Weekly Local Biography

 Eric S. Rubin

 

The Consul General of the United States of America in Chiang Mai is Eric S. Rubin, a career diplomat who describes Chiang Mai as "A special place - in a special place." Since we were then on the same wave-length, I probed the life of a Consul General in some depth.

Eric was born in New York City. His father was a TV producer (remember ‘Jeopardy’?) and his mother a social worker, and he has one younger brother now a lawyer. Schooling was in a semi-urban high school, and though he had potential he admitted that extra curricular activities, such as editing the school newspaper and campus politics, stopped him reaching his capabilities.

However, by the time he had finished school his interests were history, languages and travel. This latter interest was fuelled by annual overseas vacations with his parents. He also spoke on the influence that his teachers had been on his life, including one who began teaching him Russian from the age of 16.

Following high school, he went to Yale where he studied History and Political Science, with his subjects being British and Russian Imperial history. In case you think that those subjects are not relevant, Eric disagrees. "Our world today is almost entirely the product of the former imperialism and colonization," and you only have to look at countries in Europe, the Middle East and even Asia to see the truth in those words.

When he finished at Yale, he had three options open to him - firstly the Foreign Service, or a training programme in journalism with the New York Times (he had been working as a ‘stringer’ for them whilst at Yale), or finally law school. He sat the exams for admission to the Foreign Service, but knew that sometimes you had to wait years before getting the nod, and by the time Yale was over, there was still silence from that region and since law school was not a preferred option, he accepted an offer from the New York Times, joining as a ‘copy boy’, the lowest rung on the ladder.

However, Eric who is someone who always finds the positive side said, "I got my wife through the New York Times! The thing that’s made me the happiest to this day." Just in case you think Eric resorted to a classified advertisement, this is not correct. His wife also went to work for the New York Times!

After being in the newspaper business for two years, his first option came in - an offer from the Foreign Service (and you think you’ve had to wait some time for your job application to come back)! He went to Washington and waited for his first overseas posting. With his knowledge of the French language, and being able to speak Russian and his understanding of the historical European background, Eric would surely be first cab off the rank to Moscow. Not so fast, said America. Eric was posted to Honduras for his first two year stint.

I asked Eric if this ignoring of his talents was at all galling and he admitted that initially he did think, "Do I want to do this?" But here’s where his positive attitude came forth again, saying quickly, "Although it was a challenging time for a new American diplomat overseas, it was important to take the learning perspective. It was broadening and training, and when you join up you have to have world-wide availability and be prepared to go anywhere for the needs of the Service."

We touched on the primary duties of someone in the Service and he said, "There is a career corps of people serving the country - it is important to have a non-political Foreign Service." He also added, "Serving our country is the real goal, something we take very seriously - but it can be tough."

One tough area is when a career diplomat is asked to carry out the policies of the government, which he or she may personally disagree with. Interestingly, while ‘public’ dissent is not allowed, there are avenues for ‘internal’ dissent, which Eric has even used at one stage during his career.

Returning to the USA, he then began working on what are called the Foreign Desks, rotating through the Soviet Desk, dealing with the break-up; the Eastern Desk, dealing with the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian situation. He was almost becoming an expert in exploding countries!

Wanting to travel again, he was given an assignment in Kiev, in the Ukraine. This required language schooling, which he enjoyed - the gift for languages having been apparent since school days. "I liked language training. You get paid to go to school."

After two years in the Ukraine ("It was very exciting watching the rebirth of a country") he returned to Washington and then to the White House to be the Press Spokesman for Foreign Affairs. While there Eric said, "I got to witness the reality of American politics," which included being on duty the night the story broke about a certain young intern and the President, Bill Clinton!

After the White House he had another stint in Europe, but after the horrors of ethnic wars and atrocities, he took a sabbatical - a teaching fellowship at Georgetown University which he enjoyed for two years.

Following this he made an application for the Consul General’s position in Chiang Mai, not expecting to win what is a prized plum in the Foreign Service, but was pleasantly surprised when he got the posting. "I wanted to serve in Asia and get management experience in a Consulate." Not only that, but Eric believes that Thailand is a wonderful place for children, and with his two girls (aged 5 and 3) as his principal ‘hobby’ Thailand is that ‘special place’.

Eric is positive, and yet a realist. "I have no grandiose expectations - but I do want to make a difference." With his affable nature and innate ability, I am sure that he has and will continue to do so.