British taxpayers are represented in 160 countries around the world by some 14,000 staff. As both a taxpayer and a diplomat, I am often asked about what it is we do. And as a nominee for the Women of the Future Awards, in association with Shell, I'm excited to have been given the chance to share a little more about what comes with life behind the Ferrero Rocher!
It's fair to say that diplomacy is more of a lifestyle than a career choice. In 14 years with the Foreign Office, I have had 8 jobs and lived in 6 different cities (London, Amman, Baghdad, Washington DC, Addis Ababa and Guatemala City).
I started my career in 1999 with a collection of boxes so pathetic that DHL wondered out loud why they'd bothered to pick them up. I've since collected the standard brightly coloured Ethiopian baskets and Yemeni Janbiya; a newspaper dated 12 January 1991 left under an inch of dirt (and a cat) in Baghdad's evacuated British Embassy; a chemical weapons mask issued to us in Jordan in 2003; street dogs from Ethiopia and Guatemala; and a wardrobe fit for any party with a geographic theme.
During that time my work has been equally varied, covering trade, political and consular duties. In practice this has meant promoting British products and services (from motorbikes to water filters!) and lobbying Governments to allow British companies a fair and open chance to compete in that market. I've made sure that British victims of violence got the best possible care, legal advice and help getting home and practised leading my Embassy's response to a major earthquake. Having worked in a number of conflict zones, I've been a part of international efforts to negotiate political settlements and assist long-term stability. And within all of this, I've been proud to help British charities abroad find support and to give British human rights groups a platform.
Such variety has its challenges. If moving house and job are two of the most stressful things you can do in life, somehow doing it all the time doesn't seem to make it any easier! Add to that learning the local language and culture and getting used to mortar-fire, gun-shots and earthquakes!
Because I like helping other Brits to do well abroad. And because I like that we make a difference. The British-led campaign against sexual violence in conflict is one that makes me particularly proud.
So sadly, not a chocolate in sight...but it's been the experience of a lifetime. Not just for the job but for the inspirational people along the way. And that includes many of my fellow diplomats. If your image of the Foreign Office is one of stuffy bureaucrats, then look again. There's a new generation of Ambassadors doing things differently and women making it to the top - each one with individual style. I'm proud to be among them.
Julie Chappell is shortlisted for the 2013 Women of the Future Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.