The Duncan Banner

February 24, 2008

Britton in training

1999 DHS graduate heads to Washington, D.C. to become foreign diplomat

By Derrick Miller

DUNCAN — Matthew Britton is getting a chance to do three things that he loves — helping others, being overseas and serving his country.

But he won’t be serving his country in the traditional sense. Instead, Britton, a 1999 Duncan High School graduate, is heading to Washington, D.C., to become a foreign diplomat.

“In Washington, I’ll be going through training,” he said. “I’ll learn how to be a diplomat and how to fill out government paperwork.”

He is scheduled to begin his training March 7, and on April 18, he will be sworn in and given information on where he will be heading, most likely somewhere overseas.

“Right now, I have no idea where I’ll be,” he said. “I’ll be moving between the States and foreign countries on a regular basis.”

He said he’ll become a public diplomacy officer, which means he’ll be in charge of diplomatic communications and exchanges with other countries, and he’ll be doing public relations for whatever U.S. embassy to which he’s stationed.

Britton, son of Phillip and LaFonda Britton of Duncan, is familiar with the task of going to places unseen by many Americans. After all, he spent three years in the Peace Corps.

The first two years he served in the Corps, he worked as a health-education instructor and helped institute a community garden. He got an extension for a third year, because most service in the organization is two years.

For his third year, he got to take on more projects, which included buying books for grade schools, cleaning up trash and aiding in garden projects.

He spent those three years in Mauritana, an Arabic country, which helped partially satisfy his desire to see the world. And, when he got there, he found just how different other countries can be in comparison to the United States.

“It’s about as different as it can possibly be,” Britton said. “There was no electricity. Occasionally there was running water. There’s not many paved roads.”

Despite the lack of the American preferences, he said just about everyone had a cell phone. This is because cell phones are cheaper than installing ground lines. To charge their phones, residents would go to a neighbor who had electricity.

“Everyone would eat from a communal dish,” he said. “And they would use their cell phones to see what they were eating.”

Before he left the country for the Peace Corps, he spent a year at Oklahoma State University to take classes in preparation for his life in the Peace Corps. During that time, he learned two languages, French and a rarely used Arabic language, Hassaniya, which was used in the country where he was stationed.

He ended his time with the Peace Corps in September 2007.

“When I got back from the Peace Corps, I moved to California,” Britton said. “I then got a call from the State Department and was offered the (foreign diplomat) position.”

He said it takes about two years for a job application to be processed and for a job to be offered. The two years before he was made the offer, he was still in the Peace Corps.

“The position is pretty competitive,” he said. “Less than 1 percent of people applying for the position get it.”

Britton, 2003 graphic design graduate of the University of Tulsa, said he is excited about his new job because it is the job he has always wanted.

For his parents, the moment is bittersweet, he said.

“They’re proud of me,” he said. “Obviously, they wish I could be closer. They’ll be able to see me on a fairly regular basis, probably not as much as they want.

“They’re proud of me getting the job I always wanted.”

He said many things played into his desire to seek this job. Among those reasons is the condition of the world following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Things are developing and changing,” Britton said. “We have to maintain diplomatic ties. We can’t go it alone.

“Part of the draw for me was serving my country and being overseas. I thought the job would be fun and important.”

By being overseas, he said he would get to see the world in a different way.

“I lived in London for a semester,” he said. “It opened my eyes. There’s so much more out there.”

But seeing the world isn’t the only thing the job has to offer. He will also get the opportunity to serve humanity.

“A big part of it is the service,” Britton said. “I’m serving my country. I’ll be on the front line of U.S. diplomacy.

“Our country needs qualified individuals.”

With his experience and his view of the world, he said he expects great things to extend from this career.

“I think it’s a really fantastic opportunity,” Britton said. “I’m pretty happy to land my dream job.”