American in Belgium

By Jessica DeLoach

The idea of travel with the communication, public relations and diplomacy fields does not seem unusual, but to live within a foreign nation to promote your own nation seems like an interesting position to hold. While visiting the US Embassy, two US public service officers shared insight into what it’s like to be Americans living in Belgium for an extended amount of time.

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Maggie White, a public service agent working within the Us Embassy’s media hub, shared with us her personal experience of living a life that takes her to a new country every three years or so. Having a husband in the same field keeps her and her family constantly moving. Maggie’s team provides video support to the European region, offering television and radio bits to any station who might need the clip. This hub is one of six, with the other sites being in Tokyo, Miami, Johannesburg, London and Dubai. Laurens Vermere, a Belgian employee at the media hub, gave us insight to how the video studio worked and the difficulties of working in this particular region. With the Brussels media hub being in the midst of Europe, there are a multitude of languages and cultures to reach, but the broadcasts are made in English to the region because for many, English is at least a second language.

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The similarities of language and culture of Belgium and the United States (as compared to the cultures of say the United States and rural Africa) provide the US Embassy with more of an opportunity to connect and make social changes or agreements within Belgium. Jaqueline, another public service agent who works with the press sector of the Embassy, spoke to our team about he role in public diplomacy for the Belgian state. Similar to public relations for the United States, public diplomacy serves as a type of cheerleader for the States, but also tries to make positive changes by assisting Belgium in key political or social movements. Parts of public diplomacy do not fit in the typical mold that public relations is normally placed within.

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According to the PRSA definition,“public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” (www.prsa.org). While public diplomacy deals with whole nations and national political figures, many of the elements of the definition hold true. Both public relations and public diplomacy seek to provide some sort of influence, where public relations for a health system, for example, may have completely different goals than public diplomacy. A health care system aims to provide a safe and caring atmosphere to guide potential patients to use their facilities. Public diplomacy is much more tied with governmental roles and policies that may be used to influence other countries’ legislation or social movements.

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Jaqueline provided examples of the United States role in providing aide to the Belgian nation. Giving examples that date back centuries, these partnerships are highlighted to assure the nations of the mutual “friendship” between the nations. From Herbert Hoover sending relief aide of food and clothing to Belgium after the war to Belgian workers or saints leaving their mark on American soil, all the historical partnerships are brought to light by the US Embassy’s 400 years project, including a book and video emphasizing the Belgian-US relationship.

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Public diplomacy, while similar to public relations, has a much broader, international scope and functions in spite of differing laws and regulations of the host countries. From the visit with the US Embassy to Belgium, we were given several examples of how the communication sector of the Embassy functions. From video clip sourcing to sending the ambassador to every community in Belgium, international communication, public relations, and public diplomacy serve as examples of how the global communications field is broad and ever expanding.

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