Exchange diplomats in Europe

23.10.2015 - Article

Isabel Hénin from Germany in Paris

Isabelle Hénin (centre), on exchange in the Quai d'Orsay
Isabelle Hénin (centre), on exchange in the “Quai d'Orsay”© AA

“For a long time, I was very interested in being seconded to another ministry, especially in France, and getting experience there,” says Isabel Hénin, who has been working at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris rather than the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin since October 2014. She works in the UN Department’s Political Affairs Section, often under time pressure, when instructions have to be sent to New York. “It’s a challenge to work in French. You definitely need to be fluent in the language. ”So it’s a good thing that Isabel Hénin’s husband is French and their two children are being brought up bilingually.

In her day-to-day work, she slips easily into the role of a French diplomat – most of the time, anyway! “It was a memorable moment for me when I sat behind the sign for France at the UN Security Council when I was on a work trip in New York,” she says. A short time later, she travelled to Vienna, where she heard herself say that “France supports the German initiative”. “In such situations, it’s always interesting to see how representatives of other countries react to the idea of exchange diplomats,” she says. “It would be inconceivable for some countries, but others think it’s a great idea!” Isabel Hénin will work in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris until summer 2016.

Michael Hyll from the Czech Republic

Michael Hyll, an exchange diplomat from the Czech Republic
Michael Hyll, an exchange diplomat from the Czech Republic© AA

“The experience I gained during my stint at the Federal Foreign Office is invaluable,” said Michael Hyll, a Czech diplomat, shortly before returning to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague this summer. His time as an exchange diplomat was, he says, an opportunity to “look at things from a different perspective shaped by different historical experiences and a different institutional framework”.

Hyll was in the European Directorate-General at the Federal Foreign Office for almost two years, mainly working on the European Neighbourhood Policy. “I appreciated the great openness and trust with which I was always treated. I never felt I was being sidelined because of my status as an exchange diplomat.”

His interest in a posting to the German capital was awakened in part by an International Executive Seminar in Berlin. And what will he take away with him from Germany? “I was particularly struck by the way information is very actively shared among staff. I also found the flexible working hours very useful. Another positive aspect is the human side of the FFO. I found the tradition of division outings, the upholding of cultural customs like the Cologne carnival and the enthusiasm for sports very pleasant and refreshing.”

Alicja Guszkowska from Poland

Alicja Guszkowska, Exchange diplomat from Warsaw
Alicja Guszkowska, Exchange diplomat from Warsaw© AA

Alicja Guszkowska, an exchange diplomat from Warsaw, was particularly impressed by the Federal Foreign Office’s paternoster lifts, which move in a constant loop. “We don’t have anything like that at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and visitors to the Federal Foreign Office always get a kick out of them!” She also enjoys taking the paternoster to her office on the second floor of the ministry’s main building, where the European Parliament Division is based.

Her focus is on economy and finances, but she points out that “in a small team like ours with only four people, I have been involved in practically all aspects of the division’s day-to-day work”. She was very happy about that. “It gave me an opportunity to learn a great deal about a wide range of EU dossiers, to find out who does what here at the Federal Foreign Office and, in particular, to meet lots of fantastic German colleagues. Can you imagine any better preparation for my new job in the Embassy?”

In summer 2015, Alicja Guszkowska will move to the Polish Embassy in Berlin, where she will serve as EU Affairs Officer. Over the past year, she particularly appreciated “being welcomed with open arms from the start here in Berlin”. This made her feel like “a member of the Federal Foreign Office family straight away”.

Martin Bergfelder from Germany in London

Martin Bergfelder (second from right), a German exchange diplomat in London
Martin Bergfelder (second from right), a German exchange diplomat in London© AA

Our colleague Martin Bergfelder has just returned from a year at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London, where he taught his colleagues German sayings, had sandwiches with crisps and Coca-Cola for lunch, and of course worked hard on G7 and OECD issues as a desk officer in the Economics Unit. “As a German among British colleagues, it was difficult, but also interesting to remain credible to both sides,” he says, “particularly against the backdrop of Germany’s current presidency of the G7.”

Although in the end he didn’t feel as if he were caught between two stools, he did move desk pretty much every day. “The open-plan offices have a hot desking system. When you arrive in the office in the morning, you just take any desk that’s free.” Martin always felt accepted as a German in the team and has made many useful contacts for his next job, as desk officer for home affairs at the German Embassy in London. He also learned something about British manners: “If you step on a British person’s foot by mistake, they will apologise to you.”

Exchange diplomats in action. Part 2: United States and Canada

Exchange diplomats in action. Part 3: multilateral work

main page

Related content


Top of page