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‘They pay me to do this?’

Marshall native shares his story of being in the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service with SMSU class

November 3, 2012
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - Mark Jorgensen has been through four different careers in his lifetime.

And his current career path has taken him to South Korea and Uzbekistan.

Jorgensen, a Marshall native and former Lyon County administrator, is visiting his hometown. He recently spoke about his career with the U.S. Department of State in Doug Simon's American National Government class at Southwest Minnesota State University.

Jorgensen told the SMSU students that he grew up in Marshall, but he wanted to see the world. So he started working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

"I'm not James Bond, but I have met him," he said jokingly, adding that the actual Bond is kind of boring.

He did two tours - in Moscow, Russia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But after a decade of working for the CIA, Jorgensen missed the quality of life in Minnesota, so he returned to Marshall where he worked for the county.

Four years ago, Jorgensen said he and his wife missed the craziness of world travel, so he took the Foreign Service exam and passed it. He was appointed to the Foreign Service in July 2008. His first job with the U.S. Department of State was in Seoul, South Korea, doing consulate work issuing visas.

"When you do consulate work, you have the future of that person (getting the visa) in your hands," Jorgensen said.

He had spent the first eight months of his tour in Korea learning the language, he said.

His latest assignment is being a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, covering counternarcotics, counterproliferation and counterterrorism issues in Uzbekistan and central Asia.

"I work on border security issues," Jorgensen said.

Foreign Service officers can choose from five specializations, Jorgensen said, political, economics, consular, public affairs and management, which are referred to as "cones."

"I'm a management-coned officer but haven't done management work," he said. He's doing a political rotation with his Uzbekistan assignment.

Uzbekistan had a good relationship with the United States until 2005. Now, it's a police state, Jorgensen said, with no free media. Sites such as Google or the New York Times are blocked.

"One good thing about living in a police state, it's very secure," Jorgensen said.

Every two years, Jorgensen said he's looking for a new job with the Foreign Service.

"It's a great career, you're not gonna get rich doing it," he said. He's served overseas in four permanent assignments and said it's a way to learn the culture and language of different countries.

Jorgensen said he's in the middle of bidding for a new job as his current assignment is done next summer.

"My first choice is always not Washington, D.C.," he said. Jorgensen said he's put in bids for jobs in several locations, including Croatia, Estonia, Bulgaria and Botswana.

The accommodations he's received with the Foreign Service have been good, Jorgensen said. He and his wife live in a three-bedroom home in Uzbekistan. The electricity goes out about once or twice a month for a couple of hours, he added.

"Housing is generally pretty good, it depends on the country you're in," he said. He said the housing is generally up to Western standards.

There's no fresh fruits or vegetables during the winter in his current spot, he said, so you learn how to can and freeze items, and the sanitary conditions aren't always that great.

But he enjoys every minute of his varied career.

"I have loved every job that I've had," Jorgensen said, but he knows when it's time to move on. "I wake up in the morning and say 'geez, they pay me to do this?'"

 
 

 

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