Welcome to the new Policy Perspectives segment, Today’s Public Administrators! We kick off our series with a brief Q+A with Ambassador Reuben Brigety, Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs. Prior to joining the Elliott School, he served as United States Ambassador to the African Union and the permanent representative to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. He gives his advice on working in foreign affairs below.
Q: What separates working on foreign policy from other policy fields?
A: There are similarities. You are still acting in the public interest, but the complexities are different. In domestic policy, there are strong legal binds that define what you can and can’t do. In foreign policy, interlocutors may or may not feel the same way. For example, having to work across different cultures to craft a human rights treaty, there are questions of what does one render humanitarian assistance.
Q: What challenges did you face working in government that you did not expect?
A: I became a Deputy Assistant Secretary at the age of 36. I thought I was pretty experienced, and that is not at all how the people who worked for me initially thought. In State Department standards, that’s still very young. The culture shift of understanding how to lead in a civilian agency took a serious adjustment.
Q: What advice do you have for young professionals entering the foreign policy field?
A: Become fluent in at least one other language, preferably two. Follow your passion. Like medicine, the law, or the military, there are professional skill sets that take years to develop and you have to dedicate yourself to your craft. You have to take it seriously.