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A Day in the Life: Carol Staunton

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I’m based in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital on the island of Java. I live about ten minutes from the Irish Embassy in what can loosely be described as the centre of this sprawling city.
I’m somewhat (un)fortunate insofar as I don’t need an alarm. I’m awake every morning at 6am without fail. That’s not to say I necessarily get up at that time! Work starts at 8am, unless there’s meetings outside the office before then. I’ll try to get to the gym beforehand, as the only free time I’m guaranteed is early mornings, though it’s been, shall we say, a very inconsistent gym regime in the last couple of months (that’s diplomatic speak for not going at all!).
Breakfast is usually muesli and yogurt. I can’t start the day without my Spotify playlist either. I get up, open the curtains, and see how bad the air is. I live in an apartment on the 32nd floor (though, here numbers containing 4, and 13, are unlucky so it’s technically the 28th) with a window that looks out over the city. I can see MONAS (the National Monument in Independence Square) from here, but on a bad day it’s covered with smog. It’s only a few kilometres away so it doesn’t bode well if it’s not visible. We’re in the middle of musim kemarau (dry season) at the moment, so without the rain, the air quality is worse.
Work is busy but it’s really enjoyable. Like most Irish embassies, there are only two diplomats in situ, the Ambassador and myself. My own title here is Deputy Ambassador of Ireland to the Republic of Indonesia. We have a team of four fantastic local staff who help with day-to-day functions.
Day-to-day varies drastically. My first job in the office is to check emails and see what has come in overnight. Being six to seven hours ahead of Dublin impacts on communication, especially in urgent matters.
We have a number of ministers visiting from September which, while great for the embassy and its profile here, will be a very busy period. We’re also changing ambassadors next month so there are handover issues to sort out at the moment.
Apart from that the usual tasks would be processing visas, dealing with consular issues involving Irish citizens who need our assistance here, passport applications, managing our Irish aid projects, organising cultural events, attending meetings at the local EU delegation on anything and everything from political issues to local administration, and meeting various parties here. You’re always on your toes, always learning new things, always balancing projects, always looking for new and better ways to promote Ireland here and build our relationship with Indonesia’s people – it can be stressful but an adventure all the same.

Ferrero Rocher
There’s a bit of an air of mystery surrounding diplomacy – but what have people to go on in terms of imagining what we do? Ferrero Rocher ads for one, though I can confirm I have not seen one Ferrero Rocher since I started! The image of diplomatic immunity is another. I think some people see it as a sort of opulent or decadent role – fast cars, champagne and dinner parties. It really and truly isn’t. It’s a tough gig, but very rewarding.
The variety of the work is the most interesting side of it – you could be doing anything year-on-year. There’s always changes. Postings abroad are for three to four years, with stints back at home in between. Because you’re always moving, you’re always having to learn your new role from scratch, and for that you need to be humble.
There’s great collegiality within the Department too, which makes it a lovely place to work. Colleagues are always willing to help, no matter what grade they are at, and there’s a real team ethos within DFAT.
I’ll be in Jakarta for a least one more year, having arrived one year ago. I’m open to all of our missions. Every posting has its merits but I’d love to get posted to Africa someday. Work always brings up new tasks and deadlines but I’m flexible enough, so it wouldn’t impact me as much as it would if I had a partner or children.
I completed a PhD in Sociology at NUI Galway in 2013 and applied to the Department of Transport and Trade in my final year. I applied and was put on a panel, forgot about it and lo and behold got a call. It appealed to me because it was a little bit of everything. I have a Masters in Human Rights Law and my PhD touched on similar topics so I thought I could apply them to the role. I spent most of my 20s in college and playing rugby so I never really got the chance to travel like my friends did. I saw this as a way to do so and work in an interesting job too.
Indonesia is a fascinating place, on the cusp of something special. It’s the fourth-largest democracy in the world, the largest Muslin democracy in the world, is a member of the G20, and is on course to become one of the world’s largest economies. It’s stunning, and the people here are lovely. The language is somewhat accessible too and it’s easy to practice – everyone here is happy to have a chat. However, I find the pollution in Jakarta very hard to deal with – the air quality is awful (typically ranking in the top ten worst cities in the world) and it definitely impacted on my health during my first six months.

Irish international
I played rugby a lot at home and I have 12 caps for Ireland. Rugby was such an amazing discovery. I adored every minute and have made friends for life from it. I play a bit of Futsal at weekends, and try to get to the gym. We established a GAA club here a few weeks ago and are hoping to send a men’s and women’s team to the Asian Gaelic Games in Bangkok in November.
As well as that I try to get out and explore the city and country. Jakarta is a world in of itself – it’s huge and I still haven’t come to terms with it or cracked it.
Mam, Dad [Frankie and Mike Staunton] my brother Liam and his girlfriend Claire visited recently and my other brother Kevin was here a few months back, so I don’t need to go home for a while! It’s tough being far away; I’ve missed weddings, birthdays and so on but it’s always great to come home and feel like it was only yesterday since I saw everyone. I was very jealous of the recent heatwave though the weather was amazing when I was home in May. And if my friends are chatting about nights out or little things that happened, I’m always a little sad I wasn’t with them, but that’s always the way.
In the evenings I might meet friends after work or I may have a work event to attend. Exercise, these days, tends to happen at weekends! There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Because we’re on the equator, it’s dark from 6pm to 6am so you feel your evenings don’t really exist. I miss that long stretch!

In conversation with Edwin McGreal

Factfile
Name: Carol Staunton
Age: 34
Lives: Westport
Occupation: Civil servant/diplomat

Quickfire Questions

If money was no object, what would you do all day?
Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
I used to be in the FCA and won Recruit of the Year in my first year. I still have no idea how.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
Puffin in Reykjavik. Have to say, I prefer chicken.

Where’s your favourite place in the world?
There’s no place like home when the weather is good.

What makes you angry?
Lots of things set me off. I’m like The Hulk. But this week’s hot button is people who are rude to waiting or service staff. Have some manners; there’s no need for it.

First hero?
She-Ra. Legend.

Name three things that are always in your fridge?
Cheese, cheese, cheese.

What makes you nervous?
Quickfire questions.

Favourite TV show?
Right now, The Handmaid’s Tale. Phenomenal show.

Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?
It’s a tie between Bono and Spongebob Squarepants.

Best holiday?
Three weeks around New Zealand earlier this year. Amazing country.

What do you miss most about being a kid?
50p Cornettos

What’s your most prized possession?
My passport. It’s the most important document we’ll ever possess. Please keep yours safe and allow sufficient time for renewals!

Best advice you ever got?
“What’s for you won’t pass you.” It’s a bit of a cop out as it covers all eventualities but there’s comfort in it!

Describe yourself in three words?
A lucky girl.

How do you unwind?
Cleaning and DIY. I’m my mother’s daughter.

 

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