Teaching Diplomacy Today

This comprehensive look at post–Foreign Service opportunities in academia includes first-person insights into advantages and perils, advice on the how-tos, and more.


Jillian Burns answers a question from the moderator at AFSA’s first “Next Stage” panel, “Teaching International Affairs and the Art of Diplomacy,” in March 2019.
AFSA / Donna Gorman

As you contemplate life after the Foreign Service, you may be thinking of alternative public service to give back to your community. One option that draws directly on your FS experience is teaching diplomacy and international affairs. If you are lucky, you may inspire a few young adults to pursue careers in international relations, including at the Department of State. Just as important, you might help a broader audience understand the critical links between U.S. foreign and domestic policy and future global challenges. In doing so, you will likely expand understanding of the valuable role played by the State Department, including the U.S. Foreign Service, in keeping our country safe, prosperous and free.

As a Foreign Service officer, you are often asked what inspired you to pursue a career as a diplomat. For many, our inspirations include teachers in high school or college who taught us about the critical role that the United States plays in the world and encouraged us to pursue public service. A few of us may have been fortunate enough to have classes with a retired foreign policy practitioner, who could fill in some of the gaps from our theory classes, as well as give career advice on how to get started. (For co-author Jillian Burns, that mentor was the late Ambassador Jack Perry at Davidson College.)

Students (and employers) value an education that includes both practice and theory. FSOs bring deep regional or functional knowledge of how the world works, from the Southern Cone to the Southern Command, from oil markets to oil kingdoms. FSOs understand from firsthand experience the diversity of tools we as a nation can deploy to advance U.S. interests. We grasp intuitively why and when nations opt for economic instruments, gunboat diplomacy, public diplomacy, development and even global health diplomacy to advance their goals. FSOs have participated in real-life case studies when multilateralism served the country well, and when unilateral action was the better option. They also understand the risks U.S. officials confront daily in their work around the world.

You should embark on teaching diplomacy with your eyes wide open to both the challenges and opportunities academia presents.

FSOs also have a lot to offer students seeking a broad range of careers, as diplomats are well practiced in the critical skills—oral and written communication, including advocacy and negotiations; analysis; teamwork; management; and so on—needed for successful careers in business, law, journalism, civil society and other fields.

In academia, you will almost certainly find satisfaction in students’ profound interest in how diplomacy is actually practiced, and the commitment younger generations express for public service. The idealism of many students will remind you of what prompted you to launch your own Foreign Service career.

Challenges of Teaching

If you are depending on a lucrative post-FS career to pay for your kids’ stratospheric college tuition, teaching may not be for you. Teaching is typically poorly remunerated, particularly for adjunct faculty. (According to the Glassdoor job search website, the national average salary in 2019 for an adjunct professor is $20,394.) Adjunct faculty are often paid between $4,000 and $7,500 per course they teach, hardly a living wage. Teaching, like government service, requires a degree of altruism.

Finding teaching positions, especially full-time appointments, can be daunting. While you do not have to be an ambassador or have a Ph.D. to be marketable, those qualifications can help.

Teaching may also require new skills—abstract skills to facilitate learning, such as designing effective assignments and tests, and tactical skills such as mastering PowerPoint, running class simulations and spotting academic dishonesty. Todd Kushner, a retired FSO who teaches as a contract faculty member at National Intelligence University, recommends The Chronicle of Higher Education’s free weekly newsletter, “Teaching,” which provides advice on teaching methodologies.

Students typically enjoy active learning opportunities, such as simulations of National Security Council meetings to weigh policy options or diplomatic negotiations to implement policy decisions.

You may also need to draw on that classic FSO skill of getting up to speed quickly on an issue if you are asked to teach a course on a region or topic that is new to you. Luckily, you can draw on your myriad contacts throughout government to help you fill those gaps; guest speakers are an important way to jazz up a course. Students highly value hearing from practitioners with up-to-date experience in the issues at hand.

If you are lucky enough to land a full-time academic position, you may be struck by the sometimes-daunting inefficiency, balkanization, tight budgets and understaffing of many American universities. Your FSO cultural adaptation skills will serve you well to navigate the political sensitivities in this unique setting.

In short, teaching international affairs may be the perfect follow-on career for some FSOs, but it can be challenging to find opportunities, particularly well-paid options.

Types of Positions and Employers

There are basically three types of positions available in higher education.

