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An Interview with Tulane's Diplomat in Residence: Nathan Bland

August 02, 2021 10:30 AM
Hunter Jones
We sat down with Nathan Bland – Tulane’s Diplomat in Residence – to learn more about him, life as a diplomat and the career opportunities available to Tulane students.

Hi Nathan, can you tell us about yourself and your career journey to become a U.S. diplomat?

Of course! I’m from Louisiana, but I’m a military brat.  My parents were both in the U.S. Army and I was born in Germany. We moved to Leesville, LA, and that’s where I mostly grew up. We briefly moved to Ft. Drum in New York, but then back to Leesville. I went to Louisiana College in Pineville, LA for undergrad, and I was planning on spending the rest of my life in Louisiana, but then my mother encouraged me to study abroad in London for a semester.  That semester reawakened my sense of travel and adventure, and after that I couldn’t stay still.  I went to teach English out in Xinjiang, China (where the Uyghurs live), and then finished my last semester of undergrad at Hong Kong Baptist University.  While in Hong Kong, I found out about the Foreign Service; there was an advertisement that said “Be the Face of America to the World.”  Seeing how I already did that in Xinjiang, I felt like I would love to do that as a career.

I went to grad school at the Seton Hall School of Diplomacy and International Relations and studied for an M.A. in Diplomacy and International Relations and an M.A. in Asian Studies.  While there, I did an internship at the U.S. Department of State, which I think was the most crucial part of my journey to the Foreign Service. When I graduated, I was selected to be a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) at the State Department.  I also finally passed my Foreign Service Officer Test during that year – my third time taking it – and eventually converted to the Foreign Service a little over a year into the PMF program.

Since then, I’ve had an adventurous and meaningful career as a U.S. diplomat.  I’ve worked on a wide range of issues at the U.S. Consulate in Shenyang, China, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See (Vatican) in Rome, the U.S. Embassy in Belize, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and our headquarters in Washington D.C.   My favorite position so far (though this current one may be just about on par), was when I worked in the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs in our Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs back at headquarters.  I was the U.S. Head of Delegation to two international marine protection treaties that the U.S. is a signatory to. I love working on issues that help the common good!


What does a Diplomat in Residence do?

As the Diplomat in Residence for the Central South region, my role is to speak to interested students, alumni, and professionals about diplomatic career and student program opportunities. I am available to speak with any Tulane student or alumni interested in speaking about U.S. Department of state career and student program opportunities.  I actually have set office hours specifically for Tulane (currently Thursdays 9:30 a.m. – 12 noon and Fridays 1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.).  They can schedule an appointment with me online.


What opportunities are available to students?

We have quite a few student program offerings, and in my opinion, these opportunities are the best way to get your foot in the door at the State Department.  A significant number of new diplomats and new Pickering and Rangel Fellows have had some touch point through one of our student programs in their past.  I think my internship was a crucial step in my eventual path of becoming a U.S. diplomat.  We have a wide variety of internships, fellowships, and study abroad opportunities.

  • U.S. Department of State Internship Program: Offered during the fall, spring, and summer semesters in Washington, D.C., and at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas. These 10-week positions are unpaid. To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen, have completed at least 60 credit hours at an accredited university by the time the internship begins, have at least a 3.0 GPA, and be enrolled in school the semester prior to and immediately following your internship. Both graduate and undergraduate students are encouraged to apply.
  • U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program (USFSIP): Merit and need based paid internship over two consecutive summers (first domestic, then abroad).   Must maintain at least a 3.2 GPA
  • Pathways: A federal government-wide program designed to introduce students and recent graduates to a career in federal service (Civil Service).  Three distinct programs:
    • Internship Program: Offers paid employment for students while they attend school.
    • Recent Graduate Program: Hires U.S. citizens who have completed a qualifying associates, bachelors, masters, professional, doctorate, vocational or technical degree, or certificate from a qualifying educational institution within the last two years.
    • Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) Program: The premier leadership development program in the federal government for those who have completed an advanced degree within the last two year and have a clear interest in public service.
  • Rangel Undergraduate International Affairs Summer Enrichment Program: Provides undergraduates with the opportunity to enhance their skills, knowledge and understanding about U.S. foreign policy during a six-week summer program at Howard University.  Can apply as a Sophomore or Junior. 
  • Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) Internship: A nine-month virtual internship for U.S. citizen students, college-level and above, who would like to make a real difference in the work of the U.S. government.  Interns are partnered with Department of State diplomatic posts overseas and domestic offices, as well as with eleven other agencies. The application period opens in July and those selected are notified in early September. All VSFS interns are unpaid and volunteer ten hours a week from September to May.
  • Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program/Thomas R. Pickering Undergraduate and Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowships – Two distinct (albeit quite similar), outstanding fellowship opportunities for those interested in joining the Foreign Service.  Available to seniors and graduates.  Provides funding for two years of graduate school (up to $42k/year), two paid internships during consecutive summers (first domestic, then abroad), mentorship, and a guaranteed position as a Foreign Service Officer upon graduation with a five-year work commitment.  The main difference between the two is the domestic internship – Pickering Fellows do theirs at the State Department, Rangel Fellows do theirs with Congress.
  • Foreign Affairs Information Technology Fellowship (FAIT) – Very similar to the above-mentioned Rangel/Pickering Fellowships, however it is targeted towards IT-related majors and FAIT applicants can apply as a Sophomore or as a Senior/Grad.  The program provides funding for two years school – either Junior and Senior year if applying as a Sophomore, or two years of graduate school if applying as a Senior/Graduate.  FAIT Fellows receive two paid internships, one domestic and one abroad, and are guaranteed a position as a Foreign Service Information Management Specialist upon graduation (with a five-year work commitment). 
Study Abroad Opportunities (Funded by the State Department):
  • Gilman Scholarships – Provides need-based support (Pell Grant Recipients) for undergraduates to study or intern abroad, rolling deadlines. 
  • Critical Language Scholarships – Provides opportunity to study one of 15 critical languages, for undergraduate and graduate students, deadline in the fall.
  • Boren Scholarships/Fellowships – Provides funding for language and academic studies abroad to undergraduate and graduate students interested in national security careers


