Global Service from Upper Peninsula Roots: Talking to Karen Ogle About Her Foreign Service Career

By Rural Insights | February 27, 2024

Join David Haynes in the latest engaging episode of the Rural Insights Podcast! In this episode, David welcomes Karen Ogle, a Marquette native who has built a distinguished career in the U.S. State Department. Karen shares her journey from her “lost years” in Marquette to her rise through the ranks of the foreign service, highlighting the mentors and experiences that shaped her path.

Karen provides a glimpse into the life of a foreign service officer, from managing American citizen services to navigating visa processes in various countries. She emphasizes the importance of community, both in small towns like Marquette and within the tight-knit world of embassies abroad. The conversation also touches on the opportunities and challenges of representing the U.S. across the globe and the importance of diversity and inclusion in the foreign service.

We appreciated Karen’s insights into the unique career path of a foreign service officer and the impact of small-town values on global diplomacy.



David Haynes: Hello everyone. Welcome to another edition of Rural Insights Podcast. This is another one of our series about people who have grown up in the Upper Peninsula and gone on to careers around the world, whether it’s in other parts of the United States or in the UP or internationally. And today we’re pleased to have with us Karen Ogle, who has had a very distinguished career in the State Department of the United States. She’s going to tell us about that in a minute. But first I wanted to tell us, so if I remember right, you grew up in South Marquette on Fisher Street? And went through the Marquette education system, graduated from Marquette High School.

Karen Ogle: Correct.

David Haynes: And where did you go after that? Did you go right into foreign service? What did you do?

Karen Ogle: No, I had a couple of what I like to refer to as my lost years. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. Worked in a lot of jobs around Marquette. Eventually kind of realized I was smart enough to do something a little bit more and started going to Northern. And it was then that I first heard about the foreign service. A colleague that I was working with mentioned it. And it was kind of a jarring moment because I thought, oh my God, this is for me. And what she was talking about at the time was a staff job as a foreign service secretary. So I thought, well, I know how to type, I can do that. So I started writing letters and eventually got in on that. And that career path, I mean, that’s how I started, which was pretty much at the very bottom of the foreign service ladder.

David Haynes: Oh, that’s great. And what helped you climb that ladder? We’ll get to when you’re up on that, but what helps you climb up that ladder?

Karen Ogle: Well, I think what helps anybody is the people that you’re working with. I was working for some of the departments, most senior officials, and a couple of them came to me and singled me out and said, this is what you need to do. You need to follow this, you need to apply for this, you need to apply for this program. And nobody has a successful career by themselves. And all these wonderful people that I got to work with helped steer me and guide me to what eventually became the foreign service career path.

David Haynes: So before we leave it, do you remember who the person was at Northern who told you about the Foreign Service?

Karen Ogle: Her name? No. Well, I remember her name. Her name was Vera Thomas, and she was somebody who was working there and her husband was with the Air Force. That was it.

David Haynes: Oh, okay.

Karen Ogle: And I’ve never been able to find her.

David Haynes: Oh, wow.

Karen Ogle: And tell her that I did this.

David Haynes: Yeah, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Karen Ogle: Yeah, I’ve tried.

David Haynes: Yeah. So before we talk a little bit about your career steps, what are the values, behaviors, whatever you learned growing up in Marquette that have helped you through your career growing up in a community like the Upper Peninsula and Marquette? What are some of those things?

Karen Ogle: That’s a very good question. I think growing up in a small town, whether you know everybody or not personally, you kind of know who they are–that’s this family, that’s this family. Therefore, you’re living in a bit of a glass bowl so people do know who you are and what you’re doing. When we were kids, no other parent had a problem with disciplining us. And so we kind kept policed that way to keep us on the straight and narrow, but also people really knew each other and came together in hard times. An embassy is very much like that. You’re living in a small town, you you’re working with these people, you’re going to social events, you’re going to official events. Some people go to church together. It’s a small town and it just replicates itself all over the world. And so knowing how to negotiate.

David Haynes: Yeah, yeah, I think you’re right. An embassy is, having worked at an embassy, I understand, it’s a tight community, and you do know everybody. Even I as a low-level military person, you knew–they may not talk to you, but you knew who they were.

Karen Ogle: Absolutely. Absolutely.

David Haynes: Yeah. So tell us a little bit about taking all that about Marquette we just talked about. What did you do in this career? Tell our listeners and viewers what you progressed a little bit about where you lived. I know you lived all around the world.

