Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Freedom of no choice

Julie considers our possibilities

I always have, and always will, support self-determination as a basic human right. Having said that, the process of bidding on worldwide duty stations has shown me that not having a choice can sometimes be liberating.

For months prior to getting a job offer from the Foreign Service, Brian and I were hypothesizing, researching, and dreaming about what country we might live in should we have the opportunity to work abroad. We perused Real Post Reports, a non for profit website that keeps a database of personal insights from North Americans who have or are currently living abroad, and communicated with current and hopeful Foreign Service Officers on Livelines. Having no idea what might actually BE on our bid list, we tried to predict which posts commonly had vacancies, and India got a lot of our attention.

We received the bid list last week, and there was one Indian post on a list of over 100 vacancies.

But we're not disappointed. In fact, we're giving over thirty posts a high rating on our priority list, which we will submit to our Foreign Service Career Development Officer on Friday. Of the 100 + posts, we must rate each of them as high, medium, and low according to our personal and professional preferences. However, we don't get to decide where we're going.

Although it is true that my attitude might be different if our bid list hadn't fit so well with our personal desires, I am still struck by how liberating it has been to realize that ultimately, I don't get to choose. It's not MY responsibility to make sure that I make the best possible choice, because it's not my choice. I certainly hope that our preferences--especially our preferences related to our dogs--will be honored, but if they are not I intend to adjust my expectations in order to appreciate the strengths and adapt to the challenges of whichever country we're assigned. Our choice is not in the post assignment, but in how we choose to react. 

Grace requests somewhere warm

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Routine change

When you commit to a mobile life, you are also committing yourself to flexibility. For the past five years my routine has been the same, and although I am comforted by routines, I have chosen to join the foreign service because I am looking for new experiences. Every two years we will move to a new house; every two years we will have to acclimate to a new neighborhood and an entirely different culture. And every two years we will gain knowledge we would have remained ignorant of had we lived out our lives in Florida.

For someone who likes routines, change, even change you seek, can be disconcerting. However, in the last few days I find myself settling into a new routine. It's true that many of the small things have changed--and this time we've only moved to another state--but the important things stay constant, and there are bonuses.

The things I miss the most so far are: my backyard, commercial free TV through the DVR, snow free landscaping, my family, and my kitchen.

Things I've gained: weekly maid service, romping in the snow with Julie, time, Trader Joe's, Brian's family (they're local), and new friends.

Tomorrow we receive the bid list--a list of job openings in cities around the world, and we have a week to prioritize our preferences and return the list to our Foreign Service career development officer. Tomorrow we'll know where we might be living for two years, and we'll receive our post assignment on March 12th. However, I can be sure that wherever we go, our lives will be filled with routine change.

The view from our window

To view a video of Julie and Grace playing in the snow at a local dog park, please click here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Our family's big break

As we we prepare to leave my home state and the place we've lived and worked for the past five years, I find myself wondering if it's easier or harder for new foreign service families who already live in Washington, DC.

For DC area residents, starting A-100 may be like changing jobs. There are big changes coming, but for now your routine more or less stays the same. Your spouse can keep his or her job, your kids stay in school, and your house remains intact. On the other hand, when you leave for your post you must cope with leaving your home at the same time as you are adapting to life overseas.

For those of us who relocate for the initial training, DC is a staging ground. The past few weeks have been quite stressful, and we're counting on having packed everything we may or may not need in the next twelve months into the air and car shipments, but our final pack out should be fairly simple.  And since the average training time is four to six months--and can last up to a year if you need language training--we'll have the opportunity to begin adjusting to leaving our home while we can still make free long distance calls on our cell phones and trust that we can find our favorite toothpaste at the local Walgreens.

Either way, joining the foreign service requires you to adapt to significant changes to your routine, your expectations, and your comfort level. We're taking it one step at a time. Tomorrow we head north, and in four to twelve months we'll head overseas. For now I'll just concern myself with the bizarre DC weather and driving my native Floridian self through the snow and ice.

Saying goodbye to the Florida beaches

Friday, February 5, 2010

At least I can't relate to Office Space

My career was one of the major concerns my husband and I had to work through when we were considering a life in the foreign service. As a clinical social worker my strengths are somewhat portable, but there are still significant challenges. In my last days at work the question, "What are you going to do" came up frequently, and my optimistic answer was: "I can do social work anywhere there are people, as long I speak their language."

Of course, that doesn't address the following concerns: safety, cultural barriers, gender discrimination, transportation, eligibility for a work visa, financial concerns, etc, etc, etc.

I'm jealous of web-based graphic designers.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources available for spouses of foreign service officers, most of which can be found at the A Portable Identity website. A Portable Identity was written by two clinical social workers who are married to men whose careers required frequent international relocation. 

At the moment I should be concentrating on tomorrow's pack out, so my long term career goals are going to have to wait. I must trust that I will be able to find or create opportunities for meaningful work wherever we are, and at least I know I'll have support.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Baggage allowance

After many weeks of frenzied sorting, carting, and donating, I find myself reflecting: which comes first--the stress or the stuff?

Preparing for a mobile life requires brutal decision making. Do I really need  all these shoes? (Yes!) But do I really want to ship them overseas? ... No.  After sorting through our belongings for the four-part government shipment (permanent, long term, air, and car), I find myself feeling less stressed.

It's a bit like leaving home for college. You must learn to be flexible about your surroundings, share a bathroom (in this case with my husband in our temporary furnished  housing), and shed your old expectations to make room for new experiences. And, like going to college, it's challenging, but also refreshing.

Yesterday was my last day at work, and although my hospice care agency was wonderful and my work meaningful, while cleaning out my office I found five years worth of various stress relief products.

So, what comes first, the stress or the stuff? Not that choosing a life in the foreign service is stress-free (far from it), but thus far it's a different kind of stress--the stress of dealing with change. Perhaps later I'll miss those shoes, and I know I will miss my co-workers, but for the moment, I am enjoying the feeling of shedding some unnecessary weight. After all, the FS only allows us to bring 8,000 pounds of baggage.