Adjunct or part-time instructor. Effectively a contractor, an adjunct or part-time instructor is paid per course. According to the American Association of University Professors, more than half of all faculty appointments are now part-time. While adjuncts are usually freed from other academic duties—e.g., faculty meetings, committee responsibilities, student advising, requirement to publish—they may receive few benefits and little professional support.

Administrative position with teaching responsibilities. Some universities employ former FSOs, and particularly former ambassadors, in positions that include administrative responsibilities for managing academic programs but also include opportunities to teach. Former FSO James Seevers, for instance, serves as the Director of Studies at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and both manages programs and teaches at the graduate level. Former AFSA President Ambassador (ret.) Barbara Stephenson just took up a vice provost position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And retired FSO Jane Zimmerman is director of the international studies program at Davidson College in North Carolina (see her profile below).

Full-time position as a professor of practice. Ambassador (ret.) Chris Hill serves as the Chief Global Adviser and Professor of Practice in Diplomacy at the University of Colorado. These slots are typically better compensated than adjunct teaching and better root you in the academic and community life of a university; but they are also highly competitive to get.

If you are depending on a lucrative post-FS career to pay for your kids’ stratospheric college tuition, teaching may not be for you.

And there are two types of employers in higher education.

For-credit classes. Options include U.S. and overseas brick-and-mortar higher education institutions (e.g., community colleges, four-year undergraduate institutions, graduate schools), as well as online-only degree programs. Class format may be traditional, online or a combination of both.

Non-credit instruction. Less formal teaching opportunities include guest lecturer invitations at universities; participation in panel discussions; and the growing number of adult education programs, such as Road Scholar (previously Elderhostel) and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Some of these programs compensate lecturers, while most are pro bono.

Gaining Experience While in the Foreign Service

Mark Storella, at left, plays the U.N. Special Envoy on Syria in a simulation of an international negotiation with students at Georgetown University.
Courtesy of Mark Storella

The Foreign Service provides numerous opportunities to try teaching to see if it suits you, hone your skills and build academic credentials that might resonate with future employers.

Details outside the State Department. Active-duty FSOs are eligible for roughly 40 detail assignments at U.S. government and nongovernmental academic institutions. Examples include National Defense University and other war colleges; the State Department also has faculty at the Air Force Academy, West Point and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Two interesting examples of FSOs who taught while on active duty can be found in State Magazine’s September 2011 edition: Kelly Adams-Smith taught aboard the MV Explorer in the Semester at Sea program as a Cox Fellow, and Robin Holzhauer served as a faculty adviser at the Coast Guard Academy. There are also mid-level and senior-level opportunities at Georgetown University.

Foreign Service Institute. There are more than 60 positions on which members of the Foreign Service can bid at the Foreign Service Institute that involve direct teaching responsibilities, including professional and area studies, leadership and management, language study and applied technology. Positions are available at both the mid- and senior levels and offer opportunities for on-the-job training in pedagogic techniques.

Part-time/guest lecture teaching options. Some active-duty officers teach evening classes in addition to their normal work. If you teach at a university while on active duty, you will need approval from the Legal Adviser’s Office to receive pay for adjunct work. You can also volunteer to give guest lectures at universities wherever you are posted, as well as at FSI in a variety of professional courses as an area specialist. (Some lectures may require clearance through Public Affairs.)

Publication. Members of the Foreign Service can develop a list of publications by writing articles while still in service, both on their work and on other topics of interest to them. While these will not likely appear in peer-reviewed academic publications, published articles may make you a more attractive candidate for academic institutions. (All such publications require clearance through Public Affairs.)

Finding a Teaching Job and Designing Classes

Colleagues who have already made the leap into academia are your best resources—to find work and then to help design your course, particularly if the institution does not provide a syllabus for the class you have been asked to teach. Former FSOs now work at universities across the country, including Georgetown University, The George Washington University, Princeton, Davidson, the University of Colorado, Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the University of Virginia. (Jillian Burns moderates a LinkedIn group, “Foreign Policy Practitioners–Educators Network,” to help FSOs connect.) In addition, AFSA and FSI’s Job Search Program have sites that post job listings, including educational opportunities. There are various websites that list teaching positions, both in the United States and overseas. Retired FSO Jane Zimmerman, who was hired in 2019 at Davidson College, recommends signing up for “Global Jobs” alerts (globaljobs.org); to narrow her search, she used the term “professor of practice.”

