Getting to the Source:

State Department Resources
on Foreign Policy

 

David Rabadan

A quick survey of the social studies materials available on ìforeign policyî issues reveals that educators are not focusing just on the critical issues of the pastóthe World Wars, the Cold War, U.S. intervention in Vietnam, and the ongoing crisis in the Persian Gulf. Increasingly, a new generation of foreign policy problems is engaging teachers. These include ever-changing regional and bilateral issues, as well as wider global questions such as climate change, depletion of finite natural resources, access to clean water, and the effects of migrations of people.

These challenges call for new ways of setting and implementing policies to meet the interests of the United States and the rest of the world. Students at the high school level are increasingly aware of these issues, which they will have to address sooner than they think. How well are we preparing our young people to address them as citizens and leaders in the future?

Social studies teachers face this challenge as they try to balance domestic and international policy issues in the curriculum: Is the debate over paying UN dues more crucial than that over capital punishment? Should welfare reform or global climate change be included as a key unit in the 11th or 12th grade curriculum? Who will decide which issues get the nod and why? While phrases like ìconstructing a framework for the twenty-first centuryî may be overworked, the reality is that the students in classrooms are becoming aware of the changes that will have a significant impact on their lives.

 

Sources of Information

For the teacher who would like to introduce a U.S. foreign policy unit, the State Department provides a wealth of information on its web site at http://www.state.gov. The Departmentís web site features ìDigital Diplomacy for Students,î a special section for teachers and students at http://www.state.gov/www/regions_digital.html. The Departmentís student site also is part of the Education Departmentís ìFederal Resources for Educational Excellence,î which serves as a gateway to hundreds of educational resources from the U.S. Government at http://www.ed.gov/free.

The State Department home page has five sections focusing on foreign policy (ìpolicyî), specific information on countries of the world (ìregionsî), information about the Department of State and the Foreign Service (ìThe Departmentî), services for businesses, travel and career information and more (ìservicesî), and public affairs/press releases, speeches, and publications (ìoutreachî). All speeches, trips and other information about Secretary of State Madeleine Albright may be directly accessed at http://secretary.state.gov. The Secretary also has an e-mail address to receive foreign policy opinions from the public: secretary@state.gov. (The Bureau of Public Affairs reviews all e-mail sent to this address and responds on the Secretaryís behalf.)

ìDigital Diplomacy for Studentsî has several focal points: ìLearn about the State Department,î ìMeet the Secretary of State,î ìSocial Studies,î ì Career Exploration,î and ìArts at State.î Under ìSocial Studies,î the Department has launched its most exciting component for students and teachers, the ìGeographic Learning Site.î Designed to assist in the teaching of geography and foreign affairs to students in grades K-12, this learning site demonstrates how geography can help students
better understand the dynamics that shape foreign affairs. The site will inform students about the Departmentís work and focus attention on subjects that concern all Americans, including global issues such as human rights, democracy, sustainable development, and environmental protection. Social Studies also includes a timeline of diplomatic history, prepared by the Departmentís Office of the Historian, under the History section. ìArts at Stateî includes a virtual tour of the 8th floor diplomatic reception rooms.1

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional organization representing Foreign Service members, has established a ìDiplomats Onlineî project accessible through the Internet. ìDiplomats Onlineî provides links to web sites on U.S. foreign policy, the study of foreign nations and careers in the Foreign Service. There are Message Boards and ìmeeting roomsî where teachers and students can raise issues and engage in discussions with diplomats and scholars. A directory of diplomats and scholars with country, region, or issue expertise now has its own site on the Web: www.diplomatsonline.org. Interested individuals may choose to register with AFSA in order to track developments. AFSA can be contacted at: www.afsa.org (e-mail: afsa@afsa.org) or Diplomats Online at AFSA in Washington, D.C. via e-mail at dol@afsa.org.

