Today, for most, life is just about surviving, especially in the regions where elements of resource accessibility, affordability, or availability are unknown. This challenge though was addressed when the world entered the era of globalization, yet it was seen that people needed more than just the act of economic theories.
To aid this process and enable resource mobilization, countries resorted to enhancing global human engagement through policy and diplomacy. Good diplomacy has yielded vast benefits of peace, infrastructural developments, investments, leveraging human resources and skills, and more. Diplomats have brought the world closer than it was, crafting a new era of global cohesiveness and communication.
One such diplomat is Foreign Service Officer– Merry Walker, in the U.S Department of State, who has imbibed the learnings of life and is on a powerful mission to serve the purpose of affecting numerous people positively through policies and dialogue, helping everyone live and not just survive.
But this is not all. There is more to know about her vibrant personality.
To read more, go through the interview highlights below:
Merry, kindly brief us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born in the beautiful and diverse Ann Arbor, Michigan. My mother was a pediatrician who immigrated to the United States from China, and then obtained an additional advanced degree in cellular and molecular biology, after which she dedicated her life to researching cures for Alzheimer’s disease.
As an immigrant with no family or connections in the United States, we were supported by our community and public services. This taught me, from a very early age, the importance of community and giving back, and raised me with gratitude for all the opportunities I had.
Additionally, as the second child in a household that immigrated from China’s One-Child Only policy, I grew up with a deep-rooted appreciation for the United States, all its support, and for the chance to not only live but thrive.
I adored science and technology my whole life and believed it shapes the world. This inspired me to study engineering for my undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Michigan.
After finishing my studies, I worked as an energy engineer, focusing initially on batteries and energy storage, then moving to develop energy efficiency legislation. While working and living in Washington, DC, I witnessed the substantial impact of policy.
At the same time, I co-founded an international non-profit organization that empowered underserved communities around the world to launch technology-based businesses, which took me to new corners of the world.
I decided to build off my passion for working with global communities, policy, and giving back to my country, to transition to the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer to experience the world while implementing foreign policy and representing the United States.
Please tell us about your roles and responsibilities as a Foreign Service Officer.
Foreign Service Officers, also known as U.S. diplomats, work to advance U.S. interests abroad, promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens.
We manage foreign relations specific to the nation, international organization, or region we are assigned to, focusing on a range of issues including economics and trade, science and technology, politics, military, humanitarian, health, and other topics relevant to U.S. policy.
Benjamin Franklin served as our country’s diplomat, establishing critical relations with France which helped secure our victory in the Revolutionary War. It is an honor to follow in his footsteps serving as a U.S. diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Paris centuries later.
As a diplomat, why, in your opinion, should the foreign policy of nations converges on solutions for enhancing healthcare across the globe? How have you contributed to it?
Health is something that links us all. As witnessed in the recent Covid-19 pandemic, diseases and illnesses know no borders, do not discriminate, and cannot be addressed by any one country or organization. International cooperation is critical to ensuring global health and promoting health security.
During my time at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, I have served as the global health officer. This has meant learning about health and Covid-19 programs and policies in France and the European Union to inform senior U.S. leaders to ultimately make foreign and domestic policy decisions on issues like vaccines, masks, travel restrictions, and other measures, as well as where we can cooperate with France in terms of research and development, scientific cooperation, and information sharing.
I organize discussions between relevant research bodies, government agencies, associations, and the private sector, to facilitate the exchange of best practices, as well as coordinate strategies and plans. As the pandemic came under control, I shifted my focus to health more broadly, including mental health, cancer, and emerging and infectious diseases.
Your job requires you to travel around and experience new cultures. How has it shaped you as a person? Could you share a unique experience that added to your wisdom?
Every person I have met, and every place I have visited has enriched and shaped me as a person and broadened my outlook on life.
I have learned to step outside of my “bubble” of experiences and be both empathetic to and inspired by the stories and lived realities of people around the world.
How do you think as a Foreign Service Officer, your office’s foreign policies empower women globally?
The State Department has an Office of Global Women’s Issues that has the mandate to promote the rights and empowerment of women and girls through U.S. foreign policy. The Secretary of State has an Office of Diversity and Inclusion that advances national security by building a State Department that looks like the America it represents. Both offices are dedicated to advancing women’s and girls’ empowerment, as well as diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
I serve as the co-chair for our Embassy’s DEIA Council, and we conduct programming to highlight the diverse backgrounds and contributions of our Mission France team, update policies to increase equity and inclusion, and work with our colleagues to ensure our facilities and practices are accessible to people of all backgrounds and abilities.
Apart from work, what keeps you engaged in your leisure time?
I enjoy running (have run 11 marathons and will be completing my 12th in October) and other forms of fitness (boxing, Bootcamp, yoga), spending time outdoors (snowboarding, hiking, rock climbing, kayaking), arts and culture, learning about new fields and expending skillsets, and spending time with family and friends.
What are the challenges you faced and how did you translate them into opportunities?
Moving every 2-3 years to new regions around the world, often far away from family and friends, has put pressure on my family to adapt. My children learn new languages, form new friendships, and adjust their lifestyles every couple of years.
But these moves have also given us priceless opportunities to experience cultures, try cuisines, and explore sites we would otherwise not be able to do on our own.
As a guiding light, what is your advice to budding diplomats?
For those working in international health policy/relations, know that what you are doing makes an impact and difference in the world. It might not make the front pages or headlines, but it is the work that is necessary to ensure the health and safety of our populations, today and in the future.
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