Week One – Welcome to Chicago!
Oh what a brilliant first week I’ve had! I arrived in Chicago the Friday before last and after a weekend of getting my bearings and settling into my temporary home in Chicago, I was feeling very nervous (but also excited!) about my first day at the Consulate last Monday.
On Monday morning I was greeted by my boss, who is the acting British Consul General (CG) for Chicago, and introduced to my colleagues. The day went by very quickly; in the morning I was introduced to the security measures taken by the Consulate and sat in on the weekly ‘Managers meeting’ which allows the various teams within the Consulate to brief the CG on what they have going on. After lunch the CG was kind enough to take me on a small tour of the downtown area – Millennium Park, the ‘El’ and River North – and the rest of the day was spent discussing with the CG the aims and objectives of the Consulate as a whole.
Tuesday and Wednesday I spent in meetings with the various teams here at the Consulate, getting to know more about their different roles and how they contribute to the Foreign Office’s three top priorities: prosperity, Consular Services and Policy and Communications. I was also tasked with writing two briefs; one for an upcoming trip to Indiana and one for a visit to Argonne National Laboratory next week. I had never written a brief before and so this was certainly a learning task for me and I needed to ask the CG for a few pointers regarding the main themes he wanted me to cover and the kind of structure he preferred. I emailed across the written brief on Wednesday evening, the night before our trip to Indiana, and although I haven’t had official feedback on it he was pleased with the information I provided!
Thursday morning I arrived to the office to learn of the mysterious delivery of roses, which arrives to the Consulate each August 1st!
We have no idea who sends them as the sender pays cash and uses different florists each year, but the Consulate is very pleased to have received them for the 46th year running! The roses commemorate the British victory over the French in the Battle of Minden, August 1, 1759.
At midday on Thursday, the CG and I drove down to Indiana for some representational work at a Chelsea-Inter Milan ‘soccer’ match. I had a chance to speak to the CG in more depth about the work of the Consulate and also brief him verbally on some of the companies that would be at the match. Having some knowledge of the companies you will be interacting with at an event such as this is of great importance as a diplomat. These events give us the opportunity to discuss potential collaboration between US and UK companies in the area and support them with any issues they may be encountering. The match was great fun and we were very pleased that Chelsea was victorious (as we were attending on UK business we were obliged to support Chelsea ;))!
The networking events on Wednesday and Thursday have allowed me to see that business interaction is of a different nature here in the Midwestern US; a certain level of informality and also familiarity in conversation seems to be encouraged. Networking is often seen as an easier part of a job, but it really is a skill to be able to know how to enter a group conversation at the appropriate time, introduce yourself correctly and then be able to ask the right questions and build a rapport with others. It was certainly more challenging than I had expected, especially networking within a culture that I am not familiar with! That said, I really enjoyed the events and I hope to improve my networking abilities at other events during my time here.
Everyone at the Consulate has been exceptionally friendly and it is amazing the breadth of work the Consulate undertakes – from aiding British nationals in distress, to helping UK businesses set up in the US, to practising cultural diplomacy through promoting British culture and educational opportunities.
This weekend has been unexpectedly Shakespeare focussed; I spent Saturday evening watching a free, open-air production of ‘A Comedy of Errors’ next to Lake Michigan and Sunday afternoon I was lucky enough to have a free ticket to watch the last Chicago performance of ‘Othello Remix’ before it heads off to South Korea.
Both productions were great to watch, but I was particularly impressed by Othello Remix which is a hip-hop adaptation and lyrically rewritten. For anyone who enjoys both Shakespeare and comic hip-hop this is a must see and it is coming to London for a few weeks in September, so check it out!
Back to work related activities, I feel like I have learnt so much already and, although at times I have felt a little out of my depth, I have endeavoured to do my very best at whatever I am tasked with. The journey continues….