January 2012 Issue
The Fence
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Foreign Concept

Floating down the Amazon River from its source in northern Peru, Crystal Wray is far from her office at the U.S. Embassy. There, in the coastal city of Lima, she can walk down a flight of stairs to buy American peanut butter and soft drinks. Here, she uses crushed termites as bug repellent and watches tarantulas crawling the walls as she falls asleep.

Although the tour isn’t affiliated with Wray’s internship in the Foreign Commercial Service, she finds—accommodations notwithstanding—that the hands-on experience is giving her a better feel for the country. And that’s in keeping with what the FCS has in mind. Through its offices in embassies around the world, the service researches all aspects of foreign markets to provide commercial diplomacy support for U.S. business interests.

Wray, an economics and Chinese major, with a minor in Hispanic studies, matches well with globalized work. As an FCS intern, she works with government branches ranging from Economic Affairs to Agricultural Services, compiles reports on Peru’s natural resource industries, and facilitates meetings between Peruvian and U.S. businesses through hotel meet-and-greets that she calls “speed dating” on an international scale.

The crash-course in economic diplomacy has cemented her desire to apply for the government program after her graduation this spring. Initially, she worried about the nomadic nature of the work; FCS officers often move every two to four years, sometimes with little input about their destinations. But Wray’s boss reassured her that the sacrifices of international work “are nothing compared to what you gain.”

For Wray, who has spent most of her life in Florida, this past summer was a peek at those gains. Although no stranger to travel (she’s lived in Trinidad and Tobago and spent summers in China and South Africa), she notes that this trip took her from tourism to “experiencing Peruvian culture firsthand.” Not only did she take in the country’s natural beauty, she also connected with its people, joining a rugby team in Lima, conversing fluently in Spanish, and learning the farming practices of local villages.

Not once did she experience any kind of culture shock—perhaps because she spoke the language, perhaps because she worked in an American office, or perhaps, she says, because she was simply open to different expectations, even when her Amazon guide pulled a sloth from the river and asked her to hold the furry creature. She gleefully reports she didn’t hesitate taking it into her arms.
Olivia O’Connor (A’13)

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