Page 31 - FSJ June 2012

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J U N E 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
would speak on our behalf and raise
issues with the only interlocutor ca-
pable of getting things done: the
Department of State. And so the
International Foreign Service Asso-
ciation was born in 2009.
Washington has always shied
away from having a true dialogue
with the global Locally Employed
Staff community, claiming that FSN
committees from different coun-
tries would never agree to a united position on these is-
sues. But despite distinct benefits packages based on local
prevailing practice, we do indeed have common interests.
TRINEA, because it brings together three distinct groups
of LES in the same country, is a potential model for a
global approach.
In just a few years of existence, IFSA has already
proven that its members around the world can agree on
issues that transcend the local level, and that they are ready
to work directly with Washington. We are confident that
a partnership between the Department of State and IFSA
will benefit both sides.
Jon Miracle joined the Embassy Brussels staff as a com-
puter specialist in 2000. He has been a member of
TRINEA, the embassy’s FSN association, for six years and
its chairman for three.
By Aneta Stefanova, Sofia
My experience as a Foreign Service National working at
the U.S. embassy in Sofia can be summarized in two
words: fascination and frustration. On good days, it’s a dol-
lop of fascination and a pinch of frustration. And on bad
days? On bad days, there is nothing fun or fascinating
about our deep frustration as members of the embassy’s
local staff.
In many ways, the embassy is like my family. I started
as the mission’s switchboard operator at the age of 19,
while most of my friends were emigrating from Bulgaria.
Some of the Americans I first met at the embassy bonded
with me despite the lingering cold shadow of the Iron Cur-
My Foreign Service colleagues were there for me when
my father passed away suddenly
and when my mother fell ill soon af-
terward. They offered everything
from emotional support to hot
meals, and even medical care for
my suffering family. They are still
the most amazing, kind and sup-
portive people I have ever met, and
epitomize the best of what America
offers to the world.
The embassy has also given me
an unprecedented opportunity to develop professionally. I
have seen many of my Bulgarian colleagues move up
through the ranks, supported by adequate professional
training and mentoring. My fellow FSNs deserve special
mention for their unsurpassed hard work, professionalism,
expertise and passion for working for the United States,
despite the cultural differences and institutional lines that
separate us from our American colleagues.
As a press specialist, my day starts at the break of dawn
with reading the local press and briefing the ambassador
and the country team on the news of the day. It then
speeds through attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies for
humanitarian assistance projects, answering press in-
quiries, analyzing media sector developments and provid-
ing a cogent explanation of my country’s complicated past,
with its political and economic implications, to my Amer-
ican colleagues.
After so many years at the embassy, I sometimes take
my fascinating work for granted. But 20 years of fantas-
tic, sometimes funny and occasionally stressful memories
still remind me of how special the institution I work for
truly is.
And this is where that healthy dose of frustration comes
in. My Foreign Service National colleagues and I appre-
ciate the special place the U.S. holds in the world, and de-
fend and promote it every day. We do so not just at work
but also in our social lives, when our job becomes our iden-
tity as people.
We do it because we are loyal to a country which, since
the start of the 20th century, has been a force for good, de-
spite widespread, simplistic and unfair criticism for being
the “world’s policeman.”
Yet America’s uniqueness also creates a sense of ex-
ceptionalism among some Foreign Service personnel that
frustrates us in our everyday work on many occasions. It
means we are not “like everyone else” in our country, in
It soon became clear
that the important decisions
were all being made back
in Washington with
little local input.