Embarking on a new journey is no easy task, especially if it’s more than 3,000 miles from your comfort zone. For Krystle Norman and those in the Foreign Service, they are no stranger to this feeling. As the State Department puts it, to have a career in the Foreign Service, “you’re passionate about public service” and have a desire to “promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad.”
Through her work abroad, Krystle Norman has had the opportunity to help organize and spearhead global as well as local programming initiatives on suicide prevention, the rights of the disabled, performing arts, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) education.
Previously at the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic, Norman is now the deputy public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown Barbados. The millennial diplomat is not only living her purpose, but living her truth. Through her service abroad and in the U.S. she hopes to inspire others to live abroad and explore global career opportunities.
Norman talked to BlackEnterprise.com recently about her road to success, the challenges of being a diplomat and opportunities for young professionals in Foreign Service.
BlackEnterprise.com: Why did you want to become a diplomat? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?
Krystal Norman: When I was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, College Park, I was curious about diplomacy so I joined the Ralph Bunche International Affairs Club. During one of our meetings, the Diplomat in Residence from Howard University gave a presentation about the Thomas Pickering and Charles Rangel International Affairs fellowships. Both of these programs are run through the Department of State with the objective of encouraging more minorities and other underrepresented groups to join the Foreign Service. The graduate fellowship included two paid internships (one domestic and one overseas), a free master’s degree, a network of current and incoming diplomats, and an exciting job offer after graduation – basically it was an opportunity I couldn’t resist! A few months later, I applied and was a selected as a Pickering Fellow; since then, I’ve never looked back.
What is the requirement/level of expertise necessary?
People who join the Foreign Service come from all sorts of professional backgrounds, from lawyers, to graphic designers, to music historians. For some people, like myself, this is their first full-time job. For others, this is their second or third career change. What makes the Foreign Service so unique is its ability to attract people with a variety of experiences; our strength lies in our diversity and ability to adapt to different languages, cultures, jobs, and social norms. While many people think that a degree in international affairs is needed to apply, the only requirements to join the Foreign Service is that you are an American citizen, at least 21 years old, and willing to be posted worldwide. Since thousands apply every year, you must bring something unique to the table to stand out among the rest.
What duties does your job entail?
After an exciting two years working on consular and economic issues at the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic, I started my current position as the Deputy Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados where I help manage the public image of the mission and the U.S. ambassador, use social media and the local press to inform foreign audiences, promote educational and professional exchanges, as well as organize cultural programming that support our goals in the region. However, as a Foreign Service Officer, my number one priority is to protect Americans overseas. Although I travel for work frequently, I’ve already had the opportunity to help organize some great programming on suicide prevention, the rights of the disabled, creative writing, performing arts, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) education.
What have been the unique challenges of being a diplomat and living in an ever changing environment?
My biggest challenge living abroad, by far, has been being away from friends and family. I have missed countless weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries while posted overseas. But the worst times are definitely around the holidays, mainly Christmas and New Year’s Eve. However, living abroad has taught me how to really embrace my friends as extended family. So many people have opened their homes and hearts to me, making the transition easier and the hard times less difficult. Advances in technology have definitely made life as a diplomat more manageable. Between social media, texts, video chats, and email, I feel so much more connected to the lives of my friends and family. It also helps that I live in the Caribbean, so I never have a problem convincing people to visit!