Ambassador talks up careers in foreign service

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Correction appended

A former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau shared stories from his foreign service career and offered advice to students wishing to embark on the same path Tuesday night at an event at the Elliott School.

William Jacobsen – who served under Colin Powell during the Reagan administration as an expert on Africa – stressed the importance of being comfortable with change and traveling to new and different places for those interested in the career path. Jacobsen served as ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, a small country in West Africa, from 1990 to 1993.

“Every day is a challenge, every day is different and it’s an extraordinary opportunity to serve your country in a meaningful way and apply the education you’re getting here at GW,” Jacobsen told the crowd.

Jacobsen also stressed that those in the U.S. Foreign Service must carry out the orders of elected officials, relating this advice to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and citing the resignation of many servicemen and women opposed to the conflicts.

He said he had served everywhere from Japan to South Africa, rubbed elbows with everyone from Powell to Walter Cronkite, and witnessed everything from the liberation of Portugal to the Iran hostage crisis, until he was appointed ambassador by former President George H.W. Bush.

During his time in the Foreign Service, Jacobsen said he saw the profession change immensely – especially in gender roles for Foreign Service professionals.

“I’m very happy to see how many women are here tonight,” Jacobsen told the audience, many of whom were members of the Delta Phi Epsilon foreign service sorority, the group that organized the event. “As I said, this is one of the biggest changes. The Foreign Service today isn’t the Foreign Service I joined in ’66.”

Jacobsen said at least half of Foreign Service members are women, which he attributed partly to allowing women in the service to marry.

Alison Chatfield, chair of the networking committee of Delta Phi Epsilon, helped to organize Jacobsen’s appearance.

Chatfield said she learned “just how hectic the [Foreign Service] life is, but how rewarding it can be.”

“I’m still not sure whether I would want to be in the Foreign Service but I know I definitely want a career that takes me abroad at some point,” Chatfield said.

She added that Delta Phi Epsilon tries to educate on topics of international affairs and solidify a common ground for its members. She said hosting prominent speakers like Jacobsen helps bring the organization together.

“It’s unique in that it supports women who are interested in breaking into careers in international affairs in lots of different careers,” Chatfield said of the organization. “It provides you a network of women that are meant to help you, to inspire you on your road to whatever it is you want to be. So we host events like this that can bring all of us together and hear a panel discussion or hear a speaker like Ambassador Jacobsen.”

The article has been revised to reflect the following correction: (January 25, 2010)

The article originally referred to the event’s host as the Delta Phi Epsilon professional service fraternity. In fact, the event was hosted by the Delta Phi Epsilon professional service sorority.

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