Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The No Fear Approach to Manila

If you are interested in reading more about Manila, I encourage you to visit Here and There, a blog written by friends of ours who aren't afraid of polluted air and little things like flood waters. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bid List, Part II

The summer bid list is out! Let the obsessing begin!

My bidding strategy has dramatically changed since A-100. The 2nd tour bidding process, although still a directed tour, is different, but my thoughts, feelings, and priorities have also changed.

When we were bidding in A-100, I was inclined to overlook negative comments about posts on Real Post Reports and the OBC's Post Info To Go. In an attempt at worldwide availability, I wanted to be open to a variety of posts, and would try to read between the lines of an author's negative comments to get to the "facts" about a post. In theory, this is a sound way to distinguish reality from negativity, but it did not adequately take into account that I too will be subject to emotional responses while living at that post. If there is an overwhelming amount of negativity coming from a post, there may be a darn good reason it.

We FS folks are all, whether we like it or not, subject to worldwide availability, and bidding can be stressful because most of us want to know what we are getting into. In reality, you never, ever, truly know what you are getting into until you are in it. This goes for any major life change or decision, and life in the Foreign Service is a life of constant adaptation.

Because we don't choose our assignments, especially as an entry level FS family, it is necessary to work hard to approach this life with flexibility and an attitude of learning. But is it also necessary to be realistic, to know one's own limits, and to be aware that the expectations we bring to post can affect our ability to successfully adapt.

I was surprised by my own experience of cultural adaptation. It is generally thought that culture shock begins to wear off at 6 months following one's arrival, but I took much longer. I arrived at post with an open, positive mind and a desire to see the "real" Manila, but at 7 months the city--and perhaps my failure to acknowledge that I was experiencing culture shock--began to wear on me. A short time later, I had the opportunity to experience a 3rd world illness first hand--an "inevitable" experience of life in the Foreign Service. As someone who has always taken health very seriously, I was NOT ok with the inevitability of this experience. However, it taught me that MED is competent and has good drugs.

Having survived a year of illness, frustration, and culture shock, as we bid on our next post I hope I have learned things about myself and life in the FS that will help me adapt at our next post. I have learned that if a post is rated a 25% hardship, there's a reason for that, and it will serve me well to go into the experience of living there with appropriate expectations rather than a desire to overlook reality by being positive. I have learned that culture shock is not a weakness, but an inevitable aspect of life on the move. And finally, I have learned to be honest with myself about my limitations. Negativity doesn't help, but neither does naivete. 

To all of you bidding on this summer 2011 cycle, I wish you luck and a good night's sleep!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Are we still in the Philippines?

Palawan still holds the title of my favorite place in the Philippines, but our recent trip to Baguio offered Palawan heavy competition.

In Northern Luzon, about 4-7 hours away from Manila (depending on traffic), a trip to the Ambassador's Residence in Baguio feels like a trip to another country. The air is clean and cool, and the air smells of ... pine trees!

Baguio was first developed around 1900 by Americans who were thrilled to have found mountains, pine trees, and cool air in the tropical climate of the Philippines. I can imagine their elation to have found a place that reminds us so much of home--even those of us from Florida! These pictures can't truly capture Baguio's sights, sounds, and most importantly, smells.

An early morning view from the patio.

The back of the Ambassador's Residence.

US Embassy personnel are welcome to stay at the Ambassador's Residence for a small fee. Children are not allowed in the main residence building, but there are two cabins on campus that are great for families. There are plenty of restaurants in the City of Baguio, but I recommend bringing your own food, taking long walks, and enjoying your respite in the mountains!

For more information about the Residence's history, please visit the US Embassy Website at http://manila.usembassy.gov/wwwhamb1.html.