About Me

After 15 years of practicing intellectual property law in Boston and Silicon Valley, I walked away.  With the debts paid, the college funds set aside, the kids well on their way, and the most supportive spouse on the planet, I embarked on two longstanding but completely disparate ambitions:  (1) to work as a sports photographer, and (2) to join the United States Foreign Service.

For over a year, while navigating the byzantine Foreign Service application process, I lived the first dream, covering collegiate and professional sports in the San Francisco bay area for two wire services.  Shooting the Giants, Athletics, 49ers, Raiders, Sharks, Earthquakes, Stanford Cardinal, Cal Bears, boxing, tennis, golf, and rugby was amazing.  You can take a look at my work at Backstop Images, some which continues to show up occasionally in the pages of Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, ESPN The Magazine, and a variety of websites.

This blog, however, documents the foreign service adventure.  Having passed the written test, the Quality Evaluation Panel, the oral assessment, the medical clearance, the top secret security clearance, and the final suitability review, I hit the register and received “the call.”  I accepted my appointment as a political officer to the 149th Foreign Service Officer Orientation Class and began my training in Washington, DC, in late October 2009.  On flag day, I received my first posting:  two years doing consular work in Ottawa, Canada.  Before making the drive north, I received confirmation that my application to curtail had been approved.  After a year adjudicating visas in Ottawa and a year holding down the political portfolio in Lahore, Pakistan, I’m now trying to cram 6 years of French into 30 weeks before heading off to Paris for two years to serve as an economics officer at the U.S. delegation to the OECD.


5 thoughts on “About Me

  1. Hi! Thanks for a great blog! It’s really interesting to read about your application process and also recent experiences in the FS.

    I’m writing because I recently passed the FSOT and have just finished the narrative essays…and am now thinking ahead towards the orals this summer.

    Last week, I met with an Officer in the consulate in Barcelona (closest to where I now live in Spain). He was helpful talking about his experiences and the preparation process, but he also recommended I contact someone who had recently passed the orals (since he took them some years ago). It seemed like some things had changed; for example, he didn’t have to write any personal narratives.

    I live about 2 hours north of Barcelona, Spain. I’ve heard that study groups (like in DC) really help a lot, but in my situation, but I’m not sure how to find something like that. I am considering my next steps before the summer orals, maybe taking some classes in public speaking and group facilitating at a college (and staying with my parents in Ohio for 2 months). Do you have any advice or suggestions on how to prepare myself better? What did you do to get ready? It seems like you passed everything the first time around…

    I really appreciate any thoughts or suggestions…and keep up the great blog!


  2. Congratulations, Julia. I think everyone finds their own path to overcoming the oral assessment. Of course what worked for me may not work for everyone. That said, here are a few things to consider:

    — Join the http://groups.yahoo.com/group/fsoa/ Yahoo group and spend a lot of time looking at the cumulative knowledge collected there, including the files section

    — Don’t obsess on the daily give and take on the forum, but use the more objective advice

    — Spend a lot of time reviewing and contemplating the 13 Dimensions (http://careers.state.gov/index/download-center4/3.0.0_fso_13_dimensions.pdf)

    — Compile at least 3 experiences that correlate to each of the dimensions and be ready to tell each of those stories in a fluid and engaging way

    — Join one of the study groups (if there is no group in your area, you can join a Skype group), particularly useful for practicing the group exercise

    — Review the outlined approach for the group exercise and practice organizing a presentation under the requisite time restraints

    — Run through all the practice Case Management exercises on the Yahoo group file section, using 20% less time than allowed in the real thing

    — Throw the MP3 files from the Yahoo group file section on an ipod and go for a walk everyday, practicing answering those questions that cover each phase of the structured interview

    — Tell your stories to someone who hasn’t heard them all before and solicit some constructive criticism

    — Get to the assessment location at least 2 days early (perhaps 3 if coming from a couple of time zones) to adapt and get into a proper sleep pattern, practicing getting up silly early and eating something if that’s not your normal routine (you’ll need the energy on game day)

    — As hard as it will be, relax and keep your focus throughout the day on the immediate task at hand; don’t think about how well or poorly you are doing

    — Most importantly, and I can’t stress this enough, FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS; they tell you everything you need to know to pass but if you don’t follow the directions provided before each section of the assessment, you will likely not do well

    Hope this helps. No doubt, many have done none of the above but the last bullet point and succeeded with a much higher score than my 5.7, but that’s a quick summary of what I did.

    Good luck!


  3. Hi there,

    I stumbled across your blog and loved reading every post in relation to the Foreign Service (although it caught my eye that you also shoot some fantastic sports photography!).

    I am greatly interested in one day joining the Foreign Service, although I have a few questions. Would it be feasible to speak with you by email? It would be great, if so – and I’ll provide my email address here in case you want to follow up: ryan.marc.schuette@gmail.com.

    Thanks in advance! Hope to speak with you soon.

    All my best,

    P.S.: I’m also interested in learning about your experiences with international law. My fiance and I are in the process of setting up a fair-trade women’s apparel business with operations in Cameroon. Any thoughts you might have would be great! Thanks again!

  4. Hi Julia. Great blog site! I do have a quick question for ya when you get the time. How is it that you have been able to switch from a Political track to Economics track? I was under the impression that you were “life committed” to your track, so to say. Thanks-

    1. Hi Billy,

      Although I’m a political officer, we are all generalists and thus can take assignments in any cone. It is quite common, for example, for one’s first two assignments to be out-of-cone. My first assignment was consular in Ottawa, then political in Lahore, and now econ in Paris. To climb the ladder, we all eventually have to get more in-cone experience, but the diversity early in the career is a good thing.

      It is what makes the foreign service such a great ADD career. Every 2-3 years, we get a different country, language, boss, set of co-workers, and job.


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