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The Foreign Service: Springboard or Landing Pad


A diplomacy career is often considered to be a single, lifetime tra­jectory. While that may be true for some, many join the Foreign Ser­vice as a second career and others leave it for new opportunities. We reached out to Kennedy Center alumni to learn how the Foreign Service has been a springboard to a different career—or, for some, a landing pad.

Jonathan Beutler
Public Affairs Consultant and Los Angeles County Beach Commissioner; Former Foreign Service Officer, US Department of State

What drew you to a career in the Foreign Service?
When I was in the sixth grade, our class was visited by a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer who was planning to pursue a Foreign Service career, and I was mesmerized thinking about a career in another country. Several years later, I was an exchange student in Spain, where I had exposure to the US embassy in Madrid and learned about the importance of diplomatic work. Finally, as a graduate student at UCLA, during a welcome reception for Pakistan’s foreign minister, I enjoyed a very encouraging conversation with former US secretary of state Warren Christopher, which really solidified my commitment to prepare for the Foreign Service by seeking a State Department internship (I was assigned to the embassy in Lisbon).

What were some of your career highlights?
First was that overwhelming moment when I was informed that I had passed the oral assessment and was advancing to Foreign Service officer (FSO) candidacy. While in Washington, I had opportunities to serve on two special task forces that monitored the situation of American citizens during the Egyptian revolution and after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Highlights from Tokyo include overseeing advocacy in the Japanese Diet for Japan’s accession to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, coordinating cultural diplomacy activities with American musicians and artists, and serving as a control officer for official visits by high-ranking officials. I was particularly moved when President Barack Obama incorporated some text I had written in his speech during a joint presser with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.

How did your work as a diplomat serve as a springboard to what you’re doing now?
The training and experiences I had have made me a more well-rounded professional and a stronger communicator. My diplomatic background certainly continues to be relevant, as my current work is substantially international. The Foreign Service educated me in public engagement and mass communication, writing succinct reports, staff management, and navigating bureaucratic team dynamics.

What do you think about the current state of US diplomacy?
I am deeply concerned about Washington’s current approach to diplomacy. The US and, dare I say, the world are in a hard position today because of the departure of so many dedicated, experienced diplomats during the past four years. Fortunately, those among the younger generation of Foreign Service officers whom I know give me great hope for the future of American diplomacy.

What is something most people do not fully understand about diplomats?
There are many sacrifices made by those who choose to serve. There are people for whom the expatriate lifestyle is not well suited, and balancing the demands of a Foreign Service career against a spouse’s interests and goals, as well as children’s needs, can be a significant challenge. Despite personal sacrifices and constraints, Foreign Service officers are, by and large, fixated on the goal of advancing US interests overseas, and the protection of Americans overseas is a top priority.

What advice do you have for students who want to be diplomats and for diplomats who are thinking about leaving the State Department?
I feel strongly that students who want to become diplomats should apply for a summer internship to experience firsthand the work and lifestyle of Foreign Service officers. That is the best way to understand whether a diplomatic career is truly compatible with one’s professional goals and, perhaps most importantly, his or her family situation. There are also so many resources at the Kennedy Center and across the broader BYU community that will serve to help prepare students for the Foreign Service.

For my Foreign Service colleagues who are considering a transition outside the State Department, market yourself as a former diplomat. So many organizations and companies stand in need of globally minded professionals who bring extensive training to the table. The world needs more diplomats!

Ryan Koch
Director of the New York Office of Public and International Affairs, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Former Foreign Service Officer, US Department of State

How did your work as a diplomat serve as a springboard to what you’re doing now?
When I thought about leaving the State Department, my wife asked me what my dream job would be. I replied, “Doing exactly what I’m doing but doing it for the Church.” About 95 percent of what I do for the Church is what I did for the State Department: interacting with diplomats, working with NGO leaders, promoting policies, organizing events, dispelling stereotypes, and building relationships. The only difference is that I have a much better secretary of state now!

What do you think about the current state of US diplomacy?
The State Department is often seen as low-hanging fruit when it comes to budget cuts in the federal government. Beefing up the diplomatic corps, both in terms of budget and personnel, is one of the best things that can be done to improve our relationships with other countries. In addition to not having adequate resources, the State Department is a treasure trove of expertise that is currently not being used to its full extent. Nevertheless, US diplomats continue to push forward, establish key relationships, and promote the United States around the world.

Stephen Frahm
Foreign Service Officer, US Department of State; Former Association Executive in Arizona, Texas, and Utah and Former Executive Vice President of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors and Washington County Board of Realtors, with Work Experience in the Arizona Office of Tourism and the Texas Travel Industry Association

What drew you to a career in the Foreign Service?
I met a Foreign Service officer during my air force assignment in Berlin and was fascinated by his career.

How did your previous work prepare you for your work as a diplomat?
My prior work experience allowed me to hone team- and consensus-building skills, taught me how to problem solve and make decisions without complete information, and, perhaps most importantly, taught me to develop professional networking competencies.

What’s something most people do not fully understand about diplomats?
Life as a diplomat is not, for the most part, luxurious living. Living overseas is not the same as vacationing overseas. It afforded my family many wonderful experiences that we would not trade. But organizing a household move every few years and then adapting to a new culture exacts a price—especially for a spouse and children. A spouse’s career is not easy to manage when you move so often. My children made some good friends but also experienced anti-American bullying in their schools. They had amazing adventures traveling on school trips but missed out on common American childhood experiences.

Connor Kreutz
Business Analyst, McKinsey & Company, Seattle, Washington; Former Intern, US Diplomatic Mission to Germany

What initially drew you to a career in the Foreign Service?
The Foreign Service seemed like a way I could see the world, operate at the intersection between business and policy, and work where policy implementation was happening.

How did your internship serve as a springboard to what you’re doing now?
I had a lot of autonomy, especially traveling alone to high schools across the region to speak about US politics and culture to auditoriums of German high school students. I found it difficult, however, to stand up in front of students and defend President Trump’s “America first” strategy for foreign policy, to which I was diametrically opposed. Knowing that dissonance would be constant in my job if I joined the Foreign Service, I began exploring other career paths.

What are some skills that you developed at the Kennedy Center and as a State Department intern that you use now?
I think the ability to read the news and link current events to the broader story about your community, the country, and even the world is important. I got into the habit of reading a number of newspapers and following the social media accounts of reporters while I was a student at the Kennedy Center. Today I spend nearly an hour each morning listening to the news while I get ready because I want to be ready to respond when clients ask for guidance.

Eliza Campbell
Associate Director of the Cyber Program, Middle East Institute, Washington, DC

What initially drew you to a career in foreign policy?
My parents were educators, and I saw firsthand the intersection of poverty with race and class. Alongside that, I followed the US invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan closely as a teenager, and there were things about US foreign policy and its intersection with domestic policy that I wanted to understand better.

Did you consider working for the State Department?
I did, but ultimately I decided it was not for me. Diplomacy has a lot more to do with domestic politics than I initially thought. I recommend doing a lot of reading and talking with people involved in different levels at State, and consider seriously whether you have any particular ethical or moral convictions that might preclude you from building a career in these spaces.

What unique challenges do women face in foreign affairs?
I wish someone had told me how difficult it would be and how the same challenges of fifty years ago are still present. We’ve made certain strides, of course, but the worst and most important thing, I think, is that the invisible labor of those who identify as female is still often taken for granted, and their contributions are still coded differently than those who identify as male. I am still learning how to navigate this myself, but I would recommend that women working in this field set strong boundaries, practice advocating for themselves and others, and practice seeing unpaid and invisible labor as worthy of value and attention.