Diplomats share hardships on the job
November 29, 2007 9:36 AM
The nation’s eighth annual International Education Week (IEW), held Nov. 13-16, was celebrated at SF State with presentations by career diplomats, workshops on immigration law, and cultural exhibitions from nations around the globe.
Campus events were orchestrated by the Office of International Programs, which runs the school’s study abroad programs.
“We’ve been coming out here for several years,” said immigration attorney Clark Trevor. He and Bill May, another lawyer specializing in immigration law, spoke with about 40 students about obtaining student visas, worker visas, and permanent residency in the U.S.
“Basically what we do is help employers and foreign students find each other.”
The process of obtaining an H-1B visa, which allows a foreign national to stay in the U.S. to work, is rife with deadlines, special conditions based on nation of origin and yearly changes in the kinds of work in high demand.
IEW was initiated by the federal Departments of State and Education in 2000 to highlight international education and awareness efforts. SF State, which has a nationally recognized study abroad program, has used the national event to broaden Gators’ knowledge of the world and provide practical advice to international students.
Hanna Sjostedt, a senior in the BECA program, said she was glad she attended the presentation. Originally from Sweden, the 29-year-old student has been in the U.S. for almost five years.
“I have, like, a basic plan," said Sjostedt. "I knew I’d have to get an OPT [Option Practical Training, an extension of a student visa] but I didn’t know how I’d go about it. This was very helpful.”
For U.S.-born students interested in an international career, a panel of professional diplomats based in San Francisco shared their experiences with students. Consulates from eight countries participated, including Canada, Egypt, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Luxembourg, and the Philippines.
In a nod to the U.S.’ problematic international relations surrounding the Iraq war, several diplomats stressed that, whatever political disagreements might exist between nations, their citizens can still view each other favorably.
“We don’t have a problem with the American people,” said Egyptian diplomat Attiya Shakran.
Most of the discussion, however, focused on diplomacy as a career choice.
“Being a career diplomat is not the easiest thing in the world,” said Greek representative Polyxenia Stefanidou. “Many of my colleagues internationally are divorced. You make many sacrifices for this job.”
Individuals who serve in their country’s foreign service as consular diplomats work to maintain good relations internationally and to help compatriots in a foreign land.
Émer Deane, consul-general from Ireland, said much of her duties consist of helping Irish people in San Francisco obtain passports and visas, and filing citizenship applications. Diplomats also lobby to increase investment and immigration.
Antonio Morales, of the Philipines consulate, said that consular work is “not just glamour, it’s also about doing social work.”
The process of becoming a diplomat varies from country to country, but all nations require applicants to pass a test. The panelists said that no specific course of study is necessary, but an interest in international relations is vital.
“You don’t have to have a graduate degree to be a diplomat,” Stefanidou said.
Deane added that education isn’t the problem.
“The hard bit is finding out if you yourself are suited to the career,” she said. “When you’re a diplomat it’s very much about you as a person.”
Katria Melzer, an exchange student from Germany who is considering working in diplomacy, said it was interesting to hear the diplomats’ views on the difficulties of the job.
“I know a little bit about it already,” said the 23-year-old grad student. “It’s very important to me to have a work-life balance.”
Students can learn more about the Office of International Programs by calling (415) 338-1293 or visiting the Web site at www.sfsu.edu/~oip.
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