Black and Abroad: Development and Diplomacy

Resources and guide for African-Americans who are interested in working abroad with the US government in diplomacy or development

One of the things that often draws people to life abroad, especially us Black folks, is the opportunity to make a positive impact, or somehow play a role in improving the quality of life of people that look like us who are in dire situations. If this is a motivating factor for you, then a career in diplomacy or international development with the US government may be a good option. Becoming a Foreign Service Officer (AKA diplomat) with the US Department of State, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) or the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows you to both serve your country AND positively impact the country in which you are posted. The actual job possibilities are quite numerous, with opportunities to work in health, education, high-level diplomacy, communications, security, agriculture, economic growth – you name it. Now, these roles can be difficult to secure and require a long (and some would say arduous) process, but the job security, promotion potential, opportunity to live abroad in multiple locations throughout your career, and financial compensation can certainly be worth the effort.

My first position after graduation from graduate school was as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with the Department of State. I got sent to Lagos, Nigeria to issue visas to the United States and fell in love with the country and the people. It felt really good serving as an additional and more representative example of what a real “American” looks like when all too often the image has been of white people, especially white men. Years later, I joined (and currently serve) as a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Stationed here in Dakar, Senegal, I am a Democracy and Governance Officer working on human rights issues across the country. In addition to having interesting work and exposure to people from all walks of life, as a diplomat, I’m provided with free housing, travel back to the US for vacation, options to live and work all over the world in follow-on assignments and the opportunity to learn languages. In fact, I currently speak and read French fluently as a result of my training with the both the Department of State and USAID. It can be a wonderful career and one in which I encourage you explore!

Full Disclosure: If you are remotely interested in international affairs then I am sure you have been made aware of some of the glaring and indefensible issues with the US government’s Foreign Service agencies as it pertains to Black people. (I’m looking at you, State Department and USAID!) And I cannot tell a lie, these are facts! Historically, we have been denied access, opportunities and promotions because… well, America. But I can tell you that there are thousands of us Black FSOs, as well as Black domestic (‘domestic’ as in country home not… you get it.) employees, who are fighting to make changes, and thriving despite the challenges. Sadly, it has taken the killing of George Floyd to force these agencies (and all of America) to face this past and present, and work towards a more inclusive and fair future – one Black FSOs are demanding. It is my hope that if this career appeals to you, you will take the step and join us.

It is worth noting that the process can take approximately a full year to complete – from application to on-boarding.  To get started, check out these websites:

Use USA Jobs to check check on job opportunities across the US government. Be sure to look for jobs with “Foreign Service” in the title. This will ensure that the job you are looking at will be based overseas. The Department of State, USAID, USDA and the Department of Commerce are the four agencies in the US government that have FSO positions.

Foreign Service with USAID:

Foreign Service with the Department of State:

Foreign Service with US Dept of Agriculture (USDA):

Good luck! And I truly hope to have you be a part of the Black FSO community.

About Mildred Olive

Olive Young is a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with USAID. Most recently, she has worked in Dakar, Senegal on human rights issues. Previously, Olive served as a Consular Officer in Lagos, Nigeria and as a Cultural Affairs Officer in Yaoundé, Cameroon with Department of State. Additionally, her international experience includes serving as a Business Development Executive for a private equity firm in Nigeria, an Africa Program Manager for Vital Voice Global Partnership and a legal aid intern in Nairobi, Kenya. Olive holds a Juris Doctorate from New York University School of Law and received both her bachelor's degree in Business Administration and MBA from Florida A&M University. She is married with two children and enjoys reading, writing and all things Black folk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>