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Monica Davis, ’02, Foreign Service Officer

Monica Davis, W&M CLST major ’02, talks about life in the Foreign Service and offers tips for those interested in careers in diplomacy.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience at William & Mary?  What drew you to4img_5744.jpg Classical Studies?

I graduated in 2002 from William & Mary and loved my experience on campus, as well as my junior year in Athens at the College Year in Athens program. I was originally drawn to classics because my high school in Lexington, Virginia had such a strong Latin program. Our teacher was very dynamic, and our high school class went to Italy and Greece in junior year to visit different ancient sites. It was one of my first times abroad, and I fell in love with traveling and learning about other cultures. After that, even though I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduating, I decided to major in classics at William & Mary. I then went on to pursue an MA in International Relations at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

What are you doing now and what is your favorite thing about your job?

I am now a Foreign Service Officer working for the U.S. Department of State. This means that I usually work in U.S. Embassies abroad, but sometimes also the State Department Headquarters in Washington D.C. I have many favorite things about my job as a diplomat. Since joining the Foreign Service, I have worked in Embassies and Consulates in Mexico, South Sudan, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Cambodia, and (soon) the Czech Republic. I love representing my country abroad, learning about new cultures and languages, and helping people understand the United States in a deeper way than what they just see in the media. My specialty within the Foreign Service is “public diplomacy”, so I work on informational and cultural programs for the public, as well as our social media presence, interactions with the press, and exchange programs for foreign students to come to the United States. Some people may think that moving every few years to different countries wouldn’t allow you to have a family, spouse, or pets, but plenty of Foreign Service Officers are accompanied as they move around the world. 

 How has your experience studying the ancient world helped you in your career?

It has helped me in many ways that I didn’t really realize at first, but now looking back, I am deeply thankful certainly of the general liberal arts education I gained from my time at William & Mary. In particular, studying the ancient world has greatly helped me learn new languages. Without my Latin and Greek background, it would not have been so easy to learn Spanish or Czech. Also, my coursework strengthened my critical thinking and writing skills which I have to use every day in my job. I am also hoping one day to be posted to Italy or Greece so that I can apply this knowledge more directly in country!

 More broadly, how has that experience shaped you as a person?

That is a great question. As a person, I feel like studying the ancient world helped me realize something that I have come to find true wherever I travel. Despite our cultural differences between countries, we all have a lot of cultural similarities too, and the same was true of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. From the literature, we know that they certainly had a sense of humor, a desire to love and protect their families, and honored and respected their elders. While the world often focuses on our differences, as a person whose job it is to connect with other people from different cultures, I try to always find and highlight our cultural similarities. This is how we can build bridges to understand each other better. Classics, and especially Greek philosophy, also taught me to look at the world in a more nuanced way. Things are not always black and white, and often the world is a murky shade of grey with tough decisions to make. The classics helped me develop structured ways to make those decisions.

What advice would you give a student who is interested in your field?  

I took the Foreign Service Officer Test in 2005 (and didn’t pass) and then again in 2012 (and passed). Don’t give up if you take the test and don’t pass the first time! Many people take this difficult test multiple times. If you are interested in living abroad and learning new languages, I would certainly recommend applying for an internship at the State Department (or doing an internship in general with any organization working on international affairs). We offer amazing opportunities to work in both DC and abroad at our Embassies and Consulates. And unlike when I did an internship at the State Department, they are now paid!  An internship can really help you to see if the field is something you are interested in pursuing long-term. Check them out at: