Diplomats represent the United States abroad. They maintain government outposts in friendly and hostile areas alike and are granted some perks that other professionals never see. There are also disadvantages to a career in diplomacy. Understanding what those disadvantages are and how they would affect you can help you prepare for a career in the field.
Many people enter into diplomatic careers with thoughts of a post at the embassy in Paris. In reality, young diplomats are stationed in hardship posts. A hardship post may be in a poverty-stricken, third world nation or a hostile territory where the United.States is considered an enemy. In either case, hardships posts can bring physical danger, tense politics and a generally low quality of life. While every young recruit is handed a two-year hardship post, some diplomats make a career of life in less-than-hospitable areas. In some cases, the more difficult posts provide more opportunity to do good, so if you keep that in mind, any hardship you endure may actually be worthwhile.
All U.S. diplomats are required to become fluent in at least one second language. The languages most in demand right now also are some of the most difficult to master. Chinese, Urdu, Farsi and Arabic are all key languages for American diplomats, but they can require years of study to master. Study in general is a large part of a diplomat's life since written and spoken communication skills are of paramount importance. If a diplomat produces substandard work, her superiors may choose to remove her without warning and with no chance of recourse.
There is a certain amount of inherent instability in the life of a diplomat. You serve at the pleasure of the State Department and can be reassigned as needed. No post is considered permanent and there will be some relocation involved. While this makes for an exciting career, it can be hard on spouses and children who will be forced to move along with you, or in cases of hardship postings, may not be able to come along at all. If your family is able to come, your spouse may not be able to find work and your kids will have to adjust to a new school and make new friends.
Diplomats do not work from 9 to 5 and then return home to relax. You will have to write and file reports, attend after-hours meetings and events and perform a wide range of both social and professional duties to maintain a friendly and welcoming relationship with the host nation and its government. While the salary that you earn as a diplomat may be generous as your rank and title advance, the extra hours are unpaid and can be a big drain on your family life and your ability to find any personal time at all.