Karen Ogle: Yeah, yeah. I’ve been very fortunate. I started, as I said, as what was called an Office Management Specialist, which at the time was a Foreign Service Secretary. And I worked for the Department’s ambassadors and assistant secretaries in different countries and in Washington DC and the National Security Council. I did that for about nine years. And then I was invited to apply for this, what would be referred to in the military as the Mustang Program where you can take an enlisted E-8 or E-9 or something like that and convert them into an officer candidate. And so I applied for that and you get one shot at it. If you’re not accepted, then you just go and continue your other career path. And I was very fortunate I got accepted and that started a 27-year career as a fully accredited diplomat that took me to basically all the continents except Antarctica.

And I have done work as an administrator, a public affairs officer, like my colleague Rob. And then, but my specialty was counselor work, which in the foreign service community, we have five cones and one of them is counselor. And what our jobs there is to, we have two houses. We to take care of American citizens, and we have the visa side of the house. So with the American citizen side of this, how we do things, very mundane things, if you lose your passport, you think it’s a crisis. It’s not. We’ll give you another one very quickly. To working in real crisis where people need to be evacuated, their loved ones have died, they’ve been attacked. Any kind of normal crisis that you read about in the paper, it’s always the counselor officer who goes to see this person. Jail visits. I’ve been in jails all over the world. There’s a lot of variety in the quality of jails from country to country. And on the visa side, it’s always to who’s authorized to come into the United States, who qualifies? How do they do that and how do we help them get in? And conversely, who is not qualified.

David Haynes: Just so our viewers know, the visa side is the citizens of the country in which the counselor office is located. So if it’s in Mexico, France, or Poland, you would go to that counselor office and say, I want to get a visa to go to the United States. And what countries did you serve in the consulates or where? I know you had really a broad experience in that.

Karen Ogle: Yeah, I can whip through them pretty quickly. Oman, Morocco, Lebanon, back to Washington, Germany, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Congo, Australia, Turkey, Mexico, Mexico, England.

David Haynes: So, in each of those, you learn new skills. Did they make you as their continued training for you as you go through this experience? So if somebody goes into the foreign service, they would be trained to do each function? I’m not explaining that very well.

Karen Ogle: No, I understand your question though. And absolutely. You’ve got intense area studies before you go. You’ve got cultural studies, you’ve got language studies in the foreign service because, well, language is obviously very valued talent. And after the age of 40, I had to do three languages to become professionally proficient in it. So it’s, there’s constant training, leadership training, management training, how to work with the hill, how to work with the White House, on and on.

David Haynes: So all these places all from a start in Marquette and the education he received at Marquette High School and elementary, supposing a student in the UP is interested in this foreign service life, what should they do to prepare themselves and how do they find out more information?

Karen Ogle: Well, I would be delighted to talk to anybody who wants to do this. It was a career that suited me very well. It’s not for everybody, but for those who have an interest in it, for a variety of reasons, the first thing they should do is go to the Department of State website, and it’s just And there are all kinds of options there. And one point I’d like to make that a lot of people don’t know when we talk about the foreign service, they always assume we’re talking about foreign service officers. But within each embassy we have all kinds of functional specialists who also help us overseas. They are in the foreign service, but they’re not fully accredited diplomats. And this would include our doctors. We have medical doctors who come in, we have nurse practitioners, we have security people, we have IT people, lots of IT people, office management specialists. And these careers are all available as well. And if somebody has an interest in seeing the world and being a part of the foreign policy world, but doesn’t necessarily want to do the wonky policy work, this is always a nice career option as well.

David Haynes: So somebody who is, let’s say, graduates from in Criminal Justice and thinking about becoming a police officer that could go on this website and say, I could take my training and security to the foreign service.

Karen Ogle: Absolutely. It’s a Regional Security Officer they’re called. Yes, absolutely.

David Haynes: Okay. And if somebody, what’s the age spread? If somebody wants to go in? I mean, supposedly someone’s 28, they sort of bouncing around, they don’t know what they want to do, could they they still do it? Is there an age?

Karen Ogle: Median age for foreign service officers is 32. You can enter as young as 24. I believe that’s still current and as late as 56. Those were the numbers. I’m not so sure their exact, but yeah, usually they’re people who’ve, most of them have master’s degrees, law degrees, PhDs. They’re a very highly-educated group of people for the Officer Corps–are very technically qualified and they’ve usually had work experience. The department doesn’t want to be a training ground necessarily to teach a younger person work life skills.

