Life in the Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) reminds me of the title of one of my favorite books as a child, Dr. Seuss’s, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Every time I begin the process of bidding on my next assignment, the world is my oyster. I start imagining myself living in India or South Africa or Chile – the sights, the smells, the foods, the commercial climate, the vacation possibilities. As I’m approaching bidding season soon, it’s fun to reminisce about some highlights from my prior postings:
- Seoul, South Korea
- Quito, Ecuador
- Caracas, Venezuela
- Recife, Brazil
When I joined FCS in 2006 as an officer, Asia was low on my list of places I wanted to go. So where was my first assignment? Seoul, South Korea, of course! It was my first time in Asia, so I dove in and learned how crazy I’d been for not having been more excited . The history of Korea’s post-war renaissance was fascinating in itself. A city almost totally in ruins in 1953, Seoul was a gleaming, bustling, rapidly growing, high-tech city of skyscrapers and massive highways intermingled with charming, historic alleyways selling sundubu stew and dukbokki when I arrived in the Spring of 2006.
As a first-tour officer, I got to play a supporting role in the negotiation of our FTA with Korea, which was followed intently by the local media. We worked closely with Las Vegas and Korean Air Lines to promote KAL’s new non-stop flight to Las Vegas. I even got to fly to Vegas on the inaugural flight. Using Seoul as a base, I traveled to eight countries in East and Southeast Asia, including some places not often open to tourism. I grew to love Asia.
In 2009, I moved to Quito, Ecuador – quite different from Seoul. It was a smaller pond in which to work, but I was fortunate to be the Senior Commercial Officer, so I had a much higher-profile job, advising the Ambassador on commercial issues in a challenging commercial environment, meeting with Ministers and private sector CEOs, and leading my own team. From our perch at 9,200 feet in Quito, there were easy daytrips to volcanic spas, camping trips at the base of a volcano, rafting trips into the Amazon basin, long weekends whale watching on the coast, and, best of all, two trips to the Galápagos Islands to soak in the natural splendor.
And now I’m in Northeast Brazil. Business is growing, I’m opening up a new office, and I’m in Brazil – the capital of fun. Carnaval comes around early in the year, and Recife hosts the second-largest party in the country. I was here for the international pageantry of the World Cup and got to see the U.S. team beat Ghana in a thriller and play Germany in Recife during a massive flood that shut down most of the city. I’ll be finishing up my tour in 2016 with a trip to the Rio Olympics.
What’s next for me? Where will I be living this time next year? What new professional challenges and personal highlights are around the corner? Oh, the places I’ll go…
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Eric Olson is an Officer in the International Trade Administration’s U.S. Foreign Commercial Service