BUIES CREEK — Tensions were high in 1995 in the country of Azerbaijan, which had just ended a lengthy and bloody war with bordering Armenia and experienced an infamous coup attempt on its president.
Stationed there that year was Julie Ruterbories, serving as a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department. Despite the unrest in the region, Ruterbories and a few of her co-workers spent a day off traveling north along the eastern portion of the country parallel to the Caspian Sea. Armed with only windsurfing boards, they enjoyed an afternoon at the beach before being approached by three Russian border guards. Seeing American women and surfboards, the Russians smiled and said, “Baywatch!”
“Their image of the United States was painted by a show like ‘Baywatch,” Ruterbories said. “And, really, much of the world has developed their idea of the United States by what they see in films or on television. Our job is to build a bridge … so others have a better understanding of the United States.”
Ruterbories talked about her 20-plus years in the State Department and job and internship opportunities for college students and recent graduates to a group of Campbell University students Monday at Marshbanks Hall. She gave the students inside tips about how to stand out in their applications, what career paths are available and what realistic expectations job seekers should have should they decide to pursue a career working for the government.
Ruterbories’ father worked for the company that would become Exxon when she was a child, and his job sent the family all over the world. Her exposure to other cultures sparked her interest in a career with the State Department, the department responsible for U.S. foreign relations. Since earning degrees from Georgetown and Columbia, Ruterbories has served consular tours in London, Macedonia and Kosovo, in addition to Azerbaijan. She was recently the Consul General in Amsterdam from 2009 to 2012 and is currently the Diplomat in Residence at Duke University.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than what I’ve done the last 20 years,” said Ruterbories, who is fluent in several languages. “It’s been such a rewarding career, both professionally and personally.”
Freshman Cierra Livecchi was one of the students on hand Tuesday. The Rochester, N.Y., native joined the Army and moved to North Carolina three years ago after she was stationed at Fort Bragg. She said she wants to pursue a career similar to Ruterbories’ as a foreign service officer, and before Monday’s program, she had several questions about how to get on that career path.
“I certainly did have my questions answers, and the ones she could not answer, she pointed me in the right direction,” said Livecchi, now a freshman at Campbell. “Today confirmed my goals and made me even more excited to achieve them.”
Foreign service officers have five basic career paths, Ruterbories said. A consolar works with Americans living or visiting overseas, providing any service they need from the U.S. Those in management interact with other countries about issues like budgets and supplies. Public diplomacy refers to the media side of foreign relations. The economic side refers to commerce and environmental issues between the U.S. and other countries. And the political path deals with governments and politicians in other countries.
Ruterbories encouraged the students to build their resumes, learn new languages and work to stand out among the crowded field of applicants who seek State jobs each year.
“We are interested in people who are engaged and want to make a difference,” she said. “We want to look at you and say, ‘I want to meet this person.’ Not only that, ‘I want them working with me.’”
For more information on careers with the U.S. State Department, visit http://careers.state.gov
Story and photo by Billy Liggett