NOTE: What follows below is Part Three of an interview with Fruzsina Straus (MADIR 2007) who is currently working with the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) through the UN’s Young Professionals Programme (YPP).
Can you talk a little bit about your current role as an Associate Programme Management Officer at ESCWA and the type of work you are currently doing in Lebanon?
I work in the Strategic Planning and Monitoring Section of ESCWA. This is the office of ESCWA that is responsible for the overall strategic programme plan for the organization, sets the parameters for all divisions to plan their work, strives to improve the processes involved in programme management, monitors the flow of work and outputs, makes sure it is all in-line with thematic and programme priorities as well as within budget. So it’s both “big picture” thinking and some very technical work.
The really nice thing about my position is that, working in Programme Management supporting the Executive Secretary’s office, I have very good insight into the organization’s overall strategy and the work of each substantive Division. Plus I get to interact with staff members from all parts of the organization and at all levels.
Finally, I am also the Secretary for the ESCWA Publications Committee. ESCWA is in many ways like a think tank, and a big focus of our work is research and publications on social and economic topics relating to the Arab region. In my role as Secretary I manage the publications processes, and I get to read all proposals, concept notes, manuscripts…etc.
Many Diplomacy students and alumni envision a career supporting international causes and living abroad. As we work towards these careers, many of us struggle with how to achieve these goals while also creating a work/life balance and starting a family. This year you made the decision to temporarily separate your family and bring your two little ones along as you began this next professional adventure in Lebanon, while your husband stayed in NY. You are an inspiring example, especially for young women, that it can be done. However, it can’t be easy. Can you speak a little bit about the challenges you have faced while seeking this balance between career and family?
I have always known two things: I want a career and I want a family. It seems simple enough, but it is not, especially in a field like diplomacy. Diplomacy is not just a profession, it is a lifestyle. Even without the complications that come with having to travel and/ or relocate for work, raising kids while holding down a full-time job and pursuing career growth is not easy, but it is certainly doable. There never seems to be enough time for everything and you just have to accept that you are giving up something (time with kids) for something else (job satisfaction, earning potential, career success). Then when you add the international dimension to the picture it gets even more complicated. So you have to weigh the pros and cons and decide if this lifestyle works for your family. Many diplomats, UN staff, NGO activists, journalists…etc make the international lifestyle work successfully, and for others it turns out to be a total disaster. I think it is important to be open with your spouse about expectations and roles, set clear limits (places you wouldn’t go, maximum length of contract, where you eventually want to end up), be realistic, have a solid plan, approach everything with flexibility and creativity, seek advice from others who have been in a similar situation, and keep both personal and professional goals and priorities in mind.
Do you have any tips other alumni who are facing similar decisions that have to do with managing their professional and personal life?
I see from so many examples around me that it is totally possible to have an international career and a family. No situation is ever completely perfect, so there is no point in striving for perfection. You simply have to decide what your priorities are, what you want to accomplish personally and professionally, what you are willing to compromise and what you are not. The hardest part is taking that first step, which for me was accepting the posting in Lebanon.
Thanks to Fruzsina for her time in answering these questions and also to Emily Pease for transcription!