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Spotlight on Alumni

This is the first in a new series featuring Memorial alumni.

David Hutchings, Canadian ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, visited the campus on Jan. 19 and talked to a group of students about the requirements and needs of the Canadian foreign service. Ambassador Hutchings has previously been chargé d’affaires at the Embassy of Canada in Sudan, deputy head of mission in Cairo, and also served abroad at Canadian embassies in Seoul, Riyadh, Moscow and Bonn. He is a Memorial graduate. Ambassador Hutchings set down with our contributor Bojan Fürst and talked about the challenges and rewards of serving Canada abroad.

BF: Tell me a bit about yourself.

I am a Newfoundlander and a graduate of Memorial University. I lived my first 20 or so years of life here in St. John’s, so it’s pretty stunning to come back, especially to come back to the university and find out that I get lost as I try to walk around it. It changed quite a bit, but there are still some recognizable parts. After I left, St. John’s and Newfoundland I lived as a student for some time in Europe, including a year in what was then known as Soviet Union.

BF: How did this jump happen- from arts degree, you studied music, to foreign service?

That is a very good question. The foreign service is not really an organization that looks for people with specific educational backgrounds. Many people ask me: “I am not a political science student. I know nothing about the international relations so there is no point in me looking at the foreign service?” In fact, we are not looking for anything specific in education, we are more looking at a specific type of person. Person who likes change, person who can deal with challenges and not only deal with challenges, but deal with challenges in a different environment where you would not have the kind of resources that you would have in Canada.

BF: How did your undergraduate degree from MUN and later your studies in music prepare you for the day-to-day work in foreign service.

My undergraduate degree, my experience at Memorial and the fact that I come from Newfoundland made a very specific contribution to my life that I am quite aware of. I think that often in this kind of life one needs to have certain understanding of who you are and what your culture is and where your roots are. I find that people from this province, people who lived in this province and who have studied at this university generally have a very good sense of who they are. I think I benefited from that.

BF: What was your most challenging posting and why?

I think it was probably Sudan. Part of it was because of what was happening there at the time with the Darfur crisis. And then the immediate impression of it, of Sudan and Darfur, is that the Geographic territory is so enormous. Sudan is the largest country in Africa and the area of Darfus is about the size of France. It’s an enormous geographical and logistical challenge. And then, of course, there are some very not nice things happening there. You react to these things as a human being. It was very difficult to see millions of people who were displaced from their homes, put in camps for displaced persons and to hear stories of women who were raped when they left the camp to get firewood. That is, of course, difficult just as a person to confront.

BF: How do you deal with those personal challenges and traumas?

I don’t really have an answer for that. It’s something that one is prepared for. It’s something you have to deal with. In the foreign service we do have a scale of posts, so if you are posted to Paris, you stay there for four years, if you are posted to Sudan you stay for two years. If you are posted to Sudan, you can more frequently leave for vacation and so on. The employer understands those things, but we don’t really have a magical answer.

BF: If you could do it all over again, would you?

I think so. I think I would.