A leader from a nonprofit international organization came to the University of Wisconsin Thursday to speak about her U.S. Department of State diplomacy experiences in an effort to inform students interested in diplomatic careers for the future.
Vice President and Program Director of the American Council on Germany Helena Finn said she hoped to provide UW students with an idea of what a career in diplomacy looks like and what skills are important in the field.
She said she would describe her work as “public diplomacy,” involving reaching out to people of foreign nations and especially countries currently experiencing violence or internal conflict.
“The job of a public diplomacy officer is outreach,” Finn said. “It involves representing America abroad and bringing representative voices from the U.S., especially in creating public dialogue.”
Finn said the creation of public dialogue within a foreign nation is important to resolving conflicts in nations with internal divisions and violence.
Face-to-face contact is the best way to reach out to these foreign nations, she said.
“Any effective businessperson knows the value of personal contact in reaching out to others,” Finn said. “Absolutely nothing can compete with people-to-people interaction.”
She said other important skills in working as a diplomat in foreign countries include resourcefulness, the ability to adapt to new situations or emergencies quickly and the capability to identify and utilize credible advocates from within the nation.
Finn said she needed these skills in Pakistan, a place she considerers one of the most dangerous in the world, while working during a time of protest after President Ronald Regan bombed Libya in 1986.
“I kept a burqa in a desk drawer to use as a disguise in case I needed it,” she said.
Finn said the most important ideas a diplomat must utilize in his or her work are building a foundation of trust with foreigners, understanding different nations are at different stages of development and knowing the history and culture of the nations with which they are working.
She added diplomacy greatly focuses on getting foreign nations to support the U.S, but an open exchange of perspectives is what improves the situations of both countries involved.
“Only through the exchange of views and experiences can we find common ground on which to build the goal of us all, which is lasting world peace,” she said.
Finn said the best ways for college students looking into diplomatic careers to prepare are being involved in organizations, learning a second language and taking opportunities to travel whenever possible. She said it is important for students to be involved in organizations that bring them into the company of people different from themselves.
Hanna Homestead, a junior at UW who attended the event, said the event taught her a lot about diplomatic careers and what she should do during her undergraduate studies to prepare for a job in the diplomacy field.
Homestead said events like this provide great ways for students on campus to learn more about careers they are interested in.
“It’s nice to be able to meet someone and hear about her experiences and get first-hand personal knowledge of what her life is like in that field,” Homestead said. “That is how you figure out if [the career] is for you or not.”