Exotic locales. Formal dinners. Meeting heads of state. Luxurious accommodations. A wealth and breadth of stories to tell at cocktail parties.
All of those things are entirely possible when you’re a diplomat representing your country and its interests to other countries’ leaders, people and interests. But it’s the work in between the fancy breakfasts and satiny pillowcases that makes a diplomat… a diplomat.
This Diplomat gets around.
“Diplomat” is simply a larger term for a representative sent from one nation’s government to another nation. Sometimes diplomats live in these host nations for many years, sometimes they’re relocated to another country for various reasons, and sometimes they rise within the ranks of diplomacy to achieve an Ambassadorship or even Secretary of State. (A lofty objective but not an impossible one: Both Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger were and continue to be well-respected and oft-consulted diplomats.)
That’s all well and good (and again, aspirational) but what do individual diplomats do, already?
Most diplomats and ambassadors (the highest ranking diplomat in the region or country), no matter where they’re stationed, are there to safeguard the security of the U.S. and promote its interests in a large variety of areas: politics, cultures, environmentalism, security, health and more. And all diplomatic employees must present themselves with supreme decorum and poise; in other words, they’re also expected to act, well, diplomatically. They’re representing their country, and even when faced with hot button topics (in Palestine and Israel, for example or the economic situation in Greece) they know how to keep their cool and act with the utmost professionalism at all times.
(We say “most” diplomats and ambassadors, because U.S. presidents have long acknowledged big campaign donors and fundraisers with ambassadorships. These folks aren’t really doing the true work of diplomats who are in the foreign service; rather, they’re there to develop friendly relationships with the local folks. And what’s the best way to get to know people? By throwing fancy soirees amidst your sumptuous lodgings, of course. These pay-back sort of ambassadorships cost a lot of money and many of these high rollers consider them prestigious.)
Not as prestigious as an award-winning Maltese, but...
The diplomats (and various aides) who are a part of the Foreign Service are also there to ensure the wrong people don’t get visas to the U.S. and that they’re there for all Americans who need their representational services. An example of that is a traveling American college student has his passport and ID stolen on the bus from Minsk (a real place, the capital of Belarus) to Kapinsk (not a real place, not in Belarus). There are two things at stake here: 1) The kid needs his passport to travel and get home; and 2) Whoever stole his documents could steal his identity, be a terrorist and and hop a plane, train or boat to... anywhere. Diplomats are trained how to deal with this sort of thing. In fact, when YOU are traveling it’s good to know where the American Embassy is (unless of course you find yourself on the wrong side of the Iraq/Iran border, in which case there is no consulate in Iran.) Fair warning.
Once you understand the basic duties of all diplomats, there are also specialists, and what they do depends on interests, skills, experience and where they’re needed.
Some examples for you, the diplomat:
If your background is in economics, you may be assigned to a newly burgeoning country, one that has the support of the United States and needs the presence and expertise of someone in this field living there.
Your interest is in trade negotiation and you may connect the country in which you’re assigned to company partners from the U.S., thereby promoting the interest of U.S. companies.
You speak multiple languages and have been assigned to various countries where you’ve been able to act as interpreter and even a speech writer for various U.S. and foreign dignitaries and heads of state. You can be trusted to translate literally, not creatively; you’re a diplomat, not a fiction writer (who can break apart national friendships with a misused word or phrase).
Your specialty is infectious diseases, their causes and treatments. You’re a humanitarian diplomat in a third world country, advocating for the vulnerable people of the region and ensuring they have adequate medical facilities and such.
But again, no matter what your specific duties are, all diplomats are in their host countries to promote information and friendly relations. They can also be a catalyst and smooth negotiator for peace, as well as the conveyor of information and decisions regarding those countries.
Diplomats can open and close the loop when we’re talking about foreign relations; sometimes they’re all a country knows about American interests and culture so they need to be on their best behavior and show sincere dedication to the importance of representing their country.