Frankie Sturm has taken a break from trotting the globe to return to his hometown of Chillicothe.
Sturm, the Deputy Cultural Attaché at the United States Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, for the past year and a half, is on a three-week vacation from Eastern Europe.
"You start with zero vacation time and every pay period you accumulate more," Sturm said. "This is my first vacation in a year and a half. It's great to see family and friends. I have missed the United States a lot over the last year and a half and I'm not disappointed to be back."
Sturm, a 2000 graduate of Illinois Valley Central, grew up in Chillicothe before getting his bachelor's degree in history at the University of Illinois in 2003 and a master's in international relations at the University of Chicago in 2007.
"In a lot of ways, going to IVC helped me and shaped me to become who I am and where I am," Sturm said. "Whether it was an interest in history class, learning French, the teamwork of marching band or having my own responsibilities, I am really glad that I went to IVC. The further I get away from my time there, the more I appreciate the time I spent there."
That time away from IVC has turned into plenty of time away from the United States.
"After college, I taught English in France and worked in political communications in Washington, D.C.," Sturm said. "I wanted to get some government experience, which is valuable in D.C. I liked being abroad and learning new languages, so, when I heard they were hiring more diplomats, I applied and was lucky to get in."
Sturm was hired and, from there, his fate was mainly in government hands.
"During your first couple tours, you get to express preferences," Sturm said. "You rank positions of jobs that are open and express preferences for where you want to go. If you're a newbie, the state ultimately decides and I was lucky enough to get to go where I wanted."
After his assignment was set, Sturm was given a crash course in what it would take to work in the embassy in Poland.
"I spent my first year in training," Sturm said. "There was an orientation class, a month on cultural affairs and state run programs and then six to seven months of learning the Polish language.
"I had very briefly taught English in Poland in the fall of 2005 so I knew some of the words like "please," "thank you" and "goodbye," but it's a very rough language so I had a lot to learn."
From there, Sturm was sent to his new post in Warsaw under then ambassador Lee Feinstein, who has since been replaced by Steve Mull.
Page 2 of 3 - "There is a lot of diversity in my job," Sturm said. "I get to organize a lot of public events in Warsaw, I draft speeches and newsletters for the ambassador, I speak at local high schools and do media interviews. I also work with a grant program and review applications to help decide which organizations are worth donating to and monitor those."
Although the president nominates the ambassador and the U.S. Senate confirms the choice, Sturm said the elections and who is in office do not have a great effect on his work.
"Most of the day-to-day stuff is similar, depending on what the country is," Sturm said. "On some major countries like China Afghanistan or Iraq, the president will put more of a feel on their work. Most of what goes on at my level, though, is the same day in and day out no matter who is in the office."
While some in the political sphere may claim that the United States has a public image problem in certain parts of the world, Sturm said he has seen none of that in Poland.
"I love the traveling and doing public speaking," Sturm said. "I get the chance to travel outside of Warsaw to small towns and meet with local officials and students. They are always excited to meet you and excited that the United States would send someone out to meet them.
"I have been warmly greeted everywhere I've gone, and I've traveled to more than 10 places outside of Warsaw. Whether it is in an official capacity or spending Christmas time with friends and their family in a small town outside of Warsaw, it has been great traveling around Poland, and I couldn't be happier."
While he enjoys the Polish people, Sturm said there are noticeable differences between Polish and American customs.
"The biggest difference you see or feel most quickly is that Poles have a tendency to have an amount of distance and not say "hello" or smile at people they pass on the street," Sturm said. "Then, once you get to know somebody and get in with them, you are friends forever. They are very warm and close. It is, in many ways, the opposite of how people in America are where we are friendly from the get-go, smile and say hello but don't always let each other in.
"There is a plus and minus to both cultural attitudes."
Now that he has the job, Sturm has a solid chance to keep it for as long as he wants.
"It's mostly mine until I'm done with it," Sturm said. "There is a tenure process. You have three to five years to show your work and then you get tenure, which most officers get. Once you're in, most people stay."
Page 3 of 3 - Whether this is a career or a stepping stone, Sturm said, will be decided in time.
"I'm pretty open about the future," Sturm said. "One of the reasons I'd wanted to apply is that working in the foreign service is public service. It is a chance to help America abroad and be involved in a fascinating career. If it turns out I don't want to spend my entire career in foreign service, it is still a good experience doing interesting things.
"I really figure it's a win-win situation."
Now that he is back home, Sturm, a Buffalo Bills fan, said he is ready for some football.
"There are a number of differences, but I think of them more in terms of things that I miss," Sturm said. "I miss American football, friends, family and holidays. We get time off for Christmas and holidays, but they feel different than in the United States."
Following his vacation, Sturm will head back to the embassy for another seven or eight months before moving on to his next assignment: two years of consulate work in Guatemala.
"It is a completely different job, a 180 on what I've been doing," Sturm said. "Every tour has a different job associated with it. As a new officer, one of your tours has to be consulate work."
Sturm will spend his time in Guatemala helping Americans abroad and evaluating visa applications by making sure good tourists come to the United States and those with criminal backgrounds or who are likely to not return home do not travel to the states.
"The training for Guatemala will be a bit similar," Sturm said. "The Spanish language is not as difficult, but there will be specific training on how to be a consulate officer."
With a different job every few years and a new country to call home, Sturm's job could wear on a lot of people, but Sturm said he loves the experience.
"It's both exciting and tiring," Sturm said. "Moving around a lot can be a challenge but I haven't gotten bored yet. If you're in a job that isn't a perfect fit, then you can feel good knowing you'll be in a new one in a few years. That's great.
"It's a rare career where you get to move around so much and get different experiences in different locations."