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Two tales from overseas: transferable careers KBF at the FDFA

The FDFA will start accepting applications for the following transferable careers on 30 May: “diplomacy – profile I”, “international cooperation – profile I'” and “consular affairs, operations management and finance (KBF)”. These careers offer an opportunity to live out Swiss foreign policy and engage in intercultural exchanges. We've talked with Ariela Kraska (Port-au-Prince) and Pascal Sollberger (Caracas) about their experiences and challenges on the consular affairs, operations management and finance (KBF) career path.

30.05.2022
Ariela Kraska in front of the Swiss flag.

Kraska started her career in the hotel industry. Later on, she got a degree in business administration. © Charly Amazan

"I'm available for an interview at noon, Swiss time, which is six o'clock in Haiti." Arranging a telephone interview can get quite tricky when those involved are oceans apart. In this case, the Atlantic was the ocean between us and Kraska. Her interest in other cultures led her to pursue a KBF career at the FDFA. Since July 2021, she has been employed in Port-au-Prince, where she is head of finance, personnel and administration at the Swiss embassy in the Republic of Haiti. She will remain in Port-au-Prince until 2024, when she will either be transferred to another Swiss representation abroad or return to head office in Bern. "Every two to four years I have the opportunity to discover a new country and interact with people who have different traditions and mentalities and come from different backgrounds. This is both enriching and challenging. The challenge is clear: the more difficult the context, the predictable the course of the day". 

Training and skills on the move

Most of the time, staff pursuing transferable careers work far away from Switzerland, and conditions can be tough, for example when their accompanying family members cannot work locally, their freedom of movement is restricted and the quality of life is lower. The ability to adapt to the situation and to facilitate mediation in culturally diverse contexts, indeed, sometimes during emergencies, is among the skills required. "The days are long and sometimes hectic. You need to be able to keep calm and have an overview of all areas, e.g. financial management, human resources and security" Kraska adds. "I remember visiting a prisoner in degrading conditions and helping handle cases of child kidnapping. The FDFA has selective admissions and a 15-month training programme in place. This ensures that staff are properly prepared for the job. The first stage is two months of theory in Bern and online. The second one is a year of practical training within the FDFA's external network. Lastly, there is the last month of theory, which includes a final exam with the admissions committee in Bern. This process prepares them to focus their later work on the priorities of Switzerland's Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23 and on those of its International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24: peace, security, poverty reduction, prosperity, sustainability and digitalisation.  

What tasks do staff pursuing the consular affairs, management and finance (KBF) career path perform and which profiles are most suitable? Stéphanie Périllard, head of the consular protection division, fills us in. © FDFA

What makes working in consular affairs, management and finance worth it?

Pascal Sollberger in front of the coats of arms of the cantons of Bern, Schwyz and Uri.
After getting a degree in insurance economics, Sollberger worked in the private sector, in insurance and business processes sector, for over ten years. © P. Sollberger

For Pascal Sollberger, the case is clear: "I find the variety that a KBF career path has to offer unique and exceptional." The KBF department's work is essential for Switzerland's official representation abroad in all areas including human resources and business organization, finance (corporate and project), administration and all consular services. But Kraska doesn't shy away from mentioning some of the more difficult parts of the job, such as "the bureaucratic procedures that are somewhat cumbersome at times. That being said, there's never a dull moment."  

Minutes after the explosion in the port of Beirut, Sollberger leaves the heavily damaged Swiss embassy in Lebanon. Fragments of glass lie on the floor.
Sollberger recalls the 4th of August 2020 explosion in Beirut and the response of the Swiss embassy in Lebanon. © P. Sollberger

Mission: to represent Switzerland around the world

"I joined the FDFA in 2014. Since then I've worked on almost every continent, including Indonesia and Lebanon. In 2021, I started my current post in Venezuela, where the Swiss embassy also serves seven other Caribbean states, including Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago," explains Swiss consul Pascal Sollberger. Staff in the three transferable careers of the FDFA are called upon to safeguard Switzerland's interests in all areas of international diplomatic relations. The mission is to build bridges within the representations abroad. In their daily work, this means combining plannable activities with the unexpected. Sollberger explains that "each embassy is both a Swiss and a local employer. For business and crisis management, as for security matters, I'm in close contact with Swiss and Venezuelan staff, external service providers, related embassies and international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Such work covers a broad range of topics, including social and labor law issues. Intercultural tensions are sometimes involved". Indeed, reacting quickly to critical situations is part of the KBF career staff's remit. For his part, Sollberger recalls the explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020, which caused heavy damage to the embassy. He explains: "The KBF career staff play a key role in dealing with such incidents. In Beirut, for me, that meant leading the crisis management team. We lived through experiences that shaped us and will stay with us well into the future". A further key task is to ensure high quality consular services to the Swiss community abroad and to Swiss tourists (intercultural marriage, passport issuance, repatriation, etc.).

2022 concours 

The 2022 concours period for the following FDFA transferable careers is from 30 May to 17 June: “diplomacy – profile I”, “international cooperation – profile I” and “consular affairs, management and finance, KBF”. Those selected will start their training programme on 1 April 2023. Participation conditions and application forms are available on the FDFA website.