DDHS grad goes abroad as Foreign Services Officer

DDHS Grad Darren Thies is working at a U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan as a Foreign Service Officer. Click pic for more of his photos from the country in which he works.

Folders marked “Confidential,” “Eyes Only” and “Top Secret” can find their way across the desk of Delavan-Darien High School graduate Darren Thies.

Darren Thies

Darren Thies

Those are the kinds of things you sometimes have to analyze as a U.S. State Department official who serves as a Justice Sector Program Officer in the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Section at the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

It’s a long title on a business card, and the work is far from home, but the 2003 graduate is happy to be a Foreign Services officer for the U.S. Government.

Thies grew up in Delavan, where he attended Wileman Elementary School, Phoenix Middle School, and Delavan-Darien High School.

At DDHS, Darren was co-captain of the soccer team, also participating in tennis, golf, and basketball.  Upon graduating in 2003, Darren went to Ripon College where he continued to play soccer and tennis for the college team. After three semesters, Darren transferred to UW-Madison where he first heard about the Foreign Service from a diplomat in residence who gave a presentation on campus in 2005. Shortly after this presentation, Darren declared himself as a History major and signed up to take Farsi classes in the fall.

“I’ve wanted to work for the State Department since my sophomore year in college,” he said. “History and languages are good background for this job.”

Darren went on to study Farsi, Hindi, and Spanish languages in college and received bonus points for testing at basic proficiency in Farsi and Hindi.  After graduating from UW-Madison in 2008, Darren took the Foreign Service Officer Test and began the process of becoming a diplomat.  In the mean time, Darren worked some odd jobs as a substitute teacher, JV soccer coach, bus driver, ski instructor, and seaweed harvester.

Darren joined the Foreign Service in February 2010 and arrived at his first post of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in November 2010 after receiving six months of Tajiki training and three months of job training.

In his current role, Darren manages about $6 million of foreign assistance programs in the areas of Rule of Law, Border Security, Drug Demand Reduction, and English training.

“I’ve always been interested in history and politics,” said Thies. “There are not a lot of jobs where you can use either of those things on a day-to-day basis. Making foreign policy is one of the few jobs where you can.”

Through Darren’s job, he has traveled the entire length of the Tajik-Afghan border to inspect border outposts and monitor training projects.

Thies described his work to a group of DDHS students a while back, calling his job “kind of like being a PR (public relations) guy for the U.S. government.”

“There are a lot of events I have to attend and organize, such as cultural exchange programs and speaking exchange programs.”

He even writes speeches or makes talking points for U.S. Ambassadors or his section’s deputy chief.

Thies is working in a region where stability can have a lasting impact on not only the area, but America, as well.

He’s part of the “New Silk Road Initiative,” which has been promoted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a project to bring stability, security and prosperity to Afghanistan with continued stability, prosperity and security in Central Asia.

Despite the pressures of the job, Thies is enjoying himself.

“I get to go to a different country every two to three years, have a new job title, a new position and a new set of challenges,” he said.

Darren’s next tour will be as a Consular Officer in Bucharest, Romania, starting in August 2013. Among his duties — besides learning to speak Romanian — he’ll be conducting visa interviews for Romanian citizens who want to travel to the U.S. and become students, workers, spouses, extended tourists and more. He’ll also be working with Americans who travel abroad to Romania and need assistance, such as help with a lost passport, or legal or medical help.

Going to school and growing up in Delavan, a small, yet diverse community, has helped prepare Thies for this important line of work.

“We got that cross-cultural interaction on a regular basis,” he said of living and going to school in Delavan. “I was exposed to another language and culture. I think other small towns, you can’t have that same kind of experience, at least not at the same level. At an early age, being exposed to other cultures really helped. When I applied for the job, I showed I had a lot of experience in that area.”

He said Delavan-Darien is “a prime example” of where one can get experience in a multicultural setting and exposure to other groups of people of different heritages.

“That’s not something that just helps you abroad,” he said. “That is something that can help you in small-town America. If you can speak Spanish, that can help you in a town like Delavan, or Chicago, or New York, or Washington DC, where you’ll often be interacting with people who struggle with English.

“That’s very basic language differences, but the more experiences you have interacting with someone who has a different world view, it opens your mind a bit and shows you another accepted or objective way of looking at the world. If you want to change your view afterward, that’s up to you, but at least you can become more tolerant. If you encounter an opinion that’s outlandish to you, that’s too conservative or too liberal, or just not appealing, your first reaction isn’t to dismiss, but to ask more questions and find out why they believe that.

“You will think of the world a little different and that makes you more employable and more well-rounded.”

Besides the cultural experience Thies gained in the Delavan-Darien School District, he also gained a valuable and broad education at DDHS. His many social studies courses prepared him well for this line of work, as did his English courses.

“Those have been some of the most helpful,” he said. “Advanced Composition helped me be a more concise writer. You don’t get any bonus points for writing a 10-page paper now. If it’s that long, nobody will want to read it. And when people ask you to write something, you have to do it quick, usually between a paragraph and three pages, focusing on examples and key details. You have to cut out any fluff.”

Darren was raised by his parents, Alan and Sandy Thies, who worked as school teachers in Wisconsin for over 35 years each before retiring.  Darren’s brother Drew lives in Nashville, Tennessee.  Darren’s grandparents, Russell and Violet Hodge are residents of Whitewater, Wisconsin.  Darren’s grandfather worked in a factory and his grandmother was a school teacher before retiring.

(Information from the U.S. State Department was used in this article.)

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