David Haynes: So everybody that goes becomes a member of the United States Civil Service, correct?

Karen Ogle: No, we are the Foreign Service. We are separate from the Civil Service. We have a separate grade and rank system than the Civil Service, although they match up at various levels. Let me use one–a General in the Army is a senior Foreign Service Officer. Counselor is a a GS 16. So they all match like that. But we just have a different, it’s kind of a boring subject, but–

David Haynes: But you would get a government pension when you’re done.

Karen Ogle: Oh, totally. Totally. And a little plug for the Foreign Service too is we get a lot of time off because our jobs are so remote and difficult. I don’t want to underestimate the difficulty of some of these places. It’s not an easy life to, first of all constantly be moving every two or three years and we go to dangerous places.

David Haynes: Yeah, I mean that is clearly true. You go to places where other Americans aren’t at actually at any given time in any country that we have diplomatic relations with, there would be an embassy and a counselor, a consulate office, correct?

Karen Ogle: Correct. We have people in just about every country in the world.

David Haynes: Okay. And why don’t you say the website again?

Karen Ogle: Sure. It’s There’s all kinds of information there.

David Haynes: Great, great for them. So I know that Rob Hilton, who graduated from Marquette High School, his father was a professor at Northern. I did an interview with, he went in the Foreign Service, and I know you know each other. Are there other people who have gone, that you know of in Marquette, the Upper Peninsula?

Karen Ogle: Yes. There was an officer. I don’t have his name, but he’s from Marquette. And it’s funny because the three of us all had some kind of Bangladesh link. I met Rob in Bangladesh and this other officer, and again, this was 35 years ago, so I can’t remember what his name was, and never ran into him again. But he was also from Marquette. So yeah, it’s very heartening when you are in the middle of a place like Dhaka and all of a sudden you run into somebody who you can say what’s going on downtown tonight.

David Haynes: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. There are a few faculty members during my era, which would be the seventies, who worked in the State Department in Foreign Service over the years were there. I know that, but they weren’t from Marquette, although one was from Ishpeming. But I don’t suspect the careers in the foreign service are a matter of someone telling a young person about it. Right? I didn’t know about it growing up. I mean–

Karen Ogle: Right. I had no idea. I mean, I went into this pretty blind. I think that one of the things that the State Department is really trying to do in the last 10 to 15 years is diversify from being a very elitist East Coast, the Ivy Leagues, to bringing people in from rural areas, bringing people in from states that they just had not done enough outreach in. So to spread the word about what we do and what we offer. And so for your listeners, I would encourage them to never let the fact that they’re from a rural area hold them back ever. Because you’re very welcome in this. I never once felt marginalized, which I thought was pretty amazing because I came in at a very low grade, but I was treated as a colleague from day one.

David Haynes: So you decided to retire and you didn’t move back to Marquette right away where you are now. You moved somewhere else, right? Arizona or something? Yeah.

Karen Ogle: Well, we bought a place in Marquette that you’re familiar with. And then we bought a house in Tucson and we were kind of going back and forth and then just made a decision last year that I think it’s time just to have one house and simplify life a little bit. And so now we’re in a beautiful place in Marquette.

David Haynes: What Karen is talking about is–Karen bought the condo that I lived in with my wife, and I’m delighted she’s there. It’s a beautiful place. So, well, I am delighted to do this. I want to say thank you. It’s a great opportunity for young people to understand what these different careers are about and different opportunities. And I think you hit it on the head and it’s one of the things we try to do at Rural Insights. We talked to a lot of students many times who tell us young high school students as well as students who say, I don’t know, I grew up in a small town. I don’t know if I can get into this. I don’t know if they’ll take me. And for them to understand there are people who have had amazing careers from small towns and big towns, and it’s a great mix and you’re not going to be marginalized.

Karen Ogle: Good. It’s a very good message to get out. And it’s true. I lived it.

David Haynes: Well, that’s great. Well, Karen Ogle, thank you very much. We’re glad you back at Marquette because you bought my condo, but it’s fun having you back in town and the opportunities for people to connect with you about life in the foreign service. So thank you very much.

Karen Ogle: Thank you, David, for your interest. Really appreciate it.

David Haynes: Okay, have a great day.

Karen Ogle: You too.


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