Foreign Service officers carry out a variety of diplomatic functions that include communicating American interests and interacting with foreign government entities. Service in the Peace Corps can prove quite beneficial in preparing for a career with the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Service officer. FSOs must be able to handle unfamiliar situations, such as civil unrest, military coups and natural disasters, without compromising American interests, and the Peace Corps provides direct, hands-on experience of living abroad and dealing with foreign cultures and living in difficult situations. As Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) immerse themselves in foreign communities for a 27-month period, the skills they gain in foreign languages, in technical and leadership skills and adaptability to foreign cultures will serve them well in the Foreign Service.
Foreign Language Skills
U.S. Foreign Service officers interact with host-country political, military and economic players in pursuit of U.S. policy goals. Consular officers interview visa applicants and assist Americans in local hospitals and jails, while administrative officers contact host-country officials on a number of issues such as customs and security. Foreign-language skills are critical in many of these positions. The Peace Corps provides both instructional and hands-on language training for the first three months of the volunteer course. Over the next 24 months, you will adapt to the target language by immersion through daily interaction with the host country's natives. Although proficiency in a foreign language is not required to be hired as a Foreign Service officer, competency in a foreign language will enhance your competitiveness in the selection process. Additionally, to gain tenure in the Foreign Service, FSOs must attain fluency in at least one foreign language; most PCVs will have already acquired this before entering the Foreign Service.
Foreign Service officers are expected to adjust to the host country's cultural, religious and political sensitivities, as well as external conditions, such as climate, food and alternative living situations. Experience as a PCV in the developing world will prepare you to adapt to a foreign country's often-wanting infrastructure and often quite different cultural norms. While serving in the Peace Corps, you will reside among the local population and assist them in trades such as farming or construction, or through teaching and technological development. Through total cultural immersion, the Peace Corps experience will prepare you to fully adapt to an unfamiliar host country's sociopolitical climate as an FSO.
Leadership and Diplomatic Skills
The Foreign Service seeks out candidates who possess leadership and diplomatic skills, both of which you will develop during your tenure in the Peace Corps. In addition to vocational, language and leadership training, Peace Corps volunteers also take on the responsibility for the safety and welfare of their fellow volunteers as well as locals working alongside them. These leadership, negotiating and coping skills from your Peace Corps service will be helpful in pursuing your Foreign Service career.
The U.S. State Department process for hiring new Foreign Service officers is highly selective and only a handful of those who apply are accepted. In addition to your scores on the written Foreign Service exam, your personal narrative and an oral assessment will determine whether you are offered the chance to become an FSO. The familiarity you gain as a PCV about embassy and other U.S. government operations overseas can prove valuable in the oral assessment phase, while your background and experience as a PCV and the skills you develop as a result, as reflected in your personal narrative, should increase your competitiveness in the hiring process.