We’re speaking with Desiree Cormier — a Harvard grad and U.S. Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.
Name: Desiree Cormier
Location: Pretoria, South Africa
Profession: U.S. Foreign Service Officer (Diplomat)
How did you get started?
I received a fellowship from the State Department (the Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship) while I was still an undergraduate at Stanford. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in international relations and I also knew I wanted a job in public service, however, at the time I wasn’t even aware of what the State Department did! The Pickering Fellowship opened my eyes to the world of diplomacy and I am so happy I went out on a limb and applied. After receiving the fellowship, I attended a summer public policy institute and did two summer internships with the State Department – one in Washington, D.C. and one in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – before receiving a Master’s in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Then I formally joined the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer in 2009.
What’s an average day like?
That is one thing I love about my job – there is no average day! It really depends on what my current position is and what is going on in the world. For instance, I am currently the Special Assistant to the Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. My job primarily entails staffing, ensuring they are well-prepared for any meetings or events they have, in addition to other duties, such as drafting remarks, writing analytical reports and organizing annual bilateral meetings with the South African government. During my previous assignment in Tijuana, Mexico however; I was a Consular Officer, so I worked on tourist visas and helping American citizens in need. That said, my average days are completely different this year than they were last year in Mexico, and I can almost guarantee they will be vastly different during my next assignment. This career is perfect for someone who has a short attention span, like me :).
Why do you do it?
I have always wanted to go into public service. I have been extremely blessed and I believe it is only right for me to give back and use my skills to help others. In addition, ever since I studied abroad in Europe during college, I have been determined to portray a different side of America. When people think of U.S. government officials – particularly diplomats – they tend to think of older, white men from privileged backgrounds. I am about as opposite of that as you can get, and yet I am just as American as my colleagues who do fit that description. I believe it is important that U.S. diplomats reflect the diversity that makes our country so great.
Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:
As a U.S. diplomat, I have had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences like meeting kings and foreign ministers to being the first foreigner who has traveled to a village in rural Ethiopia. My position also often provides unique opportunities to make significant differences in people’s lives, and that is what keeps me passionate about this job. Of course, like with every job there are some down sides to being a diplomat. I’d say the hardest part of my job is that I am required to be “world-wide available.” That means I could end up living and working literally anywhere in the world. That is exciting but it can also be pretty scary. Living and working overseas is an awesome experience, but it can be hard at times to be so far from my family and friends back home. Furthermore, as recent unfortunate events have shown, diplomats are often needed to serve in very dangerous places.
Your greatest achievement so far?
I would have to say my greatest achievement so far was the work I did with a local orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. The orphanage cared for about 30 children who were abandoned or given away by their parents. But amazingly the kids were always so happy and grateful for the little they did have. I worked with some of my colleagues at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana to organize monthly visits, BBQs and Christmas toy drives for the children. The work I did with that orphanage really made me feel like I was making a difference in the lives of those children. So even though it wasn’t glamorous and I didn’t earn awards for the work I did there, I would say it was quite an achievement because of the joy and resources I was able to help bring to those kids.
What might be next for you?
With this job, I never know. I hope to do my next tour in Washington, D.C. or at the United Nations in New York. But I could end up anywhere in the world!
What are your top 5 go-to hair tips?
- Take the time to find a good hairstylist. Since I am always relocating, one of my biggest challenges is finding a good hairstylist that I can trust. I learned the hard way that you should not let just anyone cut your hair – not even bangs! I once looked like I had a frontal bowl cut! I can’t stress this enough: find someone good; it’s worth the money. Trust me.
- Use a cleansing shampoo. I use a ton of products in my hair so I started to use a cleansing shampoo to get rid of all the buildup and I can definitely see and feel the difference in my hair.
- Don’t underestimate the power of the pony. A classic ponytail is my go-to hairstyle; it’s simple, classic, chic and professional. And you can spice it up by simply adding a part!
- Condition, condition, condition. I try to do a deep conditioning at least once a week. I recently discovered this awesome store-brand overnight hair masque and I adore it! I also really like the hot oil treatments.
- Use a heat protectant. This is imperative for me because whether I wear my hair curly, wavy or straight, I tend to use some heating instrument on it almost daily. So in order to avoid completely frying my hair, I always use a spray, serum or lotion to protect my hair from heat damage.
Fun Fact: Desiree would like to encourage readers to learn more about the important work the State Department does all over the world by visiting our website: www.state.gov. A lot of people have huge misconceptions about the work diplomats do and it seems to take tragic events to get people to realize that we are doing important, good work around the world – often in very dangerous places.