The Journey of Katherine Luxford, Australian Chargé d’Affaires in Germany
Flicking through past yearbooks recently, we came across a story on the inside cover of the 1999 Annual about Katherine Luxford (Class of 1995), who had received a Rhodes Scholarship. We thought it would be a great story to find out where Katherine was now and what she has been up to. After some Googling, we found Kate Luxford, Chargé d’Affaires at the Australian Embassy in Germany. Could they be the same person? We found an email address for Kate and reached out. You can imagine our excitement when Kate responded to say she was, indeed, the same person. Kate has generously shared her story with us below.
Can you describe your career path since graduating?
My career path was something of chance. I loved international affairs and research and analysis, and over time they led me to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
I sat the Australian Public Service exam while at UWA and didn’t get an offer from DFAT. However, I was then lucky to get a scholarship to study for my Masters in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at Oxford University. During my post-graduate studies, I became interested in pursuing a career in journalism, and after graduation, I did an internship at The Economist. It was a tough job market, and my first professional job was as a Middle East analyst for a private sector research and analysis firm in London, rather than journalism. I then moved to the Middle East to work as a freelance journalist before returning to Australia to take up a role as a Middle East analyst with the Australian Government’s Office of National Assessments (ONA).
I joined ONA at the beginning of 2006. I loved the role, but after four years wanted a job that was more focused on policy making than analysis. I considered some options overseas, but really enjoyed working for the government and ended up taking a role with DFAT in 2010. Since then I’ve worked in a wide range of roles in Canberra and had postings to Afghanistan and Jordan. I took up my posting in Berlin in mid-2022.
What is a Chargé d’Affaires and how long have you been in this position?
A Chargé d’Affaires is the acting ambassador either while an ambassador is on leave or between permanent ambassadors. My normal role in Berlin is Deputy Ambassador, but there has been a gap since our ambassador finished in mid-2023 so I am Chargé until a new ambassador arrives.
What does a typical day or week look like for you in your current role?
As the acting ambassador, my role is very varied. The Embassy has about 65 staff in total, from four Australian government agencies, so there is a strong focus on leadership and management within the Embassy itself. But I also have a strong external focus. Germany is an important like-minded partner, and we are cooperating in a range of different areas, including defence and security, the multilateral system, and trade and investment, which covers topics like green hydrogen and critical minerals. I engage with German government, business and think tanks on our priority issues to advocate for our interests and find ways to advance our shared priorities
What do you enjoy most about your current position?
I really enjoy representing Australia overseas, identifying and advocating for our interests and building collaborative relationships to advance our priorities. I have to be across all the issues that the Embassy is working on, which can often be a bit daunting because they are so varied, but I love learning about new issues and getting out and meeting new people.
What made you decide to apply to become a Rhodes Scholar and what was your area of study during your time at Oxford?
I really wanted to continue on to post-graduate study after finishing my BA (Hons) at UWA. I loved the Middle East and wanted to specialise in the history and politics of the region, and Oxford University was a great place to do that. The Rhodes Scholarship is solely for study at Oxford, so it was a good fit.
Did those studies further prepare you for your career today?
I have worked in a number of roles focused on the Middle East, so my in-depth knowledge of the history and politics of the region has been very valuable for these roles. But the broader skills that my Masters helped me develop – strong writing, research, analysis and critical thinking skills – have been invaluable throughout my career.
Do you have any advice or lessons learned from your experiences as a Rhodes Scholar that you can share with students interested in studying abroad?
I would strongly encourage students to consider opportunities to study abroad during high school, undergraduate studies, or post-graduate studies. Australia has world-class schools and universities, but overseas study gives you experience living in a different culture, helps build independence and resilience, and is a chance to make new connections overseas. A scholarship can make overseas study much more feasible. Many scholarship committees are looking for well-rounded students who are not only academically strong but involved in their communities through volunteering or sporting organisations, so I’d encourage students to get involved in a range of activities and not just focus on getting good marks.
How do you balance your personal life with such a demanding career?
I try to be disciplined about managing my hours, being as efficient as possible in the office and being clear about my priorities, so I can get out of the office at a reasonable hour to spend time with my family. On an overseas posting, there are often a lot of out-of-hours events, and I need to be judicious about what I go to. You need to feel comfortable saying no sometimes.
What interests, hobbies or activities do you enjoy outside of work?
I have young children (6 and 9) and I try to do as much with them on weekends as possible, so I don’t really feel like I have a lot of time for hobbies! But I try to keep active through swimming and Pilates and am also focused on improving my German.
Looking back, do you think your schooling at Santa Maria, or your university studies and experiences prepared you for where you are now or for foreign service in general?
My schooling at Santa Maria prepared me very well for UWA and Oxford – I learned the core academic skills that helped me do well at university and have been useful throughout my career. I had great teachers at Santa Maria, and they fostered a love of history, politics and literature that have helped me understand and engage with the world personally and professionally.
We extend our gratitude to Kate for sharing her story and reconnecting with us. Her journey from the pages of the 1999 yearbook to her diplomatic role serves as a testament to the power of passion, resilience, and a global perspective in shaping a remarkable career.