Although some 40 years have passed since I left home, I am still a Foreign Service kid. My father, Robert C. Amerson, served for 20 years with the United States Information Agency (USIA); my mother, Nancy Robb Amerson, was the “unpaid” diplomat, the last of the generation of all-women Foreign Service “spouses.” Home was Caracas, Milan, Bologna, Rome, Bogota, Rockville, Madrid, and Rome again. English was our family language, unless we were visiting the States: then, Spanish and Italian were our insider code. My nursery school in Venezuela was run by Germans; first grade in Italy required an oral examination; I learned “how we lost the colonies” at the English School in Bogota. Field trips were to the Etruscan ruins and the Salt Mines. For the first 12 years of my life, we were never out of an adult’s sight. All this was normal.
Mom and Dad were ordinary Americans from a world in which my sister and I were only tourists. He was a South Dakota farm boy and she, the shopkeeper’s daughter from a Minnesota river town. They were pioneers in the U.S government’s post-War initiative to win the hearts and minds of people around the world by simply shining a light on American democracy. Through free public libraries, in countries where only the rich had access to books; cultural events showcasing American writers, artists, musicians and dancers; and candid conversation with leaders across the political spectrum, USIA reflected, as Neal Gabler recently wrote, “our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, and decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity – all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.” (Farewell, America, Moyers & Company).
My sister and I are indebted to our parents, ordinary Americans who made the most of an extraordinary opportunity and did so with such grace. And we all owe a debt of gratitude to the thousands of Foreign Service families around the world today who are meeting the world face-to-face, giving humanity to international relations.