American Diplomacy

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Fall 2018

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Joining the Foreign Service: the Experiences of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
by John Coyne

There are many paths to the Foreign Service. Several returned Peace Corps Volunteers who became ambassadors recount how they came to join the State Department.

Description: http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/abercrombie.jpg Gina Abercrombie, Ambassador to Malta 2012-16
PCV Oman 1980-82
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley decided on diplomatic service as a PCV when she had the opportunity to meet and make friends with some of the younger diplomats and heard firsthand about their work while she was still a volunteer. That led directly to her taking the exam.
Description: http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/hull-thos.jpg Thomas N. Hull, Ambassador to Sierra Leone 2004-07
PCV Sierra Leone 1968-70
Thomas N. Hull said that reading The Ugly American got him interested in the Foreign Service. "More than JFK's appeal to youth to serve, I was attracted to an overseas career by this bestseller, but uncertain if I could qualify. The Peace Corps proved to be both preparation and a stepping stone. My Peace Corps experience convinced me of the importance of good relations with all countries, gave me the confidence to work usefully in a cross-cultural environment, and exposed me directly to the Foreign Service."
Description: http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/huddleston-v-mic-h116.jpg Vicki Huddleston, Ambassador to Madagascar 1995-96, Mali 2002-05, Chief of United States Interests Section in Havana 1999–2002
PCV Peru 1964-66
Vicki Huddleston decided she wanted the Foreign Service while still in college. "I took the exam," says Vicki, "and failed. Instead of the State Department, I went to the Peace Corps which was much better as I learned so much about myself." Her Peace Corps service in Peru working on financing housing co-ops led to Vicki getting a job with a USAID contractor in Peru, and then being transferred to Brazil with the American Institute for Free Labor Development. When she returned to the States, she says. "I talked myself into Johns Hopkins SAIS. No GRE! After graduating, I took the FS exam again, and this time I passed. I had a job offer from USAID because of my Peace Corps housing experience, but preferred State. It was a long road into the State Department, but a good one."
Description: http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/engle-greg.jpg Gregory Engle, Ambassador to Togo 2003-05
PCV South Korea 1980-81; Country Director Ethiopia 2012-14
 "I passed the written exam for the Foreign Service a few months before entering the Peace Corps, and I took the panel assessment five days before staging," recalls Greg Engle. "That was at a time when candidates did not receive the results of the panel assessment for several weeks. I found out that I had passed in the middle of pre-service training. I was ecstatic, but I also knew that a very long security clearance process lay ahead. I was a military brat and study-abroad student, so I had lots of addresses to check, and by all reports, the Foreign Service security folks checked every one. Knowing that, I settled back into Peace Corps service, and I received my offer to join the Foreign Service a few months after leaving South Korea. I guess I was one of the lucky ones."  
Description: http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/aretti.jpg Michael Arietti, Ambassador to Rwanda 2005-08
PCV India 1969-72
Michael Arietti had studied International Relations in college and was interested in diplomatic service before joining the Peace Corps and going to India in 1969. "If anything, my Peace Corps experience reaffirmed my interest in living overseas and learning about different cultures. In fact, I took the exam at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi while I was still in the Peace Corps."  When Michael took his Foreign Service exam in the late Sixties most candidates for the Foreign Service were recent graduate with only BA or MA degrees. Over the years he noticed that this changed. "Many new entrants," he says, "have higher degrees, including law, and most have worked as professionals for some time before joining State. Many have lived overseas and have good language abilities. They are more experienced than those who joined when I did."
Description: http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/mack-james.jpg James F. Mack, Ambassador to Guyana 1997-2000
PCV Honduras 1963-65
In a 2002 interview for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) Oral History project James Mack describes passing the Foreign Service Exam in his senior year at Cornell University. Having already been accepted by the Peace Corps, he asked one of the examiners what he should do. "He told me I was a young guy; hadn't even graduated from college yet; that while I could come into the Foreign Service, I really should go into the Peace Corps first. The Foreign Service, he said, would hold the commission for me until I completed my Peace Corps Service. He said that when I got out, I would be older, more mature, speak really good Spanish, and be much more useful to the Foreign Service. That made sense to me so I said, "fine"! It turned be to be great advice and that is what I did."



Author John Coyne (Peace Corps Ethiopia 1962–64) is the editor of: Peace Corps OnLine: http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/
John was with the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Ethiopia. After completing his service, he worked for the Peace Corps in Washington, and then became an Associate Peace Corps Director in Ethiopia.
He left the Peace Corps in 1967 to become Dean of Admissions and Students at the SUNY/Old Westbury, and later turned to writing full time. In 1995 John returned to the Peace Corps as Special Assistant to the Associate Director for Volunteer Support where he conceived of and edited three essay books about the Peace Corps experience: To Touch the World, At Home in the World, and Peace Corps: The Great Adventure, and wrote the concept paper that outlined a new role for Peace Corps Volunteers —the Crisis Corps, later renamed the Response Corps. In 1996 he was appointed Manager of the New York Peace Corps Recruitment Office.
John, who is considered an authority on the history of the Peace Corps, has written or edited over twenty-five books including Going Up Country: Travel Essays by Peace Corps Writers and Living on the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers, and a novel partially set in Ethiopia, Long Ago and Far Away.

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