You can also “cold call” schools that interest you, particularly since adjunct positions are rarely advertised. After perusing course listings of schools of interest, you can contact department heads and let them know what classes you would be qualified to teach if they ever have a need, as well as what new classes you could design and teach that could address gaps in their curriculum. Chris Kojm, professor of practice in international affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, recommends preparing a one-paragraph summary or a one-page syllabus outline of your proposed course to provide with your résumé. The outline, he noted, should spell out both the course’s learning objectives and the skills the course will develop.

Active-duty FSOs are eligible for roughly 40 detail assignments at U.S. government and nongovernmental academic institutions.

Once hired, you may be able to plug into an existing course with a prepared syllabus. Most often, however, you will need to develop material from scratch, including reading lists, lecture notes, PowerPoint presentations, assignments, simulations and tests. Teaching is not just telling war stories; do not underestimate the amount of work that goes into designing and preparing a coherent and compelling syllabus. This is a matter of both art and elbow grease. However, you can often draw on resources at your academic institution. Many universities have offices devoted to helping teachers teach more effectively, offering workshops and consultation for instructors, including part-time instructors. Do not hesitate to ask your new colleagues for help, as well.

Students typically enjoy active learning opportunities, such as simulations of National Security Council meetings to weigh policy options or diplomatic negotiations to implement policy decisions. Designing simulations is very time-intensive, but there are numerous resources to assist. The State Department’s National Museum of American Diplomacy (formerly called the U.S. Diplomacy Center) has an education outreach program that provides simulation materials and support for teachers, as well as other useful resources such as their “Diplomacy 101” series. Simulation topics include peacebuilding, nuclear nonproliferation and energy security. The Council on Foreign Relations, Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and others have also developed simulation exercises. And Georgetown ISD’s library of 250 diplomacy case studies for the classroom can be accessed for reasonable fees.

To assist members who choose teaching as their “next stage,” AFSA has launched a new initiative designed to centralize resources for teaching diplomacy, from finding and securing a position to developing courses (see “Shared Wisdom” above).

You should embark on teaching diplomacy with your eyes wide open to both the challenges and opportunities academia presents. While you would never want to calculate your hourly wage for all the work that goes into teaching, it can be a very rewarding way to make use of the skills and experience you accumulated as a U.S. diplomat. A teaching adjunct position allows for a fairly flexible schedule, so you could teach a class while doing other types of work.

Moreover, teaching forces you to stay engaged. Just like a good diplomat, a good teacher should enjoy being a lifelong learner, and you will find you learn as much from your students as they learn from you. Teaching the next generation is a wonderful way to expand and continue your life of service, focused not just on the here and now but also on the challenges we as a nation will face over the horizon.

Jillian Burns retired from the Foreign Service in 2014, after serving for 21 years as a political officer. Her overseas tours included Poland, Jordan, the UAE and Afghanistan, where she was the consul in Herat. In Washington, she served as a watch officer and senior watch officer in the Operations Center; on the Syria desk, the Iran desk and in the Office of Policy Planning; and as director of the Middle East Office in the Department of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, she taught communications at Georgia Southern University. Since retiring, she has taught as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University in the political science department and the Elliott School of International Affairs. She also teaches at the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat training program.

Senior Foreign Service Officer Mark C. Storella is dean of the Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute. He was a Senior Department of State Fellow at Georgetown University (2018-2019), where he taught courses on diplomatic tradecraft and on humanitarian issues. And as a dean and Virginia Rusk Fellow (2001-2003), he taught at Georgetown as an adjunct professor. He served as deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (2016-2018), deputy chief of mission in Brussels (2013-2016) and U.S. ambassador to Zambia (2010-2013). Other overseas postings include Baghdad, Geneva, Phnom Penh, Paris, Rome and Bangkok.


Jane Zimmerman, retired FSO

Current position: Started summer 2019 as John and Ruth McGee Director of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina.

How she found the job:

  • Through her network of contacts. The Davidson College search committee reached out to George- town University. Davidson alumna Jillian Burns was invaluable in helping her prepare for an opportunity in higher education, Zimmerman says.
  • Global Jobs and Devex. She notes the importance of search terms you select; she used “professor of practice.”


  • 75 percent programming, advising, networking for the college.
  • 25 percent teaching.
  • 100 percent for the students.

Her first class: “Diplomacy in the First Person,” using Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training oral histories and memoires of foreign policy practitioners, focusing on how to think strategically and ethically in difficult moments when there are no good options.

