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People On The Move - Chris Dell
10/20/2009 - By Chad A. Safran

People On The Move - Chris Dell

Dedicated to Service Around The World

Chris Dell describes his life as a foreign service officer as a bit like being a gentleman gypsy: home is where you are. In his 28 years of working in various roles around the world, Chris has had plenty of homes, including Mexico, Afghanistan, and Kosovo. In  total, Chris has had 15 different job titles since graduating from Oxford in 1980, which eventually led to his current position as U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo.

“The American Ambassador probably has a larger role here than in any other country in the world… [Kosovo’s] government looks to us for support, guidance, and leadership in ways unlike anywhere else. Not even in Iraq or Afghanistan,” says Chris, who  speaks Portuguese, Bulgarian, and Spanish, along with a bit of German (learned in high school) and tiny smatterings of Greek, Albanian, and Dari (Persian).

Chris was sworn in to his Kosovo position on July 31, 2009. Each day he meets with the government on ways to move forward with building their institutions. He works with the United States’ international partners to support that process, as well as with our  Federal Government on policy decisions and support for Kosovo. He also consults with the commander of NATO’s military forces. His meetings with all these factions are designed to shape decisions that will help keep Kosovo moving forward. “The  challenges are immense. People here look to me for the key signals on almost everything, yet my job is to strike a balance and encourage their independence and ability to make good decisions about their own future,” says the Holmdel native, who spent  several summers working for Jim and John Ackerson on their Holmdel Road farm. Chris was also one of Holmdel High School’s first graduates – class of 1974.

From 2007 to 2009, Chris was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which he considers his toughest posting. “Conditions there are very limiting…highly constrained by the constant danger and the difficulties of moving around. But at the  same time it was very rewarding…you knew you were working at the very heart of our national interests. I certainly spoke to the Secretary of State and President (by phone, video, or even in person) more often there than the rest of my career combined.”

While an undergraduate at Columbia University, Chris originally thought he’d be a lawyer; however, he became disillusioned and decided not to follow the same path as everyone else. In his junior year he took a course in international relations, loved it, and  decided to explore it further. After an internship at the State Department during his senior year, Chris decided on foreign relations as his career. He went through a long process, a written exam, and an oral test. Only about 1 in 10 makes it through each stage;  he was successful, and began as Vice Consul to the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros, Mexico, which led to other positions in Europe and Africa. His last role in Africa was as Ambassador to the Republic of Zimbabwe (2004–2007). One of the main critics of that  regime, his job was to shelter and protect the struggling democratic forces from the oppression of the rulers, often by confronting the latter in very public ways. Because Chris enjoyed a certain degree of protection and immunity from the brutal powers of the state, he could say and do things that no one else could. “This came at a certain personal cost, but also brought the reward of knowing that I had done something to defend our own values and the wonderful people of Zimbabwe. The sense that I…defended  the values America believes in was a very rewarding experience, and the belief that I was able to help keep the spark of hope alive in even the darkest night of oppression is not something I’d give up lightly.”

When not helping protect our interests abroad, Chris spends time with his wife Theodora, a Bulgarian economist who was one of his language teachers 13 years ago. Time in Kosovo allows him to hike in the mountains and indulge in his photography hobby.  Though his family is with him, he misses some comforts of home, such as watching Yankee games and enjoying fresh take-out from the Keyport Fishery. “Holmdel is still my official residence and I visit it often. It’s still my personal center of gravity in many ways.”



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