US Consul Reflects on Time on Bermuda

With his time serving in Bermuda winding down, US Consul Robert Settje sat down with Bernews to discuss his experience on the island, saying that his time in Bermuda has been “a wonderful experience from beginning to end.”

NEXT ASSIGNMENT

Consul Settje said, “I found out that I would be coming here as Cousul General probably six or eight months before my arrival in August of 2012. I had had the good fortune to have visited Bermuda in the past on a professional level.

“My previous assignment, I was a regional consular officer and Bermuda was in my portfolio, so I had visited here on a couple of occasions and knew a bit about the consul and its staff even before I was assigned here.

“My next assignment, Hong Kong, where I will not be the Consul General. That’s a much, much larger mission and our Consul General there is of Ambassador rank; I’m not quite of an Ambassador rank.

“I will be the Consular Section Chief there. The Consular Section handles services to American citizens, usually citizens who have an emergency or a crisis situation. We also issue passports and other documents related to nationality and citizenship.

“We handle the overseas portion of immigration and we also issue non-immigrant visas to visitors, temporary workers and others who want to go to the United States.”

“It’s of interest, perhaps, to folks in Bermuda that while I am not at the highest level of the consulate, my section, in reality, is so large that I’ll have more staff and more resources than I have here as the Consul General in Bermuda.”

When asked about the process behind switching roles, Consul Settje said, “It’s an interesting process. About ten months before we we’re due to transfer, we receive the list of available positions.

“We review the list and then we submit our own list of the positions we’d like to serve in. It’s called the bidding process. It’s a bid list. It’s kind of a wish list because there are no guarantees.

“You’re really submitting your preferences and your hopes. At the same time you then make contact with the various officers in the Department of State, who are responsible for filling those positions.

“You actually lobby for those jobs. You submit references. You make contact with the appropriate people in those offices and you try to tout your qualifications. In the end, if you’re fortunate, you get one of those positions on your list. I was fortunate in that I got Hong Kong.”

HIS SUCCESSOR

When asked about the naming of his successor, Consul Settje told Bernews, “I will make that announcement next week on Wednesday. I am extremely happy.

“I can tell you that this officer is currently serving in Eastern Europe, has a marvelous reputation, and has experience, especially in public diplomacy, which means I would expect my replacement to be out working in the community, meeting with folks, engaging in all kinds of meaningful conversations, speaking engagements, that sort of thing.

“I expect her to be pretty visible. See I revealed that it’s a woman already.”

WHAT HE ENJOYED MOST ABOUT BERMUDA

When asked what he enjoyed most about his time in Bermuda, Consul Settje said, “There are two answers to that. The first is sort of an institutional one. This was my first – and given my personal circumstances my age, and everything else, where I am in my career – this was and will be my only opportunity ever to be in charge of my own foreign mission.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve my country in this way. I cannot be more grateful to all those who made that possible.

“The second answer is related to Bermuda. I’m fortunate that it got to be here. I have such love and respect for Bermuda after my time here that it’s difficult to describe. My wife, my family in general, and I have been treated with such kindness, such generosity, such respect during our time here.

“People have been so friendly, so helpful, so good to us. It doesn’t matter from what walk of life, what race they are, what their economic level is, we have been treated so wonderfully. We’ve also been treated well even when people didn’t know who I was.

“You know how sometimes you get special treatment because of who you are? Lots of times people didn’t know I was the US Consul General, but they still were so good to us. I will always remember that and always think so highly of Bermuda and the people of Bermuda for that reason.”

THE STOPLIST

When asked for his thoughts on the U.S. “stop list” of Bermudians for cannabis, Consul Settje said, “I imagine that to some my government’s position on this issue seems somewhat hypocritical in that almost half of the states now have legalized marijuana in one form or another, mostly medical marijuana.

“In some other cases for personal use, while at the same time we continue to put people on the stop list if they are convicted of possession of marijuana.

“The technical answer to that is that federal law and state law in the United States are two different animals. The States have taken a certain course; the federal government has not gone down that course, although at the same time it has decided that within those states, it will not enforce the federal laws completely, fully, to negate the effective state law.

“That’s sort of the hypocritical nature of my country’s view; federal versus state.

“I guess we’ll have to look to the future to see where all this goes. If liberalization of marijuana laws continues in the United States, one would expect that our immigration law would change to reflect that, and that ultimately folks who are convicted of possession of small amounts of cannabis wouldn’t have a problem, but I just don’t know where that’s going to go right now.”

ADVICE FOR SUCCESSOR

What asked what advice he would offer his successor, Consul Settje said, “The first thing I would tell her, in fact I’ve actually given this advice, pace yourself. I think you know that I have been pretty active during my time here in Bermuda, gotten out, met a lot of people, done a lot of things, gone to a lot of different events, I’ve spoken in so many different locations on so many different topics.

“I’m not going to say that everyone in Bermuda knows me, of course, but I think a lot of people do. It’s been a wonderful experience in that regard, but I have to tell you, after almost 3 years I’m pretty tired.

“The advice I’ve given is pace yourself. Think about what you’re going to do, plan, figure out your priorities and then work through them that way. That’s sort of the practical advice I would give.

“The other advice I’d give is get out and see this place. Get out and meet people, find out what it’s all about. I think that your experience, her experience will be every bit as rich as mine has been.”

LOOKING FORWARD

When asked what he was looking forward to in his new post, Consul Settje said, “I’m looking forward to new challenges. I’m looking forward to being in, living in a part of the world that I’ve never even visited.

“I know that Hong Kong itself is supposed to be fascinating, that the region is of great interest, and that it’s easy to travel from Hong Kong to the rest of the region, so I’m really excited about those possibilities to know more of the world.

“I joined the Foreign Service on diplomatic service when I was forty years old. People often ask me, why did I make a career change at that time. This will sound funny when I say it, but it’s absolutely true: I was a tourist who couldn’t afford to travel.

“I’m still a tourist who can’t really afford to travel. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to being in a new place to have access to all kinds of new experiences elsewhere in this large world of ours.

THANK YOU BERMUDA

“The last thing I would say is that I really want to say thank you to all the people of Bermuda,” Consul Settje said.

“Thank you for welcoming me when I first arrived, for continuing to make me feel welcome during my time here.

“This has been a wonderful experience from beginning to end, and it’s all because of how all of you have treated my family and me. I cannot be more grateful.

“Bermuda will always remain in my thoughts and in my heart. Thank you so much.”