By Anna Lothson
A two-bedroom house provided by your employer seems like a nice perk.
It's a little different when that home has a full-time guard staffed outside the property, which is surrounded by a razor-wire fence.
But it's pretty standard in that country, said Jennifer Goldstein, an Oak Park native who is getting ready to spend a two-year tour with the U.S. State Department in Congo-Brazzaville.
Goldstein, just 29, has spent her fair share of traveling the world, adapting to different cultures, and living outside the norm. It started when she was 7 and her family took a trip to France, then continued through graduate school when she studied abroad in London. She has traveled around Africa, spent time in Israel and her travel bug hasn't slowed down.
After earning her master's in human rights at the London School of Economics, she worked as an external relations and engagement manager at the school to connect academic expertise with policy makers. She then nabbed a job with the mayor's office in London where she was the liaison for the diplomatic corps.
In the back of her head, however, she knew she wanted to work with the State Department. When she learned of a job opening, she couldn't pass it by, and soon enough was back stateside.
"I knew it would take something really good to come back," she said, "but I thought it would take a lot longer."
About a year ago, she started with the State Department on her first assignment based in Washington D.C., where she was the Botswana and Malawi desk officer. In that post, she acted as the liaison between those countries and was the point of contact, monitoring the political and economic situation in each for U.S. embassies in Malawi and Botswana, as well as the Malawian and Botswana embassies in D.C.
"I would try and make sense of bilateral needs," Goldstein explained.
If that weren't enough, she was also responsible for keeping the wider State Department informed about issues, as well as advocating for appropriate policy within the inter-agency process. From early on in the job, she learned to quickly adapt to tough situations.
For example, the leader of Malawi died unexpectedly shortly after Goldstein started, making her a witness to history as the first woman in that country was elected president.
"It's been really spectacular to see that from the inside," she said. This was accompanied by a two-day constitutional crisis where one political party tried to keep the woman president out of office. "It's not like the leadership in the West. We take that for granted."
Next on her checklist is mastering another language. She is currently starting a seven-month intensive French language program at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Va.
Goldstein will be studying full time with a class of just a few other students where she'll spend several hours a day speaking, reading and learning all she can about French. But the intense training is nothing new to Goldstein, who said working for the State Department can be described as "learning on the job."
"It's been a steep learning curve," she said, "but really fascinating."