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Shaping foreign policy -- through service

Mary Beth Goodman ('95) serves in the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan
By Colleen Dixon

JMU Communications Assistant and Madison writer Colleen Dixon interviewed Foreign Service Officer Mary Beth Goodman ('95), an international affairs and history major who is serving in the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, about how her Madison Experience helped prepare her for a career in shaping foreign policy.

Madison: Is what you are doing now what you expected to be doing when you graduated?

MBG: I always intended to go to law school, so I'm surprised that I'm not still practicing law as part of a firm somewhere. I practiced law for several years and developed an expertise in international trade law. So, I do believe that I'm where my skills and personality are best utilized.

Madison: Why did you choose Foreign Service?

Foreign Service Office Mary Beth Goodman ('95)

Foreign Service Office Mary Beth Goodman ('95)

MBG: I first considered the Foreign Service for a fleeting moment while sitting in Steve Guerrier's diplomatic history class. I realized that becoming a "diplomat" was open to average people like me who had absolutely no political connections but a strong interest in foreign policy. But I was on the path to law school, so I continued working towards that goal. After practicing law for several years I realized that I was more interested in shaping foreign policy than arguing about contractual international law disputes. I took the foreign service exam and passed it.

Madison: When did you enter the Foreign Service?

MBG: January 2003

Madison: What aspects of your Madison experience and majors best prepared you for foreign service?

MBG: I participated in several model U.N. and model Organization of American States programs, which were very good training for arguing persuasively and learning to think on my feet. Overall, I think that the international affairs major was structured in such a way that one was required to develop language skills, economic skills and a background in history as well as a cultural appreciation for a specific region. Having a broad view of all these elements and how interconnected each element is with the other was very beneficial. Having a strong understanding of the historical elements of certain regional conflicts and events has also proven invaluable.

Madison: What training was necessary?

MBG: The State Department provides extensive training for all newly hired diplomats. After I joined the Foreign Service in 2003 I was given nine months of intensive training in French, economics and writing as well as specific regional studies. Since then training opportunities have been geared towards specific issues which are important for U.S. government interests in specific countries (i.e., energy policy in Pakistan or techniques for effective negotiating or trade policy).

Madison: Where have you served?

MBG: I have served in Bamako, Mali, and now Islamabad, Pakistan.

Madison: How extensively do you travel for your job?

MBG: It varies with the job. With typical foreign service assignments officers are required to move every two to three years. Some jobs have had essentially no travel and others, such as negotiating international free trade agreements, have kept me on the road two weeks out of every month.

Foreign Service Office Mary Beth Goodman ('95) meets with Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi in Mail in 2003

Foreign Service Office Mary Beth Goodman ('95) meets with Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi in Mail in 2003.

Madison: What is the hardest part of your job?

MBG: There are several parts of the job that are hard: confronting the anti-American sentiment which has grown significantly around the world; being separated from family and friends; missing seasonal/cultural activities like football games and tailgating in the fall or gingerbread lattes at Starbucks in the winter or the cherry blossoms in the spring.

Madison: What do you like the best about your job?

MBG: Even while confronting anti-American sentiment, I have had someone approach me and say, "Maybe the American people aren't that bad after all." I also enjoy traveling to exotic locations and getting to see off-the-beaten-path locales, working on a policy that will directly impact the lives of the less fortunate in a country and being able to change jobs every so often, since I tend to have a short attention span.

Madison: How long are you out of the country at a time? How do you deal with being far away from friends and family?

MBG: I have now been out of the U.S. for nine consecutive months, which is the longest that I've ever been gone. Thanks to the Internet, staying connected is much easier than ever before, but there's still nothing that compares with giving your mom a hug in person. It's hard, but my family and friends enjoy traveling to visit me in foreign locations too.

Madison: What advice do you have for students considering Foreign Service?

MBG: Give it a try. We no longer live in a world where people expect to retain the same job for their entire career. If you are interested, then go for it -- you won't have regrets about lost opportunities. The Foreign Service provides a solid background and training for a number of other careers, and there is potential to join the Foreign Service at any time. Some of the most effective diplomats are those who bring a wide variety of experience into the Foreign Service.

To learn more about how you can begin a career like Mary Beth Goodman ('95), please visit JMU's Department of Political Science Web site and learn about the Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs.