The Berkeley Beacon

Saturday, October 25, 2014

From degree to diplomacy

By Brittany Gervais / Beacon Staff
February 28, 2013 at 2:33 am

Communication studies alumna Kerry Velez was waiting at a table in Starbucks with two suitcases ready to go, a laptop open to a set of new emails, and a cup of coffee in hand. Velez was on her way back to Maryland, where she is now living. But travelling isn’t something new for Velez;  she said she hopes to make a career out of it.

Velez graduated from Emerson in December with the goal of one day becoming a foreign diplomat. To gain some firsthand experience, she participated in a 10-week internship program last summer at the U.S. Embassy in Australia.

She said after she realized she could not participate in Emerson’s Kasteel Well program because of her financial situation at the time, she made a mental note to travel as much as possible. After she saved up the money, she visited the Netherlands, Spain, Iceland, Ireland and France during the remainder of her years in college.

“I’m obsessed with travelling, so every penny I had went into paying for those trips,” she said.

Unfortunately, Velez said, it’s hard for her to get involved with foreign diplomacy right out of college. Velez said she is currently applying for jobs and studying for the Foreign Service Exam, a series of oral and written tests needed to become a member of the United States Foreign Service. 

The Foreign Service is a component of the United States federal government, and consists of 15,000 professionals who carry out the foreign policy of the U.S. and aid American citizens abroad.

If she passes the test, Velez will have to take a day-long oral assessment, followed by an examination to decide whether or not she is suitable for employment, according to the U.S. Department of State website.

Along with being an aspiring diplomat, Velez is also a production assistant on So You Think You Can Dance. While the popular television show and foreign diplomacy have little to do with each other, Velez said she has always had a strong interest in both television production and diplomacy.

During the internship in Australia, Velez said the interns were in charge of everything, from planning events to teaching students at public schools about the United States.

Velez said the day of the Fourth of July party at the U.S. Embassy was her busiest, but most memorable. The Embassy had invited many people from the Australian Parliament and its Foreign Ministry, and representatives from all around the world.

Velez said it was her job to escort the Australian Army Band, who played throughout the ceremony, and make sure everyone who came through the door felt welcome.

“I was just constantly working, but it was one of the most memorable experiences,” Velez said. “It’s when I realized my days as a diplomat would always be different, and I really would have a variety of things to do.”

Velez said talking about key issues to foreign dignitaries around the world was what she cared about most, specifically mentioning the violence in Syria. During these discussions, Velez said a diplomat must be open to answering questions so people get a clear understanding of U.S. policies, along with possessing other qualities.

“It really takes problem solving skills,” she said. “If a crisis comes your way, which is bound to happen throughout your career, and you are able to take what’s in front of you and roll with it, that’s something you need to be able to do as a diplomat.”

She also said her dream of becoming a diplomat arose from her desire to travel. She said making sure she was up-to-date on international news and frequent interactions with foreign dignitaries will be hard work, but the challenges of being in a completely new culture are what she looks forward to.

“Once you finally get that feeling of familiarity with one country, you’ll switch and you’ll go from Australia to Guatemala,” she said. “You have to learn a completely new government, a different system with different problems, and I think that’s really cool.”

Associate Professor of Communication Studies Gregory Payne said he knows how dedicated Velez is to her goals. He taught her in a seminar class in public diplomacy two years ago, and said she was a very motivated student.

“She excelled in that class,” he said. “She was very involved, and I think part of the excitement of studying public diplomacy is when students can see themselves in these leadership positions.”

Payne said Velez often visits his classes to talk about her experiences interning in different countries, like Australia and Kazakhstan. He said the discussions often motivate his students to step outside of the classroom and explore other opportunities. 

“They’re really excited to see someone who has just recently graduated out there doing such wonderful things,” he said.

Payne said becoming a foreign diplomat requires an interest in other cultures and a sense of leadership.

“You have to be a strategic thinker, you have to be able to analyze critically, and you also have to have very good listening skills,” he said. “If you are a leader and you want to make a difference in the way the world operates, public diplomacy is the way to go.”

Velez said she recommends Emerson students be willing to put in time and effort for their choice career. 

 “Anything you want is possible. You might have to work a little harder to get it, but if you want something, you need to get out there,” she said. “You go to Emerson already; there’s no point in wasting this kind of education.”


Gervais can be reached at brittany_gervais@emerson.edu.