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U.S. Diplomatic Training Will Remain Virtual Until At Least October


U.S. diplomats in training, like so many other students, are now learning virtually. And the State Department will announce today it's going to stay that way until October. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Foreign Service Institute in Northern Virginia looks like a mid-sized college campus. Diplomats go there between tours to learn a new language or other skills. These days, acting Director Julieta Valls Noyes says it's pretty quiet.

JULIETA VALLS NOYES: It's a little abandoned now. You can almost see the tumbleweeds rolling down the hallways.

KELEMEN: Noyes, a former ambassador to Croatia, says that's a big change for a campus that writer Ronan Farrow once described as Hogwarts for diplomats.

VALLS NOYES: Which we loved because we do feel like some magic happens here. But I will say that when the pandemic struck, we had to take that Hogwarts for diplomats and turn it into Strayer University.

KELEMEN: In other words, an online school. The only in-person classes are the ones that include classified information. Training in 70 languages has gone online.

DANIEL BUCHMAN: We switched, I mean, overnight. I think I actually still have some of my belongings in the FSI classroom that I was studying in.

KELEMEN: That's Daniel Buchman, now on his first tour as a consular official in Bangladesh. He was in language training when FSI went virtual last year and says there were some upsides in seeing his teachers online from their homes.

BUCHMAN: Meeting all of my instructors' family, their spouses, their children, some extended relatives.

KELEMEN: And he was speaking virtually with Bangladeshi academics on other continents, too.

BUCHMAN: With the world becoming virtual, it also became a lot smaller. And, you know, all of the global things that seem so far out of reach became really local really quickly.

KELEMEN: It's been a mixed experience for others. One current student misses the networking on campus and some of the language resources. Acting Director Noyes says there will be a phased return to in-person classes, but some things may stay virtual. Instructors have learned to be flexible, even teaching in the middle of the night so U.S. diplomats in Asia can get the management training they need in their time zone.

VALLS NOYES: There was a lot more flexibility and ability to reach employees where they are and when they needed it.

KELEMEN: And that, she says, will continue even after the pandemic is over. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.