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Young people who choose to study international relations and join the Latvian diplomatic corps are usually interested in geography, history and languages and Arvils Zeltiņš was no exception. Unlike many of his peers, however, Zeltiņš was interested in diplomacy to such a degree that he chose to study two Master’s programmes in International Relations at the same time.

In 2011 he graduated from both Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) and the University of Latvia. This ambitious undertaking required persistence – a quality that is quite useful in a career in diplomacy. Zeltiņš, currently the Second Secretary at the Latvian Embassy in the US, elaborates on his studies, and more, in our interview.

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Arvils Zeltiņš visiting the White House. Photo from his private archive.

A good memory

A diplomat should be like a gentleman who always remembers a lady's birthday, but never her age. This is a quote by American poet Robert Frost on diplomacy, and Zeltiņš nods in agreement – indeed, this is a profession that not only requires extensive knowledge, but also an ability to delicately assess situations.

‘A diplomat must have a lot of social intelligence. You not only need to know how to speak, but also how to listen, and you have to be very versatile. Especially in our office where we have limited human resources and where every diplomat has to have a general knowledge of any topic. Narrow specialisation is a privilege that not many can afford. In short, you have to have a very good memory in order to be able to put your knowledge to use at the right time.’

Two simultaneous diplomas

Zeltiņš began storing and remembering data that would be valuable for a diplomatic career in 2005 when he joined the International Relations – European Studies Bachelor’s study programme at RSU. ‘Coming to the RSU Faculty of European Studies was a very deliberate decision, because the new generation working in the Latvian Foreign Service are mostly from RSU,’ he says. Although he received a government-funded study place at the University of Latvia, he simultaneously studied at RSU in the International Studies and Diplomacy programme paying a tuition fee.  After a period of intensive studies, he received two diplomas at once. Looking back these two years of his life, Zeltiņš laughingly admits that it was a great challenge for him.

The road to becoming an Ambassador

In addition to his studies Zeltiņš started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where he has been working for almost 10 years now with a few breaks. The path to becoming a career diplomat is quite predictable. After two years of working at the ministry, and passing special exams, the new diplomat is assigned a rank – you become an attaché, a third, second then first secretary, advisor, senior advisor and then finally you can become an ambassador.

‘Usually you get a new rank every three years, but there are rare exceptions. The path from being a young diplomat to becoming an ambassador is quite long,’ says Zeltiņš who has currently completed about half of the journey through the diplomatic ranks. During this time he has managed to work with a variety of topics – the economy, the Baltic Sea region and safety policy – as well as lead the Department for Promotion of Foreign Economic Connections at the Ministry. Before his first noteworthy assignment abroad, his position at the Latvian embassy to the US, Zeltiņš had a nearly yearlong internship at the US State Department. This internship was an invaluable contribution to his understanding of the political system and diplomatic culture of the USA. He had read a lot of theory about USA, but the nuances he learned about during the internship were invaluable to the young diplomat. 

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Photo from Zeltiņš’ private archive.

Daily life in Washington DC

Zeltiņš’ main task in Washington is to protect Latvian economic interests and to support Latvian entrepreneurs. ‘A lot of my time is spent both on the bilateral economic cooperation and on trade between the European Union and the US. I also collaborate with our honorary consuls in the US,’ he says. The daily routine can become quite intense with many meetings, so an ability to work under such conditions is crucial. Studying at RSU helped a lot in this regard. The study process was demanding and Zeltiņš had to learn to adapt to different topics and situations quickly.

‘When I started my studies at RSU, I didn't have any time to warm-up, but had to get right into it. I didn't realise it as a student, but now in my career I appreciate the skills that the university gave me.’

As the diplomat himself says, the hardest thing about working in the US is the long distance from home, and the need to adjust your spare time to your work. He feels great in his profession, however. ‘The most exciting thing about a career in diplomacy is that you can develop all the time – gain new knowledge and learn new skills and topics. I enjoy representing Latvia and talking about it to people from other countries. It would be very hard to work as a diplomat without a desire to defend national interests and to help people in their daily lives,’ Zeltiņš adds in conclusion.

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Arvils Zeltiņš

2009 – graduated from the International Relations – European Studies Bachelor’s study programme
2011 – graduated from the International Relations and Diplomacy Master’s study programme
2011 – graduated from the Political Science and Public Administration in Europe Master’s study programme at the University of Latvia

At RSU, you can get a Master's degree in diplomacy in English as well as in Latvian.