Embassy Reflections

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As I start my last week working at US Embassy Yerevan, I’m beginning to understand what a formative experience I’ve had. On a professional level, I could not have asked for a better view into life in the Foreign Service. I’ve met officers at all stages of their careers, and worked very closely with several of them. Over dozens of lunches, coffee breaks, and after-hours conversations, I’ve been able to get a good sense of their joys and frustrations, their past experiences and future plans. While I’m still discerning my precise career plans, these insights will be profoundly useful as I move forward.

Beyond building a better understanding of the State Department and work abroad, I also learned an important generally applicable lesson: it is difficult, but entirely possible, to be proactive in a structured environment. With a full plate of clearly defined tasks, and in an office where almost everyone knew their responsibilities and stuck to them, it took me a few weeks to realize the extent to which I could still be independent and creative. Eventually, though, I gathered the confidence to take initiative in a number of areas. I reached out to both the Public Affairs and Political sections, allowing me to give a speech at a US-funded library and meet with a new opposition party. I also developed a new method for evaluating Iranian student visa applicants, and crafted a Statement of Policy explaining it. The SOP was put into effect in the office and will be forwarded to other US Embassies around the world. More routine examples of proactivity also paid off. When I decided to fully clean out the consulate’s email backlog, this sped up several urgent visa applications; when I offered to translate for an Arabic-speaking visa applicant, he was able to understand exactly what he needed to do to reunite with his wife in the United States.

My internship has been just as personally fulfilling as it’s been professionally enriching. Working at the Embassy has given me a chance to bring together the Armenian and American spheres of my life in a uniquely complete way. This is because local Armenian staff are integral to the entire Embassy—I’ve worked just as closely with them as with Foreign Service officers. This means that I speak both English and Armenian in a professional capacity, fully engaging both sides of myself. The Embassy has come to feel like a sort of home, and I will always remember my time here.

Written by Hagop Toghramadjian, BC Class of 2017

 

 

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Switching Gears

After three years of liberal arts education, I haven’t settled into a defined field, let alone a specialty within it. I have, however, gotten used to constant adaptation. This is partly thanks to a diverse courseload, which—along with heavy doses of political science and Arabic—has ranged from music theory to linguistics. But going to class and finishing assignments is only the beginning: like most BC students, I’m also used to juggling student group meetings, a campus job and independent research.

As it turns out, this unpredictable whirlwind of tasks was good practice for my internship at the US Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia. I’m based in the consular section, which is responsible for granting or refusing visas to the United States and assisting American citizens in Armenia. Our work has lots of moving parts; we handle both immigrant and non-immigrant cases and both Armenian and Iranian applicants. Due to heavy turnover among the diplomats at the Embassy, we’re also short-staffed. My job is to fill the gaps—on any given day, I have to switch gears four or five times, alternating between routine paperwork and urgent customer service, open-ended projects and clearly defined tasks. Like a good professor, my boss is available when I have questions, but mostly expects me to figure out tasks on my own. I’ve had to learn basic Farsi on the fly, get used to a new dialect of Armenian, and even dust off my high school algebra and statistics.

The job can be exhausting at times, especially when I have to stay late or come in on a Saturday. But the trade-off for long, busy hours is a diverse set of new skills and experiences. After three weeks, I’ve already fingerprinted thousands of visa applicants, written dozens of memos to Washington (which are less exciting than they sound), finished three independent research projects, visited a US citizen in prison, and accompanied the ambassador to a meeting with a major opposition party. In a few hours I’ll be on duty welcoming government officials to the Embassy’s (massive) 4th of July party.

My internship has reminded me that I’ll be called upon to learn and adapt long after I leave BC.  No class could have taught me how to interact with a prisoner or calm a frustrated visa applicant—let alone spot immigration fraud or outsmart Iranian travel agencies. But my years at BC have helped me build the flexibility I need to tackle new projects head-on and the stamina I need to see them through.

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Visiting the leadership of the “Unity” party, a leading player in Armenian opposition politics. The ambassador is to my left. News stories about the meeting are here and here.

Written by Hagop Toghramadjian, BC Class of 2017