Development geographers’ visit in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Heikki Rahikainen

“What will you become once you graduate?” This is the question that I have heard so many times. I don’t have any straight answer to that question, sometimes I just like to reply “I don’t know” or “a drunkard” (as it is a very popular and respected type of employment in Finland). Of course I have thought this question a lot like any other student.

We visited Markus Teir, Antti Putkonen and Nora Klami in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

We visited Markus Teir, Antti Putkonen and Nora Klami in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

So, many university students worry about their future employment as we don’t (usually) graduate for a certain occupation. What about us development geographers? One possible employer for us could be the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which we visited last week. We had three speakers, who were diplomats with their study background in geography. They told us about their work in development aid and answered to some of our pre-given questions. However, I feel that the most important part of the excursion was about the job opportunities. As the employment opportunities in the ministry are highly contested between, say, political scientists, law studies and geographers, it was great to know that many geographer actually work there. The “geodiplomats” gave me a lot of confidence that it is possible to get involved in diplomacy although you are not majoring in international relations, law or business.

Career as a diplomat could be an excellent choice for a development geographer. We do have many skills and knowledge of issues that are useful in diplomacy. Perhaps to most useful “skill” that came up was the generalist nature of our studies. Development issues are also always important. Of course, we can’t compete with certain things, for example with the knowledge of laws, but that even isn’t the point, as diplomacy requires a range of different types of people, knowledge and skills.

However, diplomacy also brings its own challenges. As it came up in the excursion, diplomacy is more of a lifestyle as it (usually) involves working for years in foreign countries and readiness to act at any time of the day. This means that one has to make compromises in, for example, family life. The work can be quite unpredictable and complex, which itself may be even desirable, but it can also create very stressful situations. These things must be considered seriously but as we were told, most diplomats make their whole career in the area of diplomacy as it is so interesting and rewarding.

Thinking about the future, geography isn’t an obstacle, it’s much more an opportunity that opens range of possibilities. It will not give us any answers by itself: it’s up to us ourselves to make a good use of it.

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