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Bryan Koontz

Major: Political Science
Year of Graduation: 1990
Current Job: Foreign Service Officer, US Foreign Service

I was born and raised in Wisconsin, principally in the Madison-area.  Days after my 18th birthday, I left to attend St. John's University.  Having always been interested in politics and world affairs, I was ready to declare a major almost as soon as I arrived.  I took as many government and international relations courses as I could once my core requirements were complete.  I also took a number of economics courses, though I did not complete the minor in this area.  After my freshman year, I enlisted in the Army Reserve and then joined ROTC after basic training.  I graduated with a BA in Government with a heavy emphasis on International Relations.

What is a typical work day like for you?
The really interesting thing about the Foreign Service is that your day really depends on the job you are filling at that time.  My first job in the Foreign Service was in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia where I served as a Political Officer.  In that job, I met with a variety of people from throughout Saudi society and got to know them.  Currently, I am working as a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.  In this position, I have the opportunity to interact with people from Lebanon and other places who want to travel to the U.S. to live as Legal Permanent Residents, many with the hope of one day becoming American citizens.  So, actually, I don't really have a "typical" work day per se.

What experiences or qualities that you obtained while at St. John's help you most in your current position?
The education that I received at St. John's was excellent - I only wish that I had worked harder at it.  I attribute my success solely to the level of education I received from instructors such as Bill Van Cleve, Manju Parikh, Joe Farry, kay Wolsborn as well as some of my law school professors.  From each of these instructors, I learned something that would be important to me in later life.
From Bill Van Cleve, my freshman symposium professor, I received further support for what my father had taught me.  Prof. Van Cleve taught me to formulate my opinions into coherent structures for presentation.  He taught me to question what others told me, to analyze the basis of my opinions, to weigh them, and ultimately to hold to my beliefs and ideals, regardless of the opinions of others, if those opinions survived my own internal scrutiny.  The "questioning what others told me" may not have made me the most popular of students with my other professors, but it made those things I did learn from them stick in my mind.
Dr. Parikh, Dr. Farry and Dr. Wolsborn helped open my eyes to worlds and issues I had only heard about on the news.  Each in their own way helped me to channel my desire for knowledge about the world beyond our borders (and inside of them!), and the way that it operates.  I am grateful to them for what must have seemed to be painful effort on their parts!

What is some advice for students who want to follow your career path?
The best advice I can give anyone interested in the Foreign Service is simply this: read.  Read and learn whatever you can about foreign affairs.  As your professors have no doubt suggested, read newspapers (both foreign and domestic), read magazines, read websites (though be careful about non-news websites - you never know what agenda the author of the site has).  Find issues/ideas/nations/cultures/historical periods that interest you, and learn about them.  You should also study languages.  Every skill and ability you have that will make you effective on an international stage can only help you in your quest for employment in this field.  Learn what languages are most desirable to the US government or business, and pursue them.
Any career path can enable one to have a career in the Foreign Service.  There are no minimums for education or specific requirements for previous employment.  The Service is interested in recruiting Americans from all walks of life.  In my initial training class, there were attorneys, information technology professionals, bankers, civil servants, former students right out of college, former military officers, etc., etc., etc.  That's one of the greatest things about this job - the types and variety of people you can meet even within your own office.