Exploring this Job

As a member of a foreign language club at your school, you may have the opportunity to visit other countries. If such programs don't exist, check with your school counselor or librarian about discounted foreign travel packages available to student groups. Also ask them about student exchange programs, if you're interested in spending several weeks in another country. Visit the Department of State Web site ( to read the biographies of ambassadors and for links to individual embassy Web sites.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), a professional association serving FSOs, publishes The Foreign Service Journal (, which features articles by FSOs and academics that can give you insight into the Foreign Service. AFSA offers a discount on student subscriptions.

The Job

Iceland. New Zealand. Venezuela. Sweden. Jordan. Egypt. Ambassadors to these or one of the more than 180 countries that host U.S. embassies in their capital cities coordinate the operations of hundreds of government officers. An embassy serves as the headquarters for Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and other personnel, all working together to maintain a positive, productive relationship between the host country and the United States. Though the work is important, the post of ambassador is sometimes largely ceremonial. The president offers an ambassadorship to someone who has a long, dignified history of political service or to a wealthy supporter of the president's political party. An ambassador will stay at a post for two to six years. Career ambassadors are those who are Foreign Service officers; noncareer ambassadors are those outside of the Foreign Service. In the latter half of the 20th century there was some controversy regarding the appointment of noncareer ambassadors to their posts. Critics mainly called into question the skills of ambassadors with no previous experience in the Foreign Service. Today such appointments comprise fewer than 30 percent of ambassador appointments. However, noncareer ambassadors have tended to dominate some of the most influential posts, such as China, Canada, and countries in Western Europe.

Ambassadors address many different concerns, such as security, trade, tourism, environmental protection, and health care. They are involved in establishing and maintaining international agreements, such as nuclear test bans and ozone layer protection. They help to promote peace and stability and open new markets. When negotiating treaties and introducing policies, they help the people of the host country understand the U.S. position, while also helping the United States understand the host country's position.

Ambassadors spend much of their time meeting with government officials and private citizens of the host country. Together they identify subjects of mutual interest, such as medical research and the development of new technologies. They meet with those involved in private industry in the country, including Americans doing business there. When a country is struggling due to natural disasters, epidemics, and other problems, they may pursue aid from the United States.

Ambassadors' work isn't limited to the city in which the embassy is located. They travel across the country to learn about the other cities and regions and to meet the cities' representatives. Among the people of the country, ambassadors promote a good attitude toward the United States, as well as travel, business, and educational opportunities. When important U.S. visitors and diplomats arrive in the country, the ambassador serves as host, introducing them to the country and its officials.

Ambassadors for different countries must also address very different issues, such as environmental concerns, the state of education and health care, political structure, the agriculture, and industry. For example, the United States has entered agreements with Budapest, Hungary; Bangkok, Thailand; San Salvador, El Salvador; and Gabarone, Botswana to establish International Law Enforcement Academies. The academies, jointly financed, managed, and staffed by the cooperating nations, initially provide training to police and government officials.