Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2007 | People

From Hell to Timbuktu: Scott Reese

By Shelbi Thomas
"One of the things I learned [at the UI] is that there's a much bigger world out there," says Scott Reese, who now travels the globe as a Foreign Service officer for the U.S. State Department.

Shaping American foreign policy. Attending cocktail parties with world leaders. Keeping terrorists out of the United States. A lifetime of adventure is all in a day's work for Scott Reese.

Reese, 87BGS, 89BS, advances U.S. interests at home and abroad as a Foreign Service officer. An Iowa native who had only been out of the country once before choosing his current career, Reese has now traveled everywhere from Hell, Norway, to Timbuktu, Mali. In between two-year terms at U.S. Embassies across the globe, he returns to Washington, DC, to learn the culture and languages of the country where he'll work next.

Reese currently serves as a political officer in Mali, a landlocked nation in West Africa, where he makes contact with the country's leaders, promotes U.S. views, and reports the political situation back to Washington. Though Mali is one of the more stable nations in Africa, Reese says that with strife in nearby countries such as Algeria, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast, "it has the potential to be a very volatile region."

No stranger to danger, Reese worked for a month in Haiti while United Nations troops patrolled the streets. An armored vehicle would pick him up at a different time each day, taking various routes to the office. Every night, he'd lock himself in a bedroom secured by steel bars and fall asleep to the occasional sound of gunfire. "This is not a job for people who like structure, because you never know what's going to happen when you come in," says Reese. "If you want a nice nine-to-five job, this isn't it."

Of course, life as a Foreign Service officer also has its perks. Prior to moving to Mali, Reese spent two years as a vice consul in Norway. During that time, he met Norwegian royalty, issued visas for the rock band A-Ha, and attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

Reese's favorite part of the job, however, is serving the ordinary people who seek his help each day. He has assisted Americans who face trouble overseas, served as a notary public, and determined whether applicants for U.S. visas are legitimate travelers or potential terrorists. "Many of [the people I see] have never been to America," says Reese, "so you have a real chance to help them understand that the United States is not as simple as they think."