University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

A Global Career

Claudia Serwer
Claudia Serwer ’67, photograph by Sally McCay

ALUMNI PROFILES

A Global Career

In a career with the U.S. Foreign Service that spanned decades, Claudia Serwer ’67 lived and worked in some of the world’s great cities—Rome to Montreal, Bogota to Caracas to Washington, D.C. Important, engaging, even exotic work. But also, at times, deeply challenging during eras of social or political upheaval.

Serwer’s husband, Michael Skol, also a foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department, was assigned to Rome during the late seventies, when Italy’s murderous Brigate Rosse paramilitary was in full force. Her memories of Rome aren’t of  the idyll-in-a-sunny-piazza sort, but of life lived cautiously under a sense of imminent threat. “There were riots in the streets. It was a tough time,” Serwer recalls.

The Rome years were, actually, prior to Serwer’s own career in foreign service. At that point, she followed where Skol’s assignment took him and then found her own work, often teaching in American schools. That pattern typically involved get settled in the city, find a job, get somewhat settled in the job, then pull up roots with a new assignment. “I said, ‘This is for the birds. I need something. I’m a worker. I can’t be not working,’” Serwer says, remembering the moment she decided to take the Foreign Service Exam and launch her own career.

In those days, the early 1980s, married couples weren’t allowed to serve together. So while Michael was posted in Washington, D.C., Claudia went to her first assignment in Tijuana, Mexico, working as a consulate officer. Several years later, though, they would serve together in Bogota, Colombia, when the married-couple restriction was lifted as the foreign service sought to fill positions in difficult circumstances after a bomb exploded in front of the embassy.

When Michael was named ambassador to Venezuela, they would be pioneers again—the first instance when an ambassador’s spouse was allowed to work in the same embassy. Serwer was attache on petroleum issues during their time in Caracas.  

Looking back to her UVM years, Serwer fondly recalls late nights working behind the scenes on lighting and staging with student theater productions and the Lane Series. She coupled her theater major with a minor in Spanish, her mother’s “you could fall back on teaching” suggestion. (Given that Latin America would become a second home years later: Thanks, mom.)

Serwer keeps her UVM ties fresh through her friendship with Anne Seeman Brown ’66, a college roommate she reconnected with at an alumni event. And Serwer is a member of the UVM Foundation Board of Directors. Returning to campus recently for board meetings and Homecoming, she was thrilled to find a new life for an old favorite, the UVM Dairy Bar, recently revived in the Davis Center.  

As Claudia Serwer discusses her long career, her cultural curiosity shines through, as does a love for continual learning and growth. Working in multiple roles with a variety of portfolios—trade to energy to aviation to Arab-Israeli relations—her career demanded continual deepening and  broadening of expertise.

Asked where she would return given the option, Serwer is quick to mention Tijuana, Mexico. The weather was perfection, and she praises the people as “lovely, lovely as anyplace you could ever want to be.”

She found the work there as a consulate officer fascinating and fulfilling. Serwer assisted American citizens in need of help due to myriad reasons—illness or injury, an automobile accident, an arrest.

“You really had to think on your feet,” she says. “It may be four in the morning and you are a little groggy. But you just snap into a different mode, use common sense and the connections you’ve built, and make it work. I loved it.”

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