that’s great, but what about you?

When I tell people that Alex is joining the foreign service and that we will be moving abroad, the conversation usually goes like this:

Me:   Alex is joining the foreign service and we’ll be moving overseas.
Them:   Wow, how exciting. What does a foreign service officer do?
Me:   Work in embassies to help Americans abroad.
Them:   That’s great. But what are you going to do?

That’s where the conversation usually gets a little more complicated. The truth is, I really don’t know exactly what I will do. The life of a foreign service spouse can be an exciting one, but it also comes with its fair share of challenges. When moving to a new post, the officer is essentially transferring offices – continuing a career in a new location with American colleagues.

For the spouse, though, the change can sometimes be more difficult. The opportunities available at one post may be completely different than those available at the next. Not having a definitive position and role before arriving at post can lead to a great deal of stress and uncertainty.

And so the question remains.  What am I going to do?

Plan A is to apply to be a foreign service officer myself. I’m scheduled to take the written portion of the test on Monday. As Alex outlined previously, the hiring process is a long and exhaustive one, so even if I continue to pass each section, I won’t know if I will be hired as a foreign service officer for about a year. If I am hired, however, Alex and I would serve as a tandem couple, which comes with its own set of challenges. Finding tandem posts can be difficult and often one person will have to take a post that is not ideal so the other can thrive (and occasionally even take an unpaid leave so the couple can remain together). But even with these difficulties, this seems to be a good option. We would both have fulfilling careers with enough benefits to keep us very happy.

Plan B is wide open. It includes:

  • Finding a graduate degree program that will give me good odds of finding a good job in many parts of the world, or one I can do remotely.
  • Getting a teaching certificate and teaching in an American school overseas.
  • Developing another skill like web design, computer programing, photography or online media planning that I could do from anywhere in the world.
  • Figuring out some way to parlay my seven years of advertising experience into…anything really.
  • Picking up odd jobs in the embassy or around town.

Obviously some of these options are better than others. I’d ideally like to find some sort of career rather than a series of random jobs, but I’m trying to be as open as possible to what may come. If I had to take a  job filing paperwork at an embassy while playing computer games during my free time, I guess I could do that for a while.

The good thing is that the state department does recognize the difficulties that spouses face. Agreements have been made with many foreign countries that allow spouses to work legally abroad. There are often jobs that can be found in each embassy doing a wide variety of different things. There are people spouses can work with to find these opportunities.

So the question of what I am going to do won’t be answered definitively for a while. Right now I’m focusing on the foreign service test and then our move to DC. After that, Alex and I will get a bid list and eventually find out where we are heading. Then there might be language training. Then another pack out. There are a lot of exciting things coming up, and eventually I’ll figure out just what I’m going to do.

And if not, then expect a lot of long and needlessly detailed blog posts about my breakfast, our dog and what I watched on tv.

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11 Responses to that’s great, but what about you?

  1. Alex says:

    I still vote for beagle breeder. Having litters of puppies around all the time sounds good to me. 😉

  2. PHKushlis says:

    Great Beagle pix and nice blog – but seriously, I think you would be much happier if you take and pass the FS Exam as quickly as possible. If you don’t pass the first time around, take it again.

    It is very difficult to sustain a career and marriage as a FS spouse. Tandem assignments (trust me I was one for 28 years) are not easy to land the further up the hierarchy one gets. As you likely understand, they can also adversely affect promotions, but being a dependent spouse (see the lead article in the most recent Foreign Service Journal) is even more difficult – unless of course, you’re content to raise kids and Beagle pups. I very much doubt you are.

  3. Alex says:

    @PHKushlis – Thanks for the article suggestion — we’ll definitely check it out!

  4. Jeanne says:

    Just don’t get too busy, too fast…you’re going to need to set some time aside for the people who will be coming to visit….

  5. Michelle says:

    Good luck on the written exam, Alex – I took the exam here in Paris last Saturday!

    (I am now calling the wait period ‘the 5th part of the exam’.)

  6. Great post, Andy – my favorite part was the last line, LOL!

    I wholeheartedly agree with your taking the exam and trying to go tandem. I am sending much good luck your way via my thoughts and prayers! I hope the process goes quickly for you while you’re still here in the US.

  7. Rick says:

    Alex, Andy, and Abbey:

    Congrats on your new venture and thanks for the blog. It’s looking like I’ll be right behind you in the May class. I’m looking forward to hearing more about what my family and I have to look forward to in the coming months.



  8. Nathan says:

    I suggest you become a trapper.

  9. It’s Friday, and that means that the Third Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up – and you’re on it!

    Here is the link:

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


  10. Donna says:

    I was in advertising before “we” joined the Foreign Service. Since then, I’ve done a little bit of everything: consular associate, newsletter editor, CLO, freelance writer, WAE-er… not climbing the corporate ladder, but I’m still (mostly) having fun. I considered joining the FS myself, but when they made me an offer, I took a hard look at the options available as a tandem couple and declined – for my first assignment, they were going to send me to Russia – even though my husband and kids were on their way to China. No, thanks. Good luck as you try to figure it out. If you’re like me, you’ll be re-figuring it out every three years.

  11. Jill says:

    Having been in the FS for over 10 years now, I will concur that this lifestyle is exactly what you make of it. You will have plenty of opportunities to find yourself during each tour… and better yet, a chance to reinvent yourself every few years!

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