Brian Gibel '95
Position: Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State
Field: Politics & Policy
I graduated from Harvard in 1995 concentrating in History, and today work as a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State representing the United States as a diplomat overseas. This is my twelfth year working as an American diplomat, and I have served mainly in East Asia—China (two tours) and Korea (three tours)—and mostly in the field of public diplomacy. Currently I am assigned as the Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. In a nutshell, my responsibilities focus on expanding and strengthening the people to people relationships among Pakistanis and Americans. In Pakistan that means that I manage various exchange programs, sending over 1,000 Pakistanis to American on academic and professional exchanges—the largest U.S. Government exchange program in the world; promote education and establish lasting university linkages that focus on faculty exchange, curriculum development, and joint research; give talks to Pakistani audiences and lead discussions about U.S. foreign policy and American culture/society to dispel misperceptions of the United States; expand academic and cultural ties between Pakistan and India by developing and implementing Track II programs between the two countries; organize events to introduce American culture to Pakistanis through rock concerts, literary festivals, and more.
The U.S. State Department does not require or recommend any particular college major, but I personally think studying History is not a bad place to start. Of course you might be surprised at how people overseas might react. The Chinese, who boast of having a 5,000-year history, usually laughed or responded with a sarcastic “well that must not have taken too long” when I told them I majored in American history. But that allowed me to quickly remind them that the U.S. Government and its democratic system is one of the oldest in the world, and certainly much older than the People’s Republic of China. Personally, studying History at Harvard helped challenge the way I see the world. Although I knew little of Chinese history, learning to think like an historian helped me better understand Chinese people. History is all around you in China—in the ancient monuments and temples, it’s preserved in the language, and even the uneducated in China have a strong appreciation and respect for the past. Being mindful of history and injecting it into the discussion with my Chinese counterparts has always served me well.
Life in the Foreign Service provides unique opportunities to meet some of the world’s most interesting and exceptional people. In addition to a wide range of Chinese, Korean, and Pakistani leaders in fields of academia, business, culture/arts, education, NGO community, and government, I’ve also worked with many notable and influential Americans including star athletes, performers, university presidents, astronauts, cartoonists, and so far four U.S. Presidents. As for why did I choose to join the Foreign Service in the first place? After Harvard I found myself drawn to public service and intrigued with international affairs. The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service melded those interests together and other than the constant moving, it’s been a perfect fit.