Her mission: Paying it forward for the next generation, which interconnects with Davidson’s mission of “developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service.”

Observations on teaching today: “Our students want to save the world, and they definitely see a career in the Foreign Service and government as a great way to do that. The recruiting visit of our region’s Diplomat-in-Residence was oversubscribed.
     “Students want to engage with their professor, guest speakers and, especially, each other in exploring the concepts in the assignments. I receive tremendous support from fellow faculty and the college to innovate and improve my teaching. The librarians will become your best friends, along with the IT staff.”

Advice to FSOs thinking about teaching:

“Get on LinkedIn and join the group Foreign Policy Practitioners–Educators Network. It offers resources, ideas and community. Also, look on YouTube at AFSA’s ‘Next Stage’ panel on ‘Teaching International Affairs and the Art of Diplomacy.’ You may have left the Foreign Service, but your Foreign Service family is still there for you.”

Ambassador (ret.) Piper Campbell

Current position: Will begin spring 2020 as an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University, Washington, D.C.; previously taught at the National War College.

How she found the job:

  • FSI’s Job Search Program. JSP was a great source of information and foundation for networking, she reports.

Responsibilities: Teaching one graduate-level course in the evening (currently writing the syllabus). Part-time teaching is an attractive way to build competency and connections, while also pursuing other interests, Campbell notes. But don’t discount the number of hours required for developing a course, interacting with students, and grading, she adds.

Her mission: Supporting women in national security, and finding opportunities to explore what foreign policy might look like in the future—what skills will be needed, and how do we incorporate more diverse voices and “outside the box” thinking?

Observations on teaching today: “Teaching today feels much more dynamic than what I recall: students expect more opportunities to engage with professors—in the classroom, during office hours and virtually. And the technical components of teaching (using programs like Blackboard or others for grading, communication with students and accessing electronic materials) were all new to me. I was sad to learn most college bookstores don’t really sell reference books so much anymore, and so much of the reading is done online now.”
     Advice to FSOs thinking about teaching: “If you are interested in teaching as a next career, it is useful to keep track of the many teaching moments that are likely to have occurred during your Foreign Service career. When I sat down to develop an academic résumé, I was surprised to realize how many lectures I had delivered at universities. The list included schools in Cambodia, Iraq, Mongolia, Singapore and Indonesia, as well as the United States. Additionally, at various times I had written articles or op-eds and given interviews that had a more strategic aspect to them and were relevant to academia.
     “Certainly, teaching at the National War College was a great opportunity to test out my interest and aptitude, and I highly advise anyone seriously considering academia to look at the many teaching and educational opportunities within State—including at FSI.
     “But, even without filling one of those posts, there are many opportunities to teach in the course of a career—especially as we further emphasize engagement with youth, including through programs like the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.”

Shared Wisdom (and Curricula!)
AFSA’s Next Stage Teaching Network

AFSA has heard from many members who have transitioned into academia that developing curricula is challenging. They emphasize how much they wish they could readily collaborate with other FS personnel who have experience in this realm.

We at AFSA asked ourselves: Why should our members start from scratch when such a rich brain trust already exists? AFSA could help in its role as a convener for the interchange of ideas regarding teaching the practice of diplomacy, international affairs and associated topics.

This is the inspiration behind AFSA’s new Next Stage Teaching Network (www.afsa.org/teaching-diplomacy). The page is broad in its definition of the terrain covered. A prime focus is on how to teach the practice of diplomacy, and its coupling of strategic thinking with practical solutions. The teaching of international affairs and the role of diplomacy, different matters entirely, are also included, as well as resources for finding positions.

AFSA hopes this initiative will prove to be not only a valuable service to members, but a significant step in building an understanding of diplomacy and its importance to the security and prosperity of the United States, a critical part of AFSA’s mission.

The Next Stage Teaching Network currently consists of the American Academy of Diplomacy’s treasure trove of curricula; the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training’s impressive collection of oral histories, publications and other materials; the library of Case Studies in Global Affairs at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy; AFSA’s teaching resources; materials from the Department of State’s National Museum of American Diplomacy; and the USAID Alumni Association.

If you are teaching on the tertiary level and have a syllabus, book list or any other materials you have developed that are germane to the teaching of international affairs and/or diplomacy, please consider sharing them on AFSA’s site. Please send your materials (or questions) to Dolores Brown, Retirement Benefits Counselor, at brown@afsa.org.

–Dolores Brown