentality
and, sort of, in formality. But, because, you know,
the thing about the internet is it's all about connections
and about connecting with people, and what I love about consular work
is the opportunity to meet new and different people really every single day. And, each visa interview,
I try to think of it as a chance to, in two minutes, practice my trade of journalism
where I have to try to learn about that person's life
so that I can make a decision to let legitimate travelers
come to the United States but also to keep out people who
may not mean well for the United States. And so, I've had the opportunity to let
grandmothers receive a visa so that they can come and visit
their newborn grandbaby but at the same time, I've stopped
drug traffickers and violent criminals from coming to the United States
through the visa interview process. And then, on the other side,
I get to meet American citizens who've traveled all around the world
and, many times, it's just, they need a new passport
but other times, they find themselves, through no fault of their own,
facing a real difficult situation and I'm able to use the
connections that I've made with the government in that country,
to help them find the right hospital or the right lawyer or to explain
the legal system to them so that they can get back home
to the United States. So, on the 4th of July, in,
I guess it would have been 2006, we were in Nogales, Mexico, which is just across the border
from the United States, but we did a 4th of July,
we did a big jazz concert, a New Orleans jazz concert
on the main market square, there in Nogales. And, my little daughter was
giving out Mardi Gras beads and it was wonderful to see her
connect with this little Mexican child as she gave out those Mardi Gras beads
and I thought, "Even though this child has grown up,
literally 100 yards away from the U.S. border, this may be the closest interaction
she's ever had with an American." And really, my daughter was America
to that little girl that day. Unlike other countries, we don't have a national religion,
we don't have a national ethnicity, the only thing that we all share
is our obligation to the Constitution and that's what makes us Americans and that's what we are
when we're overseas as diplomats.

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