Monday, October 9, 2006
The “Lowly” Consular Officer
Sometimes it’s nice to be working in the consular section of the embassy. Particularly on days like today, when embassy employees are meant to have the day off to celebrate an official American holiday and something big happens.
You see, consular officers are kind of in a league of their own within the embassy. For instance, in pretty much any other section of an embassy, people not only know what is going on in the world, but they pay close attention to it because their work is closely associated with it. In the consular section, on the other hand, I can go for days or even weeks without reading, hearing or watching a news report. In fact, even when something significant does happen either on the Korean peninsula or elsewhere, we are often the very last to hear about it. Our duties are just not terribly significant on a geopolitical level (though they are certainly significant in terms of maintaining good “on-the-ground” relations between the U.S. and the host country). We don’t make much of a mark in ways that would lead to a newspaper headline like those in some other sections of the embassy might make, and consular assignments are often, rightly or wrongly, looked upon as unimportant.
This dichotomy is generally seen as unfavorable to those serving in the consular section of an embassy. I can say from personal experience that some days it certainly feels that way – it can be a trying experience sometimes. Today, however, is one of the rare days that I’m decidedly grateful to be in the consular section. I have been able to spend this Columbus Day holiday as I wished, rather than being called in to work and spending all day on the phone with people out in Washington DC trying to find out what they want us to say or do about the latest news coming out of North Korea. I’ve had that kind of job, and I’ll have it again, but today I’m glad to be a “lowly” consular officer.