Week Four – All things new
Monday saw the arrival of the new Consul General (CG) for Chicago, Steven Bridges. Steve gathered all of the staff for a meeting first thing – to introduce himself, tell us about his career in the Foreign Office and also briefly outline his leadership style and vision for the Consulate over the next four years. It is such a great opportunity for me to be here at this transitional time; I get to see firsthand how a diplomat transitions from one post and settles into another, not only having to adapt to a new team, but also to leading that team.
Tuesday and Wednesday were dedicated to doing some research into the US incarceration system, ahead of a visit to Cook County Jail in 2 weeks time. After reading around the system, I am a little nervous for the visit to say the least! There are certainly some human rights issues within US jails and prisons, although in recent years more seems to be being done to address the issues. The privatisation of US prisons is another a dynamic that is very interesting; around 20% of US prisons are now privately run and there are those that raise questions around for-profit incarceration facilities, where more prisoners means more money.
Thursday I finished off some research on Cook County Jail and spent the rest of the day working with the Consular team. I sat in on a phone call to a British man who had been detained based on a number of crimes he had committed some time ago, and two other calls regarding British nationals (BNs) incarcerated in the Midwest. During the calls, I found it particularly difficult not to advise our clients; we are not at liberty to give legal advice, we are there for welfare and liaison purposes.
On Friday morning, I visited a BN who had been admitted to hospital, during a holiday to the States. This is an important aspect of Consular work and it very important to be aware of all the emotions and difficulties that a hospitalised foreign national may be facing. The purpose of this visit was to check in personally with the BN, to make sure that they understood their medical condition and the steps being put in place to get them back to the UK. In addition, it is important to liaise with the patient’s social workers to make sure they have all of the documentation they need from our side.
My couple of days spent with the Consular team were so interesting and I certainly gained some valuable communication skills, through having to interact with particular sensitive and vulnerable individuals in a professional manner. Helping British nationals in distress really is an integral part of any consulate’s work.
The weekend, once again, was great fun! I spent Saturday checking out the nearby yard sale with my roommate, before spending the afternoon by the pool! Sunday I was invited to spend the day in the North of Chicago with some colleagues. We spent the morning walking around some of the neighbourhoods which have absolutely stunning houses, before going for a yummy brunch! The afternoon was spent at the Baha’i Temple – a mixed faith house of worship – where we walked the grounds, took a nap in the shade and were promptly told that “the reflective pools are ornamental’ upon dipping our toes into the water! Here’s to my last two weeks in Chicago!