Marco Sotelino is a MPF Alumnus who served in Class VI with New England SCORES (now America SCORES New England). He is currently working for the Department of State as a consular officer in Santo Domingo.
1. What motivated you to do a year of service?
I learned of the Fellowship when I was applying for an administrative job with SCORES. The timing of hiring for the Fellowship and the content of the work was a better fit for me. I was enthusiastic about the opportunity of engaging directly with kids, teachers, principals and coaches, and to work with minority and immigrant communities in foreign languages right in the heart of Boston.
2. Where are you now and how has The Massachusetts Promise Fellowship prepared you for your current role?
I am a diplomat for the Department of State, currently posted to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. While the links between working with inner-city youth and being a Foreign Service Officer may not be immediately evident, the Fellowship played a key role in helping me to develop as a professional public servant. For one, being a Fellow I learned how to speak to groups of kids in a way that they felt engaged. During my year of service, I worked with twelve different Boston public schools and three different camps – this meant I was always meeting with new groups of kids and had to quickly develop rapport in order to be sure that the objectives of each session or day were met.
Fast forward ten years and now I’m serving as a consular officer handling among many other things, all of our professional baseball related visas. As part of my job, I went to a youth baseball academy here in the land of baseball to discourage a group of around 200 kids aged 8-12 from committing age and identity fraud in visa applications. It has been historically common practice for kids to pretend to be younger when being recruited by Major League Baseball teams in order to get more valuable contract offers, so combating age and identity fraud is a critical issue for us. To get my message across to the youth, I dusted off some old tricks which included sharing with the kids my passion for West African drumming – and letting them play the drum, too – and using metaphors that made my message easy to digest. Rather than telling them I was going to talk about identity fraud, I told them a story of a kid who lies about stealing and then losing his brother’s baseball. I used that story to make a point about the dangers of stealing someone’s identity (in this case, the kid’s younger brother’s birth certificate) and then lying to the U.S. government about who you are.
The ability to talk to kids came in handy at my job before joining State as well. Following my year at SCORES, I worked for World Education, Inc. (www.worlded.org) a fantastic Boston-based non-government organization that focuses on improving the quality of life for children and adults primarily through education programs domestically and abroad. Part of my job included interviewing kids in N’Zerekore, Guinea and Kedougou, Senegal and elsewhere in West Africa about their perspectives on our projects. Had I not been in the classroom doing poetry exercises with kids in East Boston, I don’t think I would have been so effective in schools abroad.
3. What was your favorite memory in the Fellowship and why was it so meaningful to you?
The core elements of SCORES’ programs are poetry and soccer. As we were preparing for our April vacation camp at the Joseph Lee School in Dorchester, we were looking for a third component to round out the programming. I ended up teaching West African drumming to the kids as part of the camp. We used some drums of various qualities and a couple of empty 5 gallon water bottles during the classes. The kids progressed over the five days of the camp. My favorite memory was on the last day. The camp culminated with a soccer tournament in the afternoon. The kids who were not on the field were on the sideline drumming their hearts out. After the tournament, our Athletic Director at the time and now a close friend of mine Geoff Walker came to up to me and said it was simply the coolest youth soccer experience for the kids on the field as they really got the energy from the music on the side-line. It was awesome.
4. Describe your proudest professional accomplishment (either during your years of service or today).
The pinnacle of my work experience to date was being a core part of the team that supported President Obama’s address on U.S.-EU relations following U.S.-EU Summit in March 2014. I was serving as an economic officer at the U.S. Embassy to Belgium at the time. It was a real trip to be behind the scenes for the Presidential visit to Brussels and an honor to contribute to making sure everything was in place and the right people were in attendance for his address. This was at a critical moment in our relationship with Europe and NATO as the speech took place shortly following the Russian annexation of Crimea.
5. If you can share any words of wisdom to current Promise Fellows in regards to their service today or post-MPF, what would you say?
You decided to be an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow because you know what’s up so. Stay focused and pay close attention to what you are learning as you are doing your job. You’ll find that the skills you are developing will be of more use to you than you may ever have imagined.
Photo: I escorted Belgian jazz great Toots Thielemans to President Obama’s speech at the Bozar in Brussels, March 26, 2014. For comedic effect of the classic situation where the less relevant person is not in the photo, see below the photo that actually came out in print in the papers!