Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Furthering Education

I'm considering taking some graduate courses while I'm here on the U.S.-Mexico Border. I've got the free time (unmarried, no kids, nothing to do in Matamoros in the evenings), and I've recently rekindled a desire to further learning.

Brownsville (the Texas town on the opposite side of the border) has a small university named University of Texas-Brownsville, aka UTB, that is literally within biking distance from my house in Matamoros. They're not the most prestigious university around, but considering it's convenience, I'm looking into getting a master's degree there. They offer various degrees, but the ones I'm most interested in are a M.A. in Spanish Translation, a Masters of Public Policy and Management, and an M.B.A.. Most of those programs are 36 hours each, so I don't really know if I can finish before my tour is up, but I'm going to look into it. There's also a 15 hour program to get a Graduate Certificate in Spanish Translation, which I suppose could be my back-up plan.

I'm just not really sure I'm going to do it or not. There are a few negatives on my pros and cons list. First, getting a masters won't have much, if any, impact on my job with the State Department whatsoever. My salary won't increase, and I won't necessarily get any better jobs. Why should I bother? It's certainly not necessary to possess graduate degrees to move up in the Foreign Service, not to mention that there are some (albeit quite competitive) programs available where I can get an assignment to get a master's degree arranged by the State Department. I think I like that idea most!

The other negative is how much it will tie me down to Brownsville/Matamoros for the next two years. If I have class, I can't really skip out and go on random vacations as much as I want, which is certainly an important consideration for me at this point. I don't know... perhaps I just need to accept that fact and hunker down to do it.

The pro list is sparse, but the pros are pretty strong. First, it would be pretty cheap to get it from UTB. Second, as I've already mentioned, I've got the spare time to do it, and the opportunity to do it here at the border region is unique and would be nearly impossible overseas, unless I did an entirely online course. The number one reason, though, is simply that I just love learning. Ever since I graduated I've felt like I want to keep studying, to keep learning. I have little-to-no background in business or management, which I feel would be important and useful for my continued career with the Department.

In any case, I'm considering it. I'll probably try to arrange a meeting with a counselor at UTB sometime soon to discuss my situation and find out if I can even finish in time before my tour is up. I suppose I could always request to extend my assignment, but I'd rather not have to do that.

We'll see. Until next time...peace.


  1. I just wanted to thank you for your blog. I'm looking at applying as a FSO and reading experiences like yours has me really excited.

    I have a question, if you will: Is the visa work as bad as some say it is? I've heard that FSOs can sometimes get stuck doing visa work for a couple years even though they aren't in the consular cone.

    Take care!

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Thanks! The visa work is not "bad" in and of itself. It's all about how the officer handles it. It is true one of your first two tours must be in Consular work, which most of the time will mean visa interviews. Of course, depends on to what post you are assigned. For example, you may end up in an American Citizen Services sections doing passport interviews, or other services for American Citizens abroad like prison visits or birth records.

    If you join the Foreign Service with an attitude that "visa work is below me", you will certainly be miserable in your Consular tour. However, if you join the foreign service with the attitude of "I understand that I will have to serve in a Consular position, that it is the primary reason we have diplomatic missions abroad, that it is the first line of defense for National Security, and that it's one of the few jobs in the Foreign Service that literally directly affects individual lives", then you will certainly enjoy it.

    Hope that helps. There's nothing like the Foreign Service out there. I encourage you to consider it.


  3. Thanks for the great response. My main concern was that I've heard that some people do it for as many as 5 years when they start. Only one of the first two tours isn't bad, though.

    This whole process is do daunting and seemingly very difficult. I've been fairly successful with everything I've done in life but I really wonder whether I'll manage to be in the ~6% that actually get hired. Added to that, I have no idea what cone of expertise I'd want to go in to. I recently graduated from college with several years of intern (and now a full time job in) the finance industry, but I don't really know where that would apply for FSO or FSS.

    Do you have any suggested resources on choosing a cone other than the (fairly vague) DoS website? Do you know whether it's possible to change cones, and if so, how difficult it is?

    Thanks again.

  4. More research shows you can't switch cones.

  5. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks again for the compliments. I know this is corny, but no one really knows for sure if they're going to pass. What's key is that you have confidence in yourself and your own abilities.

    As for choosing a cone, I didn't really know what the cones were like either, other than reading about them on I could recommend a book to you ( that might give you a little more insight into the cones, but it's not a book about the cones themselves. In any case, it's a good primer to what "real life" in the Foreign Service is like.

    Changing cones is not impossible; in fact, it's entirely possible, though not always easy. The Department doesn't really encourage anyone to change cones. However, the easiest way to do it is to wait until the yearly call sent out by the Department for people who want to switch. You toss your name in the hat, and then the Department tries to match someone with you to switch. For example, Person A wants to switch from Consular to Management, and Person B wants to switch from Management to Consular. Bingo. The Department will match you two together, and you will essentially take each others' cones. You can't do this until you're mid-level or higher, though, and it's still a bit more difficult than I described here.

    Hope that helps...


  6. Never hurts to learn. What did you decide to do? Best of luck!

  7. @fsowannabe...

    I decided to wait for now. I'm not really pursuing the idea at this time. Although it's a bit risky (meaning who knows if I'll get the opportunity), I think I'll wait and see if I can get one of those tours with the Department that lets me go to school and get my master's while getting paid for it at the Navy War College or Princeton. For now, I'm just gonna relax a bit more. Thanks for asking!

  8. You can always try an online program, that way being stationed elsewhere wouldn't hinder you finishing. I'm currently studying through an online program with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.