Possessions: When you live in one place for an extended period of time, you start to collect things. I am not particularly prone to packrat behavior, but neither am I a master of de-cluttering. I just might need that ____ someday. However, because the Foreign Service will only ship 7, 650 lbs of a family's belongings, one learns to choose what to keep very carefully. In addition, with the exception of a 400 lb air shipment, these belongings have to travel across oceans to reach you, and thus, FS families must learn to do without most of their things for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. And when you realize that you can live without that ____, having it suddenly becomes a burden.
Ambition: On the surface, it appears to be extremely difficult to have a continuous career as a foreign service spouse. And if you stay attached to your stateside career expectations, it is difficult. A spouse's traditional career trajectory is often abruptly interrupted when he or she relocates to DC or overseas, but this change does not need to derail his or her career. In my experience, the more comfortable I become with my career change, the more I realize the opportunities embedded in the lifestyle. If I define a career as doing something I enjoy and feel is meaningful, regardless of pay, my career paths are limitless.
Opportunities for Learning: I have always been a curious person, and am motivated to seek new experiences. As a social worker with a full time job, it took a lot of planning and energy to obtain education outside of my workplace, not to mention trying to fit exotic travel into my weekends and vacation days. Life in the Foreign Service provides the stability of having a home and an income and the adventure of traveling, and thus, I feel freedom in knowing that, every two years, my home will be the new experience.
Responsibilities: Speaking of collecting things, one set of items that have been steadily increasing for the last five years are our bills. Stationary life combined with a steady dual income encourages spending, and since we've joined the foreign service we've been shedding expenses. Thank heaven we never bought a second home. Unlike relocating as a private citizen, State pays for a large portion of its officers' moving expenses, hires movers to pack you out, and assigns housing at every new post. You may not always like the choices made for you, but there is a wonderful simplicity in not having a choice.
This is not to say that life in the Foreign Service is easy--it has plenty of challenges. However, it has been a pleasant surprise to realize that what seems like a complicated lifestyle has actually simplified my life in many ways.
It's a foreign service dog's life.