Safe trav­els

Agency pro­tects Amer­i­cans abroad

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - DANA DEREE Dana Deree is a Lit­tle Rock na­tive and a For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cer cur­rently serv­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Ifirst learned of the U.S. For­eign Ser­vice when I read a brochure at Hard­ing Univer­sity’s stu­dent place­ment of­fice as I looked for a job in town. The pam­phlet de­scribed a ca­reer in which one could rep­re­sent our coun­try around the world. At the time, I had only ever been out of the United States as a Ma­rine lance cor­po­ral in the Gulf War.

The job I ended up get­ting that day was at Searcy’s poultry pro­cess­ing plant clean­ing pieces of chicken that fell on the floor. Over the fol­low­ing years, I be­came a Navy Re­serve of­fi­cer, fin­ished my un­der­grad­u­ate and master’s de­grees, worked for Worthen

Bank, and taught in Cabot and at Lit­tle Rock Cen­tral High. I never for­got that brochure, though. I even­tu­ally passed the State Depart­ment’s rig­or­ous hir­ing ex­ams and re­ported for train­ing as a new For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cer on Sept. 10, 2001.

That’s right. My sec­ond day as a diplo­mat was 9/11. My col­leagues and I knew the world would never be the same again, but were ea­ger to get to work for Amer­ica, even in the most chal­leng­ing and dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ments. Since then, I’ve helped U.S. cit­i­zens as a con­sular of­fi­cer in the United Kingdom, Nicaragua, Mex­ico, New Zealand, and Samoa, as well as in other diplo­matic po­si­tions in Nicaragua, Afghanistan, and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., pro­mot­ing Amer­i­can pros­per­ity, global se­cu­rity, and uni­ver­sal demo­cratic val­ues.

I now man­age a team that pro­motes in­ter­coun­try adop­tion for chil­dren in need. Ev­ery day we are in close com­mu­ni­ca­tion with gov­ern­ments around the world, stake­hold­ers, and adop­tion agen­cies. In just the last cou­ple of months I’ve trav­eled to Mex­ico, Haiti, and Kaza­khstan, and mem­bers of my team went to China and South Korea to en­cour­age ef­fi­cient and trans­par­ent pro­cesses aimed at find­ing lov­ing fam­i­lies for some of the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren. Our of­fice also pro­vides up-to-date in­for­ma­tion on adop­tions from ev­ery coun­try at adop­tion.state.gov.

The No. 1 thing I’ve learned over the last 15 years is that the State Depart­ment team is there for our fel­low cit­i­zens any­where across the globe. If you’re trav­el­ing abroad and some­thing goes awry, we’re ready to as­sist. We help U.S. cit­i­zens stranded over­seas re­turn home. If an Amer­i­can gets ar­rested in a for­eign coun­try, we visit them in prison to make sure they are treated fairly. If a U.S. cit­i­zen dies while liv­ing or trav­el­ing abroad, we work with fam­i­lies to re­turn their loved one to the United States. When a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter strikes or a political cri­sis puts Amer­i­can lives in dan­ger, we help make sure our cit­i­zens are safe. And, through our abil­ity to pro­vide emer­gency pass­ports, we’re able to help Amer­i­cans re­turn home if their pass­ports are lost or stolen abroad.

I’ll never for­get help­ing in the af­ter­math of 2011’s dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake in Christchurch, New Zealand, which af­fected more than 3,000 U.S. cit­i­zens. From the mo­ment the quake hit, my col­leagues and I worked around the clock for days. Through end­less af­ter­shocks, we vis­ited shel­ters and hos­pi­tals to lo­cate Amer­i­cans. We helped U.S. sur­vivors get to safety through co­or­di­na­tion with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. We lo­cated hun­dreds of miss­ing loved ones for our cit­i­zens back home. We as­sisted the in­jured and fam­i­lies of de­ceased Amer­i­cans. We forged en­dur­ing bonds with our Kiwi part­ners.

While be­ing in the earth­quake was rough, the op­por­tu­nity to serve in such a mo­ment was ex­actly why I joined the State Depart­ment.

There are sev­eral things we can all do to en­sure a safe trip abroad. First, be­come in­formed. At travel.state.gov, you can read about visa re­quire­ments, laws, customs, and med­i­cal care in the coun­tries you are vis­it­ing. Pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to Travel Warn­ings and Travel Alerts to as­sess the risks of trav­el­ing there, and be sure to carry the con­tact de­tails of the near­est U.S. em­bassy or con­sulate.

Next, make sure your pass­port will be valid at least six months af­ter you re­turn home, or some coun­tries may not let you en­ter. You should also check with your health-in­sur­ance com­pany to make sure you have med­i­cal cov­er­age over­seas. If not, you can pur­chase travel in­sur­ance and check that it in­cludes emer­gency evac­u­a­tion. An­other great tip: Make copies of your pass­port ID page, itin­er­ary, credit cards, and other im­por­tant doc­u­ments and take one copy with you and leave the other with a trusted loved one back home in case of an emer­gency.

Fi­nally, sign up for our Smart Trav­eler En­roll­ment Pro­gram at STEP. state.gov. Through this free ser­vice, you can re­ceive travel and se­cu­rity up­dates about your des­ti­na­tion, and it will help us con­tact you in an emer­gency.

Now that you know how to stay safe, I hope you’ll con­sider vis­it­ing some of the beau­ti­ful coun­tries where I’ve served. See Bri­tain’s Stone­henge for your­self. Check out Nicaragua’s Las Isle­tas in Lake Nicaragua. Eat fish tacos in Ense­nada, Mex­ico. Bungee jump in New Zealand’s South­ern Alps. Bet­ter yet, dis­cover a new place and tell this fel­low Arkansan about your ad­ven­ture.

No mat­ter where you go, know that the next time you take a trip or plan a va­ca­tion abroad, U.S. em­bassies have your back. In the mean­time, Happy In­de­pen­dence Day and bon voyage!

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