Why should students consider a career with the State Department?

Our careers are truly unlike any other.  They are right at the intersection of adventure and stability – we get access to the world and ever-changing career opportunities while maintaining the stability of a single employer. Personally, when I look over my career in the Foreign Service and all of the places that I’ve lived, I like to think of my life in terms of “lives.”  For example, I had a Chinese “life” at one point.  I was fully immersed in China -- speaking Chinese daily, eating Chinese food, surrounded by Chinese people, exploring various Chinese destinations, and learning Chinese culture, history and traditions.  I was fully living my best Chinese life.  When I left, I went back to the Foreign Service Institute to study Italian for six months before heading out to live in Rome for two years. During that time, I was speaking Italian every day, eating my fill of delicious pasta and pizza, exploring ALL of Italy, seeing the Colosseum on my way to work every day – just living my best Italian life.  When I was assigned to Belize, I similarly had my best Caribbean life, and then went on to Mexico where I lived my best Mexican life.  And I met so many wonderful people in each and every life that I still carry with me to this day.  Not many careers allow you to have such distinct chapters of your life.


Do you have to major in anything specific to be a diplomat or work for the State Department?

Not at all, we want people from all majors to apply. We need a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.  To understand and improve a diverse world, we must also be diverse. We don’t just want to be diverse; we need to be diverse to succeed.  When people hear about diplomacy and diplomatic careers, they usually think of the Foreign Service Generalist positions.  However, we have 19 different career tracks of Foreign Service Specialist positions in a wide range of fields.  These positions include specializations in Information Technology, Human Resources, Logistics, Medical and Health, Law Enforcement, Security Engineering, Construction Engineering, Financial Management, Facility Management, and many others. Like I said, we really are looking for people from a wide variety of majors!


What is the application process like?

For our student programs, the application process varies. They usually consist of proof of U.S. Citizenship, background info, personal statements, recommendation letters, proof of student status/transcripts, and in some cases things like GRE/GMAT scores, and/or description of financial need.

The application process to join the Foreign Service is through a test process (laid out here).  The first step is to research the different career tracks and then register for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT).  If you pass that multiple choice test, your application package is passed on to a Qualifications Evaluation Panel.  That panel reviews the entire application package and invites the best qualified candidates to take the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA).  If you pass that, then you need to obtain a security and medical clearance.  Once you have those, your name is then placed on a rank-ordered list of eligible hires to be considered for an invitation to a future orientation class for new diplomats.

The process is lengthy and competitive.  I always tell people to think of the Foreign Service as “Plan B” until it becomes “Plan A.”  Meaning that, you can’t just be sitting there unemployed or doing nothing while depending on this to go through.  You need to have something else going on while this process plays out in the background.  It’s not unusual for people to have to go through the exam process more than once.  It took me three times to make it all the way through.


What dates should students mark on their calendars for the Fall semester?

Definitely the Foreign Service Officer Test. It’s offered three times per year – February, June and October. The registration period typically opens one month in advance of the test dates. I encourage all interested people to go ahead and give it a try! We'll periodically send out information through the NTC Notice and NTC social media to keep students informed about upcoming opportunities and deadlines. I do want to mention that two of our programs have applications open right now.

  • Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Program: Application due Sept. 22, 2021
  • Rangel Graduate Fellowship Program: Application due Sept. 29, 2021


How can students get in contact with you?

They can email me at DIRCentralSouth@state.gov or  nbland1@tulane.edu, or send me a message on Facebook @DIRCentralSouth. Students can also sign up for an appointment during my office hours, which are Thursdays 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. and Fridays 1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.


Where can interested students go to learn more online?

They can find out about all of our student programs, fellowships, internships and career opportunities at careers.state.gov