A Career in Diplomacy: Talk by Ambassador Julia Longbottom to the British School in Tokyo

Written by BCCJ
February 2, 2024


Written by BCCJ
February 2, 2024

Written by Phil Robertson, Member of the BST PTA Committee

On Wednesday January 24th, Her Excellency Julia Longbottom CMG, the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Japan, gave a presentation to Senior School students at the British School in Tokyo entitled: “A Career in Diplomacy”.

The lecture took place at BST’s Showa Campus, at Showa Women’s University in Sangenjaya. The audience consisted of the students in Year 12 and Year 13, who are in the process of preparing for their A-levels, plus members of the BST PTA. The talk was part of the Enrichment Program—a series of lectures given to Years 11, 12 and 13.

In the course of her presentation, the Ambassador recapped her entire career, starting from her school days in Yorkshire, her time as an undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge, reading Modern and Medieval Languages, and her entry into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after graduation from Cambridge.

The audience heard how the Ambassador rose through the ranks of the FCO, serving in various embassies around the world, including in The Hague, Warsaw and Benin in West Africa. Her current posting as Ambassador to Tokyo is her third stint in Japan, after an early spell as Political Second Secretary and a more recent tour as Minister and Deputy Head of Mission. Her overseas postings (which have generally lasted around four years) have been interspersed with domestic stints back in London, which have included a spell as Director of the FCO’s Consular Services and a period as Director of the FCDO’s Coronavirus Task Force.

The Ambassador related that her career in diplomacy has been hugely rewarding—affording her the opportunity to live and work in fascinating locations around the world, and constantly challenging her to learn new things across a wide variety of disciplines, in order to keep up with the realities of our ever-changing world. One major advantage of being a senior diplomat is the access that this provides to other leaders across a broad range of fields, whose first-hand ideas and insights can be hugely valuable.

While entry to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (as it is now known) is extremely competitive, it represents an enormously rewarding and richly varied career path for the brightest young minds.

The Ambassador also reflected on how expectations regarding the possibilities for women in business and public service have changed over the course of her lifetime, and recounted how in her younger days her father (although extremely supportive of her ambitions) could not envisage that she would be able to rise to the very top of her chosen profession. She also revealed that in general she preferred not to be asked about what it is like to be a leader as a woman, since every leader’s style is different anyway. She also related that sport has played an important role in her life, and offered warm encouragement to the BST football team who unfortunately had to depart halfway through the lecture to play a match against a rival school.

The BST audience were captivated by the Ambassador’s recollections and the students responded with a wealth of insightful and challenging questions: “What does a typical day look like for the Ambassador?”, “Please tell us about some of the most difficult decisions that you have had to take.” and “How would the UK and its Western allies respond if China were to invade Taiwan?”.

The Ambassador fielded all these and more with practiced ease, giving further fascinating insights into the great breadth of activities that diplomatic work encompasses, and the occasional hard choices that may have to made—both in diplomacy and in life as well (when trying to balance the demands of pursuing a fast-paced career with other responsibilities or interests).

Given how busy the life of our hard-working Ambassador undoubtedly is, the BST community is hugely grateful to her for coming to speak to the Senior School. We hope that she enjoyed her visit to BST as much as her audience did.