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.