Career Mentor – Andrew Smith
Meet career mentor Andrew Smith who works for Canada's Foreign Service
Andrew Smith [BSc/85, MCP/89] is one of 700+ Career Mentor volunteers who devote time to meeting University of Manitoba students. Each year, career mentors share their knowledge and advice to guide the career plans and contribute to the success of students.
Briefly, tell us about your job. What do you find most rewarding? What are your greatest challenges within this profession?
I joined Canada’s Foreign Service in 1996 as a rotational employee, and have worked in Ottawa as well as having done postings to Japan, China, and the Philippines. I am currently Canada’s consul general in Istanbul, Turkey.
The reason I am in this line of work, and equally what I find most interesting in this job, is that I find every day to be different than the last. As Canada’s representative abroad, I assume a wide diversity of roles and challenges which change from one day to the next. I find this exhilarating and motivating and I am motivated to experience what the next day will bring.
At the same time, the most challenging dimension is trying to provide a sense of normalcy as we raise a family overseas. My wife Marnie is also a foreign service officer, and we have three children (Mica, Noa and Zane) who have spent the majority of their lives living abroad in Turkey, the Philippines, China and Japan. Adapting to new cultures, customs and foreign languages every few years is a challenge for all of us, and the importance of ensuring that our kids are grounded with Canadian values and understand Canadian culture is foremost. Our kids don’t really identify with any one location but the main benefit is that they are coming out of this with a perspective that is global.
While you were completing your degree, what experiences and activities helped bring you to your career decision or helped you succeed in your occupation?
In 1980, I participated in a student exchange program while attending high school in Selkirk. Our teacher, Mrs. Drain led our group of teenagers to the then Soviet Union, and also Ukraine and Finland and this early exposure to foreign cultures truly piqued my interest in foreign cultures and the idea of travelling or working internationally.
Years later during my graduate studies in the department of city planning, there was a chance to spend one semester of intergraduate studies at a University in Chongqing, China. I was fortunate to have been selected as a member of the nine U of M representatives, and it affirmed for me, that I wanted to seek a career which could take me to foreign lands and continue to offer me unique learning experiences while at work.
Describe your career planning journey. Please include any highlights, bumps or roadblocks.
I don’t know if one ever has a planned career journey these days. I was raised in East Selkirk working at my parents’ family-owned grocery store and could have been very happy in that line of business. But instead, after high school I spent one year working at the Selkirk steel mill, where my brother still works. During that year I decided to enroll at the U of M. After completing a bachelor of science with a specialization in geology, I continued at the U of M and completed a master of city planning degree with the intention of perhaps gaining employment with a municipality. However, after graduation, rather than immediately pursuing work in the field I went abroad to work and landed in Japan. I don’t think I had a career path mapped out, but I was drawn once more to the idea of working overseas in a foreign culture.
What inspired you to be a career mentor?
As a high school graduate, I immediately entered the workforce, but I wasn’t ready for it nor did I know what I really wanted to do. I simply pursued this path because that was what most of my friends from high school were doing. My parents had not attended university so I really did not have anyone to guide me in this, but I knew I wanted something more. I enrolled at university in order to explore that avenue and then bounced from one academic experience to another without ever really finding what I could be passionate about. So to be a career mentor and have the opportunity to provide a new graduate with some informed advice and direction of this career is time well spent.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in following in your footsteps?
I often get enquiries on this type of career choice and I am always happy to offer some advice. The first response I offer is that this life is not for everyone. Today’s global climate, particularly on the security front, have made this career more challenging, as local security concerns when deciding to live abroad are often top of mind.
I also counsel U of M students that a life in the Foreign Service is no longer their only option to garnering international work exposure. They shouldn’t limit themselves to considering only the department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). While there is a very robust recruitment process, graduates can also gain international experience through employment exchanges, NGOs or Canadian companies that have an overseas presence or partner. These options may also offer the experience they seek, either as a career or to help burnish their application if their end goal is to become a member of the Foreign Service.
By example, my wife and I went and taught in the faculty of architecture at a Chinese university in 1994-95. Upon return to Canada I wrote the Foreign Service exam (for the 4th time) and I believe that it was this latest experience with a combination of other international work experience and some ability in foreign languages that brought me success in the recruitment process of the Foreign Service.
For anyone interested in joining the Foreign Service, I suggest getting involved in studying complex foreign languages at an early stage, gaining a command of both of Canada’s official languages, and obtaining international work experience through whatever means possible (volunteer work; development agencies; teaching English; working at a global NGO; through a student exchange program, etc.). These are some of the experiences and abilities that the Foreign Service traditionally looks for in its new recruits.
What career advice do you have/or university students?
Moving away from Foreign Service advice specifically, I would suggest graduates get out there and forge a career in whichever direction interests them. However, they shouldn’t forget to look back at where it all started, as there will be other U of M students following in their footsteps. So begin a relationship early on in your career with your school, and explore the variety of ways that you can contribute back to the school and enrich the experience of its current students. Use your unique experience and the knowledge you have gained since graduation to enhance the education of those coming after you.
To view more Career Mentor profiles, please visit the CMP website.