1 August 2023 • Alums Diplomatic Community By Andy Wickenden '09
From China to Slovenia and now in Pakistan, DAVID LUNA ’14 is a welcoming face in the fast-paced world of diplomacy.
Around the world, U.S. diplomats serve as mediators and interpreters on the frontlines of foreign policy. For David Luna ’14, a political reporting officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, the key is “to be as plugged in and as connected as possible on the ground, because you’re only as good as your information.”
“We constantly have our finger to the wind,” says Luna. “We’re meeting civil society and government leaders, cultivating relationships and informing Washington policymakers on breaking events and developing trends.”
All of that work, he says, supports the position of the U.S. “in a strategic competition to shape the future of the international order. Diplomacy tries to answer the demand for increased global cooperation.”
Luna’s career with the State Department began in 2014, when he was awarded a Rangel International Affairs Fellowship through the State Department. After earning his master’s from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China.
In Beijing, Luna served as a consular officer, facilitating legitimate official, business, leisure and academic travel to the United States and in the process contributing to the American economy. The visa line serves as “one of the main interaction points that a local population can have with the State Department,” he explains, “so when we’re interacting with visa applicants our comportment, our integrity, our ethics are all very important. For many individuals I met in China, I was the first American they ever spoke to, so it was a joy to be able to represent the U.S. and provide the best service I could.”
“Never underestimate the power of a single conversation, which can bridge gaps, leave lifetime impressions, and especially in the case of diplomacy, reassure and build trust.”
From Beijing, he moved to the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana, Slovenia, serving as a political officer on civil society projects
and strengthening the European security relationship. Now in Islamabad, Pakistan, he is again working in the political track, or “cone,” though in a much different context given the differences in population, geopolitical dynamics and diplomatic rapport.
Focused primarily on Pakistan’s relationships with China and India, Luna says there’s never a dull moment. “The portfolio is extremely fast paced,” he says, noting China’s footprint in Pakistan and the historical border disputes with India in the Kashmir region. Against this geopolitical and cross-cultural backdrop, “there’s always a web to untangle — you are finding and fitting a new piece of the puzzle, a puzzle that is always morphing and never complete. Part of the fun is hearing what one person thinks of a situation and then finding others who offer alternative observations.”
Not just a job or a career but a “lifestyle,” the Foreign Service means uprooting and moving around the world every 24 to 36 months.
“It can be difficult to say goodbye,” Luna says, and “being comfortable feeling uncomfortable” is a prerequisite, but he likes the regular change. “You’re a lifelong learner — always learning a new language, new issues, dealing with new people.” There is space for all personality types in the Foreign Service, says Luna. What has worked for him though is being able to connect, to read the room and read people.
A self-described “people person,” Luna recalls that what he loved about his time at HWS was the relationships with faculty. With a shout out to his advisor, Professor of Political Science DeWayne Lucas, Luna says: “I’m someone who likes to connect, and I always felt that I could walk into any professor’s office and talk about course material but also about life.”
Likewise, individual relationships are the foundation of international cooperation. “Never underestimate the power of a single conversation, which can bridge gaps, leave lifetime impressions, and especially in the case of diplomacy, reassure and build trust,” Luna says.
This story originally featured in the Summer 2023 edition of the Pulteney Street Survey.