What I wish I’d known: The Alumni Perspective


The second session in the Careers Service’s ‘What I wish I had known as a Student’ featuring  SOAS Alumni took place on Thursday 23rd January.  We were delighted to welcome Sir Harold (Hooky) Walker to share his experiences of 35 years in the Diplomatic Service.  During this time, he served as ambassador between 1979 and 1991, successively to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, and Iraq in addition to home postings which included Head of Personnel. Whilst not a SOAS graduate, he completed two short language courses here (in Arabic and Amharic) and has established a valued relationship with the School over many years.

The  very interesting talk, illustrated with anecdotes and examples from his career gave students a fascinating insight into the varied nature of work in the Diplomatic Service.  Politics, policy, trade and administration combine to create a broad set of responsibilities.  The immediacy that social media brings has added increased pressure and demands a rapid response to requests for information and recommendations.  When asked what had been the most satisfying parts of his career, Sir Harold highlighted his time in Ethiopia where the focus on aid and saving lives in a country facing critical food shortages, was extremely rewarding.

Within the Diplomatic Service there are opportunities to become a specialist as illustrated by Sir Harold’s career with his focus on the Middle East but also to develop more broadly based experience through work in many different parts of the world.  Whatever the location, entry to this career demands an overriding interest in international affairs.  In addition, Sir Harold, encouraged students and graduates who wanted to enhance their chances of getting into this work to:

  • show that they had worked helping others in some way at home or internationally
  • widen their horizons through travel
  • develop their language skills
  • step outside the world that they already know

This advice struck a chord with one of the students who said afterwards that the ‘importance of doing something constructive with free time’ was one of the things that she has learnt from the session.  Full information on the qualities and academic background (no specific degree subject required) required for the ‘Diplomatic Fast Stream, the UK Civil Service’s talent management programme can found at (www.gov.uk/government/publications/civil-service-generalist-fast-stream/fast-stream-diplomatic-service).

Make the most of your time at university and seize the opportunities to develop language skills were the two ‘what I had wished I had known’ reflections from Sir Harold which concluded his talk and question and answer session.

Many thanks indeed to Sir Harold, for his time and contribution  which was very well received by students, ‘Very informative’, ‘highly enjoyable’ and ‘very useful’ being just some of their comments.