A reflection from Alejandra Baez (SFS ’16) who is currently preparing for her career in the Foreign Service as a Pickering fellow:
I was exposed to the Pickering Fellowship through a few of my sisters in Delta Phi Epsilon Foreign Service Sorority. I was a sophomore, and the girls that I knew were seniors at the time. They were recipients, so they were invaluable resources that I turned to for help with the interview process as well as to understand the extent of the fellowship and commitment to the Foreign Service.
For a long time before learning about the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, I knew that I had a love for travel, learning languages, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, combating inequality and fighting for social justice. Throughout college, I felt drawn to topics of international development and human rights, especially. So my biggest question was how do I build a career from all of these interests? Even more importantly, what job would PAY me to do some or all of these things? In the back of my head, I had played around with the idea of diplomacy but didn’t think seriously about it UNTIL I met these women. They exposed me to the fellowship, but also to the US Foreign Service which I began to consider as a professional career path.
As a Pickering Fellow, I have a contract with the State Department to enter the Foreign Service upon receiving a master’s degree and to serve at least 5 years as a Foreign Service Officer. Fellows receive scholarships towards tuition for two years of study and complete two internships with the State Department (one domestic and one overseas) in preparation for entering the Foreign Service. This past summer, I interned with the Political Section at the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States. And this upcoming summer, I will be interning with the Public Affairs Section at U.S. Embassy Bogotá in Colombia.
My experience with the Pickering Fellowship has been extremely formative and uplifting. The program entails financial sponsorship for two years of study, yes, but I appreciate much more the mentorships and networks that came with the fellowship. The whole purpose and mission of the Pickering and Rangel fellowships is to increase the diversity in our Foreign Service in order to accurately represent our multicultural population. It is important to show an interest in international affairs and a dedication to serving the United States. An important component of the fellowship is that you are connected to current and past Foreign Service Officers (including some ambassadors!) and also to peers who are also pursuing the same career as you and have struggled in similar ways that you might have: being a women, low-income, first-generation, a person of color, etc. My cohort has become an essential support group for me. The sense of community is important as you will be faced with incredibly important decisions such as where to go for grad school, which regions of the world to work in, how to manage a work-life balance, and how to start a family abroad in the future, for instance. All of these choices are a part of joining the Foreign Service; they are difficult choices to make so having the Pickering community around me to ask for advice was invaluable.