Diplomats Offer YCIS Beijing Students Tips and Traits for a Successful Career in Diplomacy

On January 27, Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing) invited representatives from three different diplomatic entities to speak to Secondary School students as part of the school’s continuing Career Talk series. Representatives included Lisa Heller, the Minister Counsellor of Public Affairs at the United States Embassy, Carmen Cano, Deputy Head of the European Union’s Delegation to China, and Brian Hewson, Political Counsellor of the New Zealand Embassy. Their Q&A session was full of tips for would-be diplomats and some of the most important traits needed to survive and thrive in the challenging world of diplomatic work.

Why They Got Involved
All three of the representatives listed different paths to their involvement in their respective diplomatic organisations. Ms Cano explained, “I found myself gravitating towards the field of diplomacy because it was a way to do something different. I was eager to represent my country abroad while also gaining the opportunity to visit other countries and experience their unique cultures firsthand.” Ms Heller, on the other hand, gave up her position at NASA so that she could pursue her career abroad through the Foreign Service. Mr Hewson graduated with a degree in history and found diplomacy work as a political analyst a natural fit with his interests.


Qualifications and Degrees
Qualifications and degrees vary greatly depending on country and career path, but our invited representatives had a few general tips for what their embassies in particular were looking for in candidates. Mr Hewson remarked that, “at the New Zealand Embassy, while we do require at least a bachelor’s degree, we are less concerned with degrees than with a person’s passion in what they do, whatever subject or specialty that may be. We also look for those candidates who are connected with New Zealand in some way and are enthusiastic representatives of their country!” Ms Heller also didn’t focus on specific undergraduate degrees: “although a university degree isn’t required, the majority of my colleagues do have at least their bachelor’s degree in varying subjects. If you are specializing in a specific field, there’s probably a place in the service for you! You’ll need to pass a service exam and obtain a variety of security clearances as well.” Basically, be a passionate individual who’s good at what they do and you should fit right in!

Essential Traits for Diplomatic Fieldwork
Unsurprisingly, our experts confirmed that work in the field of diplomacy requires a great deal of flexibility and charisma. Ms Heller cited “some of the most important traits are being able to co-operate with people, represent yourself well, and solve problems. You’ll often be presented with challenging situations on the fly, so being able to think outside the box during those times will be a valuable skill to have as well.” Ms Cano echoed similar sentiments, emphasising adaptability and a fast reaction time: “Relocation to new countries and cultures without much time to prepare in advance is common, so being able to adapt as quickly as possible is vital to be a successful diplomat. It’s also important to have a strong capacity for analysis; your superiors will need to be kept up to date on the current situation in your appointed country, so you’ll need to process events and explain their implications concisely and quickly. Finally, enjoy your time abroad! The job can be exhausting at times, so you need to make sure that you are truly enjoying what it is you’re doing.”


The Greatest Challenges
Diplomatic work is not without its difficulties. Mr Hewson cited long travel times (New Zealand is a 15 hour plane ride from Beijing!) and the stress it sometimes imposes on family relationships. Ms Heller moves frequently with a family of four, including two teenagers, which she considers to be the major difficulty for her. Ms Cano referenced the challenges of the profession, namely “the need to understand a new country quickly. Oftentimes you’re placed in a new environment without knowing anything of the language and culture.” However, she also offered some advice for overcoming this issue through “getting out and immersing yourself in the culture by communicating with the locals. You’ll adapt much more quickly this way.”

The Most Important Advice for Secondary School Students
All three representatives offered unique words of wisdom for Secondary School students. Mr Hewson advises: “whatever it is that you end up deciding to pursue, make sure that it is something you are truly interested in. Make sure that you are making the choice to pursue your career and not someone else.” From Ms Heller: “Don’t feel that you’re tied down to something if you’ve committed a certain amount of time to it. There’s always the opportunity to pivot to something new and more exciting!” Finally, Ms Cano suggests to, “Enjoy whatever career path you decide to follow. It will be much harder to excel if you choose something that you dislike!”


Now that you’ve heard some valuable advice from acting diplomats, we hope that you feel better equipped to pursue this career in the future!

View previous career talks on our news page or view our previous Career Talk spotlight featuring a professional artist.

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