The beginning of May always brings many moments of reflection, Foreign Affairs Day is May 5 and May 7 to 13 marks Public Service Recognition Week. As I read articles and social media posts about federal, state, and local government employees and their contributions to our nation, I am proud when I remember that they are talking about my colleagues and me at the State Department.
A love of travel, a desire to understand other cultures, the opportunity to speak other languages – these are passions that fuel many Foreign Service Officers. In my case, being a public servant runs in my family. My parents and grandparents were either civilian or military public servants from the municipal to federal levels of government. Their dedication to serving others manifested not only in their professional titles, but also in the choices they made in their personal lives. When we went for hikes in the woods, they brought bags to pick up trash left behind by others, believing strongly in leaving an environment in even better condition that you found it. They held doors open; they offered their seat to those who needed it more; they volunteered regularly in the community. These examples instilled in me a conviction that through kindness and conscientiousness, respect and compassion, we can improve the world around us – even if only in small ways.
That conviction led me to diplomacy, and it is one I imagine many who work at the State Department share. As a consular officer, I continue to believe in the power of those small acts of service to others, and in the power of being kind and treating others with respect. In Brazil, where I served my first tour with the Foreign Service, there is a well-known saying, “Gentileza gera gentileza,” or “Kindness generates kindness.” I believe that when we are guided by compassion and can see the mirror of ourselves in the people we help, we can perform our jobs with empathy and professionalism. This is what we, as public servants, strive to do.
Every Foreign Service generalist must serve a consular tour. While others may pursue other specialties after completing their assignment, the public service aspect is vital at every level and position in the Department. It is also work that directly engages with the U.S. public, in routine and extraordinary ways. Our public service to U.S. citizens is at the heart of what we do and is our raison d’être: from issuing an emergency passport to a U.S. citizen in a time of need, adjudicating the U.S. citizenship of a child born overseas, issuing a visa to the family member of a U.S. citizen – or evacuating U.S. citizens in the wake of any number of crises. In small acts of public service, we build a profound impact on the world around us, hopefully leaving it better than we found it.
About The Author: Kendra Arbaiza-Sundal is currently the consular chief at the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg. She has previously served in Istanbul, Turkey, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, as well as in a temporary assignment for a hurricane evacuation in the Caribbean in 2017. She joined the State Department in January 2016.