Monday, July 17, 2006
I’ve been trying to keep up with my Korean language skills, if only just a little bit. To this end, I’ve been going a few hours a week to Korean class (yes, I know some of you will be shocked at this, but I actually am doing this willingly). Today in class, I was asked what we actually do in the consular training course I’m taking at the moment. Beyond even my lack of vocabulary and my lack of ready access in my head to the vocabulary I had learned, I was at a loss for what to say. I looked at the instructor and I said, “We do a lot of acting.”
For those of you wondering why this might be, I’ll do a quick run-through of some of the duties of a consular officer overseas. When dealing with American citizens, the consular officer is something like a cross between a social worker, a loan officer, a notary public, a mediator, a go-to person for lost people or passports, a public records clerk, and a lawyer who tells you all about the law but does not give legal advice. When dealing with citizens of other countries, the consular officer is the face of the U.S. to other countries as well as being the oft-mentioned “first line of defense” who screens people wishing to come to the U.S. and hopefully has supernatural powers or a golden lasso of truth to determine whether the person is lying about their reasons for traveling to the States. I’m sure my colleagues could flesh out this very basic description, but we’ll leave it at that for the time being.
So why the acting? All of this consular work involves dealing with other people, sometimes during some of the most difficult times of their lives. In learning how to do the work, it’s helpful to have some mock interactions. Generally, some of us take on the roles of consular officers while others of us play visa applicants, Americans with newborns, Americans in prison, or family members receiving a call from a consular officer abroad with the news of a loved one’s death. Today was a particularly rough day with the roleplays, and I actually brought the person playing “consular officer” to my “tortured 19-year-old prisoner” close to tears.
Honestly, it never crossed my mind that the one acting class I took as a kid would ever come in handy in the Foreign Service.