Shayma Jannat ’10 has always had a passion for Foreign Service. Originally born in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, one of Jannat’s earliest memories is of the U.S. embassy, where she and her family were applying to come to the Unites States as immigrants when Jannat was just seven years old.
Twenty-one years later, Jannat has come full-circle. Today, Jannat works as a foreign service officer in the U.S. Department of State. Foreign service officers, or FSO’s, work in one of five different functional specialties called cones. The five cones are consular, economic, management, political and public diplomacy.
Jannat’s primary responsibilities as a politically coned FSO include monitoring, recording, and analyzing the key political events of whichever country she is currently working in, with the ultimate goal of bettering relations between that country and the United States. Jannat’s work also includes meeting with representatives of the host country, government officials and human rights leaders on a day-to-day basis in order to understand how certain situations may be developing. After collecting this data, Jannat compiles and writes reports called diplomatic cables, which analyze how particular events have transpired and why those events are important. When finished, Jannat sends those cables back to Washington, D.C., in order to keep policy makers informed on the latest international developments.
Jannat recently completed her first tour as a foreign service officer — a two-year tour in Burma, where she worked to advance the United States’ efforts to aid in the process of peaceful negotiation between the government of Burma and an array of ethnic, armed groups over issues such as governance, natural resources and power sharing. Thanks to her efforts, the United States is seen as a trusted and credible partner for peace, justice and human rights, including those of women, youth and ethnic minorities in Burma.
“So many of our problems exist because of misunderstandings between different countries and different communities around the world,” Jannat said. “I don’t think there is any more important work than trying to bridge these divides between the United States and other countries towards resolving all of these problems through a little more dialogue and a little more diplomacy.”
Jannat, who graduated from William & Mary in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and economics, was a Sharpe Scholar while at the College. Jannat was also highly involved in community service, and led and took part in several international service trips during her undergraduate career.
“William & Mary, more than anything else, instilled in me a true passion for public service, and for giving back to my community, especially internationally,” Jannat said. “My exposure to poverty and underdevelopment in a lot of the countries that I visited through the international service trips motivated me to want to pursue a career in that field. And of course, the international relations program is fantastic. There was never a shortage of resources.”
While at the College, Jannat received the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which provides tuition assistance, internship opportunities, orientation and mentoring opportunities, and future employment with the Department of State Foreign Service for its recipients. After graduating from William & Mary, Jannat went on to receive a master’s in public policy in 2012 from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, before starting work with the State Department.
All FSO’s are required to complete one consular tour in either the first or second tour of their careers. Consular tours, as opposed to political tours (like the one Jannat performed in Burma), focus on issues of citizenship policy. During consular tours, foreign service officers work to help those who have applied for United States visas, as either tourists or as immigrants, as well helping to ensure the security and safety of American citizens abroad.
Jannat is busy preparing for her consular tour, which she will complete in Colombia. She has been learning Spanish, in addition to undergoing functional training, which deals primarily with the specific work of a consular tour, such as learning how to apply U.S. policy that deals with visas, passports, citizenship and services to U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Jannat leaves for Colombia on March 5.
Jannat’s early life experiences with the U.S. Department of State continue to drive her passion for foreign service today.
“I came to this country as an immigrant,” Jannat said. “My parents worked their way up from nothing. There’s the old mantra ‘if you work hard enough you can achieve anything.’ It’s so cliché, but in my case this is true, and so I definitely want to give back to not only my country, the United States, but also to help instill these values and opportunities that we have into more underprivileged communities around the world.”