Monday, March 1, 2010

Identity Disorientation Disorder



The Foreign Service is aware that its partnered officers come as a package. To meet the needs of its EFMs (Eligible Family Members), State offers training courses, employs family liaisons, and strongly encourages spouses to attend post assignment meetings. Nevertheless, as with any private company, the State Department cannot consider its FS spouses equal to its employees. It's just not realistic.

For new foreign service families, this can lead to role confusion, especially for the officer's spouse. Many spouses leave careers in order to embark on this adventure with their partners, and almost everyone leaves their safety zone for the wide world of the unknown. Although I doubt that any spouse envies his or her partner's 40+ hours a week of training, finding where we, as spouses, fit in to this system can be challenging.

In many ways, FS spouses have it good, especially those who aren't keeping their full time jobs during the initial training.  We live in a world of possibility. At the moment I am considering multiple new career paths: online counselor, yoga teacher, artist, dog walker, community organizer, and a few more. One might say that I am experiencing an identity moratorium, except that I would love to make a commitment, but I can't. At this point, I can't predict what opportunities will be available at and/or accommodated by our new post, or which careers can withstand constant mobility. As with everything else about the foreign service lifestyle, it depends.

Identity is rooted in "personal sameness" (Erik Erikson, 1970), and thus, the challenge of every new foreign service family is learning how to create a sense of sameness despite nothing ever being the same. To truly accept a life of routine change, one must embrace the opportunities embedded within it. Two weeks into this life, I have no idea what I'm doing. However, with patience--and perhaps a post assignment--I trust that I will discover where and how I fit in.


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