In case you somehow managed to avoid my incessant talking (and worrying) about this day, let me explain. Flag Day is when we new FSOs receive our first assignment. The news is delivered by way of a miniature flag representing our new post. It’s a pretty big deal. Not only is a lot at stake, but we learn our fate in front of a crowd of family, friends and VIPs — including several of the Ambassadors to countries on our bid list. (In other words, if you’re not happy with your assignment, you sure better figure out a way to look happy with your assignment.)
Since 93 of us bid on 103 jobs, the first thing announced was what jobs weren’t being filled. I had very few high bids to begin with, so I listened even more nervously than most. As posts were eliminated, both cheers of relief and sighs of disappointment spread through the crowd. A few of my medium bids were cut, but none of my highs. Whew.
Then, the assignments began. It was fun to watch friends receive posts I knew they really wanted — so fun, in fact, that I forgot for a while that I was waiting to learn about mine too. Before long, Paris and Brussels were claimed. I bid them both high but didn’t expect to get either, so they weren’t tough losses. Many more posts were called, but none of them in Africa — where Andy and I really wanted to go. Then, finally…
This was a medium bid — not a top pick, but still one we would have welcomed. “Alex–” the presenter began. I crept to the edge of my seat. Then, he filled in the name of another classmate.
More flags. More names. And then…
This was a high bid too, and one I’d grown pretty excited about recently. The work I’d be doing there — political reporting on human rights issues — would be fascinating. Would this job go to me?
So, more waiting. More flags and more names. I turned around to look at a friend who hadn’t received her post yet either. “This is torture,” I whispered.
Not long after, she got her flag. For me? Nothing. And now, only two of my high bids were left.
Again, I crept to the edge of my seat. This was a high, and it was actually the post Andy had gotten most excited about over the past few days. He had a hunch we’d be going there. Would we?
Nope. Someone else’s name was called.
I began to resign myself to not getting a high bid. That would be okay, but where would we be going? I’d been trying to mark off posts as they were called, but I’d gotten distracted and missed some. I wasn’t sure what was left.
Then I heard, “Will (me) and (another classmate) please stand up?”
“So, there are two flags left here,” the presenter announced.
One of them was Muscat, Oman. A fascinating place, to be sure, but somewhere Andy and I had bid low. The other was Cotonou, Benin — our final remaining high. In fact, it wasn’t just a high; it was the highest of our highs. Andy and I included a note about this post on our bid list. “Dream job,” we wrote. It met all of our preferences — French language training, no security concerns and a high differential. On top of that, it was a Public Diplomacy job (my career track). There were only a handful of PD jobs on our bid list, and more seasoned FSOs repeatedly stressed to me how rare it would be to get to work in Public Diplomacy my first (or even my second) tour.
I looked across the room to my classmate. I knew he wanted Muscat. He knew I wanted Cotonou. We both smiled. The presenter muttered some joke about Miss America. I don’t really remember. I was too distracted. All I remember is my classmate being called to collect his flag, and then — finally — I was called to collect mine.