Retired linguist recalls foreign service

Oct. 19, 2013 @ 11:26 PM

Mike Rudder, a Person County native and retired linguist with the U. S. State Department Foreign Service, presented a program at the Oct. 7 regular meeting of the Roxboro Kiwanis Club.  He retired at the end of 2012 when he reached the Foreign Service mandatory retirement age of 65.

He informed the club that the U. S. Foreign Service promotes conflict resolution and world peace.  Rudder maintained that this mission is important because the United States is not popular in all parts of world.  The Foreign Service has regional bureaus emphasizing educational and cultural affairs, a focus of which is training of English teachers throughout the world.  Scholarships are also offered for teenagers to study English in their own countries.  Some program participants come to the United States each year and meet with high level U.S. officials.

Rudder noted he had five assignments during his career:  Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Washington and Mexico.  He found the latter to be a pleasant surprise, contrary to the popular perception of Mexico as a dangerous country, although he acknowledged that his travel near the border was restricted.

One’s home base while overseas with the Foreign Service is the U.S. Embassy.  There are various branch offices within each embassy, including public affairs of which Rudder was a part.  The public affairs officer is the chief of that section and there are various officers under him or her.  Rudder was the regional English language officer. 

Embassies want to support long-term contacts in universities and bi-national centers to promote regional understanding among countries.  While the largest component of his job was teaching English, there was also an annual international conference of English teachers from around the world in which he participated, as well as such conferences in the various countries.

These programs have avoided congressional budget cuts, which is indicative of their popularity.  English emphasis is regarded by many countries as a key to economic success.  He cited as an example the fact that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations uses English as the medium of interaction at conferences.  It is effectively the currency of international economics.  Rudder noted that two-thirds to three-fourths of speakers of English worldwide are non-native speakers.

A benefit of the public affairs program is mutual understanding, however, risks include a possible loss of cultural identity.  We cherish diversity, but a result is that some languages are being lost in the process of English becoming a global language.  He indicated that English is now the official language of many governments, even though it is not the native language.

Rudder stated that his program had the opportunity to become a public face of America in the countries in which he served.  He has spent a total of 20 years outside the U.S., but was back in the U.S. periodically throughout his service.  However, spending so much time abroad enabled him to observe English language changes with which he was unfamiliar.  He contended that the use of technology is affecting language, and suggested the word "awesome" as an example of how something that he understood to mean one thing as a young man came to take on an additional and entirely different meaning during his years of foreign service.