Hannah, Outbound to Brazil

Part of the reason I decided to go to exchange was to help myself in the future. You see, I plan in working for the State Department, and I wanted to become familiar with another language, another culture, another mentality. When I go to college next year, I plan to study International Relations, Political Science, and Spanish. So why not take a year to learn another language? That's why Brazil was perfect for me.

I value diplomacy because I believe it’s the path to creating a more peaceful, better functioning world. I strongly believe that with an open mind and dialogue, a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached. I look up to diplomats and the sacrifice they make as they strive to make changes across the world.

A few weeks ago, an American diplomat moved into the apartment building where I was living. It was fate. The first time I met her, I was so shocked, I just kind of stood there like a smiling idiot. I knew I had to make contact.

I decided to reach out and express my interest in following her path. I asked if she would sit down with me and talk with me about what she does, how her life works, and which steps she took to get to where she is now. Kindly, she replied and invited me to come into her office yesterday to talk.

Her name is Rita Rico and she is AWESOME. After graduating with a Ph.D. in Political Theory and working as an advisor in the Senate, she started her career with the State Department. She worked as a deputy cultural attaché in Santiago, Chile; a consular officer in Nairobi, Kenya; a political officer in Caracas, Venezuela; and she is now serving as the American Presence Officer and Public Affairs Officer in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Our discussion was invigorating. First of all, she just got back from a trip with the US Ambassador to Brazil throughout the state of Minas Gerais. How awesome is that???

She went through and described what it’s like working as a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department. She described the tedious application process (which takes about a year to complete and is composed of a written test, an essay, and an oral exam). She described the various positions offered and what exactly her position is. I got to ask about how policy works (especially with the recent departure of the Secretary of State) and how it affects diplomats all over the world. I got to ask about language learning and comprehension.

In my opinion, her most interesting job was in Venezuela. As a political officer, she essentially spent her years there doing research on the Venezuela political system: talking to presidents of parties, learning about interest groups, learning about hot topics. She would report her findings back to Washington. I would LOVE to do something like this.

To me, the most exhilarating part is that the job is never the same. First of all, you move every 2-4 years, so you’re never in one place for very long. You are constantly faced with new objectives and people and “missions” to tackle. Every position you take as a diplomat will be learning on the job and using your own judgment to further US foreign policy. There is a lot of power in that. Everything Rita does is a big deal: building relationships with Brazilians, encouraging travel to the US, promoting US culture, promoting economic interests, so many things for one person to be in charge of. It’s crazy. Everything she does affects the relationship between Brazil and the US.

We talked a bit about the upcoming election in Brazil, and she mentioned that the diplomats all have the opportunity to meet with the candidates and ask any questions they might have. I think that’s incredible and I am so jealous.

This weekend, I will go with Rita to a college fair for American Universities in Brazil. She also put me in contact with a man who helps Brazilian students prepare their resumes and applications for American universities. She said it would be nice if I could talk about my college application process, what I looked for in schools, and how college works there.

After meeting with her, I’m much more certain in the path I want to take moving forward. I’m nervous, because it is such a competitive field, but I’m eager to continue striving for this huge dream I have. I know it will take a lot of work and dedication, but the journey has already begun. I strongly believe the education I have already received, the people I’ve already met, the experiences I’ve already had have more than prepared me for the insane journey that lays ahead of me.

Sitting in her office, I could picture myself in Rita’s shoes. That is who I will be in 15 years. Mark my words.

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