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Diplomacy in Action

James Aguirre's Report on Hometown Diplomat Program

Office of Public Liaison
Bureau of Public Affairs
May 14, 2009


James Aguirre
U.S. Interests Section
Havana, Cuba

Brunswick, North Carolina:  I have a great job. I love talking about the opportunity I have to represent the people of the United States as a Foreign Service Officer. I get excited by the challenge of discussing U.S. values and foreign policy in a way that makes sense to a variety of audiences. Usually, I have these conversations with foreigners while posted overseas through formal presentations, official meetings, or social interactions. However, my recent experience as a hometown diplomat reminded me of the critical need to reach out to everyday citizens back home. It also reaffirmed within me a sense of pride in the work that we do and provided additional motivation as I returned to my assignment in Cuba.

I would like to thank the PA/PL staff for their assistance is preparing a diverse and interesting schedule of events near my new hometown of Ocean Isle Beach, NC. My first stop was the Brunswick County Academy School, an alternative school for students who have not performed well in the more traditional learning environment. My contact Ms. Hewitt repeatedly thanked me for the visit and remarked that the Academy is often overlooked due to its size and population. I had the opportunity to speak to the entire high school (about 50 students) in a special assembly. I shared details of my career path and discussed my assignments in Iraq, the United Kingdom, and Cuba. Most of the questions related to what it was like to live in another country as only two or three of the students had ever traveled outside the United States. Many of the students were visibly amazed by some of the differences between life in the United States and life abroad, as well as surprised by some of the similarities. I hope my visit revealed a much larger and accessible world than the rural, southeastern North Carolina county in which they reside.

I then visited South Brunswick High School where I met with students from the Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics class. These students were well informed and very interested in U.S. foreign relations, especially regarding Cuba since the students were preparing to represent Cuba in a model United Nations activity. We engaged in a lively debate that provided a more detailed understanding of the very complex U.S.-Cuban relations. Three of the students expressed interest in a possible career in the Foreign Service. A package from PA with several gifts arrived before my presentation and was very popular.

My final event was a meeting with Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith. Since I did not grow up or go to school in the area, this meeting represented the “home” part of the program for me. The mayor appreciated learning about the unique career of one of her newest residents (my family and I established our permanent residence in this small city less than one year earlier). Overall, the program reached audiences traditionally interested in foreign affairs and those outside our normal sphere of influence. I also hope it sparked the interest of at least a few Carolineans in both our work and our world.

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