In 1996, AFSA published a compact guidebook entitled Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for
America,
2 which says a great deal about the work of the Foreign Service. It starts with a profile of State and other agency positions found at larger U.S. embassies. Seventeen two-page essays cover the variety of jobs from Ambassador to secretary as seen by officers actually in the jobs. The book then uses a ìday in the lifeî approach at six embassies to give a snapshot of the dayís events in very different settings. One of the guideís chapters, ìThe FSO (Foreign Service Officer) in Action,î comprises 24 first-person accounts of incidents in the Foreign Service careers of currently serving or retired officers from all disciplines. They tell you what itís like to be caught up in the middle of thingsófrom conflict in the
Balkans to a Central American earthquake. Several introductory essays, lists of acronyms and abbreviations, an embassy organization chart and the U.S. Foreign Service Mission Statement round out this very useful handbook.

Todayís students face immense challenges in a world that will have six billion inhabitants by the time the new century begins. They need to know now that the nature and extent of those challenges will require the ability to interact successfully in a very complex world. Information available through the State Department may serve as one component in the process of preparing our 21st century citizens. v

 

Notes

1. For more information, contact: Public Information, Bureau of Public AffairsñRoom 6808, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-6810; telephone (202) 647-6575; e-mail publicaffairs@apanet-us.state.gov.

2. It is available from AFSA for $5.00 to cover shipping and handling. Write: ìInside A U.S. Embassy,î AFSA, 2101 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037.

 

David Rabadan, a former social studies teacher at Teaneck High School in New Jersey, is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving on the Board of Examiners for the Foreign Service. He appreciates the assistance offered during the process of writing this article by the Director and staff of the International Studies Program at Freehold Township (NJ) High School. The views and opinions expressed are solely the authorís and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.

 

Becoming a Foreign Service Officer

The Foreign Service as a career may be on the horizon for very few students, but awareness of the selection process may introduce promising young people to it as a career option. Step one to entering the Foreign Service is passing the written examination. To take the test, an applicant must be at least 20 years old and be a U.S. citizen. For appointment, 21 is the minimum age. On February 28, 1998, more than 9700 candidates took the exam, which will be given again in November 1999. Passers of the 1998 test will take the oral assessment between now and May 21, 1999 in one of four locations ó Washington, D.C., Chicago, New Orleans, or San Francisco.

The oral assessment is a day-long challenge testing skills required for success in the Foreign Service. Candidates begin the day in a simulation in which they role-play American officers at a ìcountry teamî meeting, striving to reach agreement on how limited funds should be spent on a group of diverse projects. The candidatesí ability to absorb information, work with others, exercise good judgment and achieve a satisfactory outcome to the meeting is the focus of the examinersí attention.

In the second portion of the assessment, candidates prepare, then deliver a dÈmarche in a role-play meeting with ìhost government officialsî (two of the dayís examiners). In the role of a U.S. embassy officer, the candidate has six minutes to present the U.S. government position on an important issue. The candidate then has up to fifteen minutes to defend the position, which the ìforeign officialsî may heavily challenge. After the meeting, the ìofficerî writes a report to Washington stating accurately what happened in the meeting, including what might have gone wrong.

Finally, candidates switch gears for the next exam segment as they move through three different hypothetical situations (with follow-on developments) which approximate those that officers confront in jobs overseas. Examiners observe and note skills essential for successful Foreign Service performanceóresourcefulness, initiative, cultural adaptability, integrity, judgment and composure. Knowledge of government regulation and rules is not required to be successful in this segment of the exam. The exercise tests how well candidates respond to situations over which they have little, if any, control.

 

In addition to Foreign Service Officers, there are also periodic openings for foreign service specialistsómedical officers, nurses and nurse practitioners, information resource specialists, budget, personnel and general services specialists, building maintenance officers, secretaries, and diplomatic security agents and couriers, among others. Teachers interested in finding out more about the next examination or about Foreign Service specialist opportunities should write to: U.S. Department of State, Recruitment Division, P.O. Box 9317, Arlington, VA 22219, or call (703) 875-7490. The Recruitment Division also answers inquiries on employment opportunities available for high school, college and graduate students through internships, cooperative education, work study programs, and fellowships, both in Washington, DC and at U.S. embassies overseas. For career information, another useful source is the Departmentís web site at http://www.state.gov/www/careers/index/html. There are also two telephone hotlines on employment opportunities: (703) 875-7490 for the Foreign Service and (202) 647-7284 for Civil Service.