In 2000, while in my senior year at Bates College, I interned in the Auburn office of Sen. Olympia Snowe. In the modest, two-room office overlooking the Androscoggin River, I spent my semester talking to the senator’s constituents — some needed help with housing, others could not afford heat, and a few just wanted a tour of the White House. It was great working with people and finding ways to help them.

The internship made me fall in love with public service, and here I am, 17 years later, a Foreign Service Officer having just completed an assignment at the U.S. Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I continue to help American citizens in distress, but this time while they are outside of the United States. Here’s how.

U.S. diplomats are sent around the world to represent our country and assist our citizens traveling or living abroad. If you are overseas and something bad happens, we are there for you. We help American citizens stranded abroad return home. If they get arrested in a foreign country, we visit them in prison to make sure they are treated fairly. When a crisis overseas puts American lives in danger, we help keep U.S. citizens safe by sending out important security messages and checking on their welfare. And if you lose your passport, we can issue you an emergency one to get you back home.

Here is a good example of our work. One late evening in Rio, I got a call from a local hostel. A young American staying there (let’s call him “John”) was severely ill. After not seeing John for more than a day, the manager went to check on him and discovered him curled up in bed, barely breathing and unable to walk. I asked the manager to take him to the hospital immediately and met them there. Apparently, while out the previous night with a young woman he met in a club, John’s drink had been spiked with a date-rape drug. He invited the woman to return with him to the hostel and after he passed out, she stole his wallet, laptop, smartphone and U.S. passport. Thankfully, John was going to be OK.

The next afternoon, John came to the consulate. He needed a new passport and a ticket to go home the following day. As his family couldn’t send him money, we gave John an emergency assistance loan, helped him book a flight, and issued him an emergency passport.

John’s case isn’t unique. Incidents happen when you travel. To be better prepared, read up on your destination at Make copies of your passport, visas, and itinerary. Leave one copy at home and carry one separately from your actual documents. If you lose your passport, report it immediately to the local authorities and the U.S. Embassy. Enroll in our free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program ( to receive important safety and security messages on the go and give us contact details for reaching you in an emergency. And make sure you have insurance to cover the unexpected, like medical expenses abroad and emergency evacuation.


One more thing: Never leave your drink unattended.

With that in mind, I hope you visit beautiful Rio de Janeiro. Its stunning beaches, delicious food, the sounds of samba coming from the street cafes and the warm welcome of all cariocas make it the perfect spot for a relaxing vacation.

And as you get ready to travel this summer, know that when you take a trip, our embassies have got your back. In the meantime, happy Memorial Day and bon voyage.

Ogniana Ivanova-Sriram is a Foreign Service officer in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. She most recently served in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Ogniana Ivanova-Sriram

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