Uncertainty can be happiness

"Security is a false god," or running around the world as an FSO

Commonality

Posted by quirksalight on April 3, 2011

The most common question I get, considering my educational background, is, “How did you go from biomedical engineering to the Foreign Service?”

Convoluted? Yes and no. There’s a bit of history, and the kernels behind all this were placed a long time ago. In high school, I was on the high school debate team and that ignited my interest in politics and international relations. However, I was rather obsessed with science and had dreams of developing a treatment/device that would revolutionize medicine. It wasn’t until grad school, after being burned out of medical research, when I had to start thinking of, “now what?”. My temporary answer was to take a leave of absence for a year and teach English in Korea. That’s one of the earlier points in this blog, back in 2007.

But in Korea, teaching was one thing, but straddling two cultures socially and linguistically was a whole ‘nother beast. Plus, I came to Korea at a political change; for the first time in 10 years, the progressive party was out of office and the conservatives came into power the month I arrived, March 2008. This combined with my background in Korean culture and language, sciences, and interest in politics led to some interesting discussions with the faculty in my middle school, handling getting punched on a subway, acting as a facilitator for my foreign friends in Korea, and occasionally having to explain what the U.S. government was doing to my students, colleagues, and friends.

I really enjoyed that interaction – facilitating the understanding between two cultures, though not so much the getting hit part. Which led me to starting thinking about the Foreign Service. I always planned to go into public service, someday, when I was on the academic track. But I hadn’t thought about it again until when I was in Korea, pondering my next step. So I did – FSOT exam date was November 5, 2008. I got the acceptance in to the QEP in December 2008, decided not to sign a teaching contract for another year, gambling that I would pass the QEP and get to the OA, which I did. So I left Korea, with a freelance editing gig, prepped for the OA and passed on June 15, 2009. A year later, I was prepping to leave DC for my first tour as a POL officer in Seoul. whew! What a whirlwind…

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3 Responses to “Commonality”

  1. Sounds like my past year: Engineering, then various part-time jobs, then unemployment/travel, then teaching English, now Foreign Service. Did feel like a whirlwind sometimes, but I’m pretty happy with how it worked out!

    Oddly enough, I had something similar happen to me when I was riding the subway in Seoul last summer – the guy sitting next to me got into an argument with a homeless man before suddenly jumping up and attacking him. I helped a few other passengers break up the fight, but since my Korean isn’t very good I never did find out what the argument was about.

  2. D.C. is treating me pretty well! Still busy with training right now, but only another couple of months left. Definitely looking forward to getting overseas pretty soon.

    How’s FSO life in Korea so far? Sounds like you’ve been keeping busy.

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