A lifelong interest in world affairs led Darren Thies ’07 to a career in Foreign Service with the U.S. Department of State.
Thies has just wrapped up a two-year tour of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where he served as a diplomat for the U.S. Embassy, working in border security, justice sector reform, counter-narcotics, English training and drug-demand reduction.
About the size of Wisconsin, Tajikistan is bordered by Afghanistan, China and Uzbekistan, and is the most mountainous country on earth, with 93 percent of land covered in mountains. According to Thies, “It’s sometimes called the Switzerland of Central Asia.”
Thies, of Delavan, Wis., joined the Foreign Service in February 2010, but it was a long process to get there. By his junior year in high school, he was reading books about global studies, central Asia and Europe. After hearing a recruiter from the Foreign Service speak on the Ripon College campus he grew inspired to focus on his career goal.
After Ripon, he studied the language of Farsi and Hindi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After he graduated from UW-Madison in May 2008, he took the Foreign Service Officer Test, followed by phone interviews, background checks, essays and an oral assessment. He was accepted into the program on Christmas Eve 2009.
“I like the diversity of this job,” Thies says. “You spend two to three years in a country, then go to another country with new colleagues. It’s a challenge. You can’t get stuck in a rut, and it requires you to adapt constantly. I like that I’m always meeting new people, being exposed to new environments.”
Thies says his work is in the security and rule of law side of U.S. foreign policy, using diplomatic efforts and assistance programs to improve the ability of other countries to combat terrorism, crime and drug trafficking while upholding human rights.
“I like the aspect of giving back and helping people using my education,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in history and politics, and I have the opportunity to be a part of that rather than just reading about it. Making history and formulating foreign policy appeal to me.
“People listen to our opinions when we’re in the field and ask about opportunities to improve our assistance,” he says. “My input through the reports and memos I send back to Washington, D.C., inform them on major policy decisions.”
Thies says part of his job is public diplomacy, working with the press to release information about U.S. foreign policy and programs, preparing the ambassador to speak about local issues, organizing programs to highlight American culture, and speaking with locals to learn about their culture and develop good relations.
“What appeals to me most is exposing both sides of the culture to each other and affecting people directly,” Thies says. “Hopefully, I’m representing American interests well. We are using a lot of government money for these programs, and we want to be sure there are good results. We work on achieving real gains in the legal system: people’s access to justice, border security and increasing drug seizures.”
Thies is now back in the United States for training before starting his next tour in Bucharest, Romania.
To read more alumni profiles, click here.