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The Foreign Service Path

With the advent of the Kennedy Center’s AMA series, many of the speakers come from the body of BYU alums who have entered the Foreign Service. They, and occasionally their spouses, share educational paths and career insights regarding life in the Foreign Service. Notable among them is Miles Hansen, a Kennedy Center alumnus (2009).

Is there a direct path to success in the Foreign Service? If there is, BYU’s international relations students would like to know. There is an unusually high number of BYU alumni in the Foreign Service, and for many current BYU students, joining the Foreign Service is their plan A post-graduation.

If there was a plan A for entering the Foreign Service, Hansen took it, but he doesn’t see it that way. His educational and professional career reads like a formula sheet for success in the Foreign Service:

—Learn a focus language while living abroad

—Intern in a “hardship location,” speaking that focus language

—Finish a degree in IR with an economics focus

—Learn another focus abroad on the Boren Scholarship

—Receive the Pickering Fellowship

—Earn a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

—Enter the Foreign Service upon graduation

That wasn’t his intention. If you ask anyone who knew him as an undergrad studying international relations at BYU, they would say Hansen was headed for the private sector. He followed his interests, which included Islamic societies and international business. Yet, each step he took to further his education opened doors that led Hansen to a life of diplomacy, on to the White House as the director for gulf affairs on the National Security Council, and now as president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah.

A trade organization internship in Kyrgyzstan, organized through the Kennedy Center’s International Study Programs, kickstarted Hansen’s inadvertent path to the Foreign Service. He knew Russian from a mission in St. Petersburg but was looking mostly at internships in Western Europe and found this internship last minute. Life in central Asia was difficult, but his internship brought him in contact with the Islamic population in the south, which inspired him to focus his studies on the Islamic world.

Following that internship, Hansen continued his degree in IR with a new focus, completed a semester at the BYU Jerusalem Center, then received the prestigious Boren Fellowship, which allowed him to study Farsi abroad for a year. In exchange for funding, recipients of the Boren Awards commit to work for the federal government for one year after they graduate. Whatever plans Hansen may have had regarding international business were officially on hold.

His next step was to apply to the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, one of the foremost graduate programs for international relations in the country. As a recent graduate and newlywed, Hansen knew he needed funding in order to continue in school, so he applied for another fellowship. The Thomas R. Pickering fellowship is a golden ticket of sorts for Foreign Service hopefuls. He described it as a “two for one”—it paid for his graduate degree and gave him a backdoor into the U.S. Department of State.

Hansen concentrated on conflict management and emerging markets at SAIS, completed an internship stateside, and then proceeded directly into the Foreign Service, where he began work in the Middle East, setting up an Iranian visa processing system. Even after completing the Boren Fellowship-required year in government work, Hansen continued in the Foreign Service. As a consular officer and then as an economic/political officer, he continued to learn about the global economy and has participated in a number of sensitive negotiations.

To the BYU students who dream of a career in the Foreign Service, Hansen advised that “the Foreign Service should always be Plan B.” Though he made joining the Foreign Service look straightforward, he came to that career inadvertently. Instead of putting that end-goal above everything else, he prioritized education and pursued his interests, and his life has been better for it.