Rekha Arness, deputy staff director of the Board of Examiners for the Foreign Service, has been with the Foreign Service for 20 years. She shares her experiences and offers a few pointers for those interested in a career with the Foreign Service.
What keeps you in the Foreign Service?
I thoroughly enjoy my work and have the opportunity to take jobs with different responsibilities in a new environment every few years.
Why the Foreign Service?
My path to the Foreign Service is somewhat unusual. I was born and raised in India, and I didnt become a U.S. citizen until I was in my late 20s. I met my husband in India, when he was on an assignment for the U.S. government, and thats how I was exposed to the Foreign Service. Joining it was a way for both of us to have fulfilling careers.
Which career track did you choose?
I am a consular career track officer. I joined the Foreign Service as a management career track officer. I served my second tour as a consular officer in Kathmandu, Nepal, and found that I really enjoyed consular work, which involves a great deal of time working with people, both American citizens and host country nationals.
How did you prepare for a career with the Foreign Service?
I had always been interested in foreign affairs and kept abreast of current events. Its important to have a broad knowledgevia education or readingof U.S. government, history, society, and culture, plus world history and geography and solid English expression and writing skills.
Where have you served?
My overseas tours have been in Bangkok, Kathmandu, and Copenhagen. I have also served in several different offices in Washington: the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and currently the Bureau of Human Resources.
I served my second tour in Kathmandu, which is a hardship post. Medical facilities were limited, so in the case of serious illness, people had to travel to Bangkok for treatment. People tended to get sick quite a lot, usually from intestinal or respiratory ailments. There were also extensive power outages, and it could be very cold in the winter. At first we didnt have heaters for our house, and when we got them, they often wouldnt work because we didnt have power. We also had to cope with civil unrest from time to time.
Which location has been your favorite?
Kathmandu, both from a professional and personal standpoint. I was chief of the Consular Section, and I arrived two weeks after a tragic airplane crash that resulted in the deaths of 13 Americans. Six weeks later, another airplane crashed with five Americans onboard. Coping with the aftermath of a plane crash was difficult, but being able to help the families of the victims was gratifying. We also arranged helicopter rescues and medical evacuations for Americans who were injured or got sick while trekking in the Himalayas.
At hardship posts, the embassy community tends to be very tight knit, and you often develop close friendships with your colleagues. This is true of my experience in Kathmandu. I spent six years there, three as the spouse of a U.S. government employee and three as a Foreign Service officer.
If you had to do it all over again, would you have chosen the Foreign Service?
Yes. My family and I have had amazing opportunities to travel the world and be part of a very special group of professionals who are dedicated to promoting U.S. interests and ideals. My two daughters spent their early years in Nepal, Pakistan, and Thailand. They loved living overseas and being immersed in new cultures. Our lives have been greatly enriched by all the places weve lived and the people weve met.