In an effort to prepare for life overseas, the State Department sponsors classes for Foreign Service families which help to support everyone’s transition into the career. I have heard several times now from veteran FS spouses, that the FS career track is a joint effort. Rather than saying, “When my spouse entered the FS…” families should include themselves, “When *we* entered the FS…” since it is not something that our spouses do alone. I like this perspective and have begun to incorporate it into my conversations, seeing myself as an equal in this transition with my husband. With this mindset, the Transition Center offers classes such as: Resilience Strategies for Success Overseas, Employment Tools for FS Life, Portable Careers: Employment Options, Realities of FS Life, Going Overseas for Families, Going Overseas: Logistics for Adults, Security Overseas Seminar, and Traveling with Pets. These classes are only offered once or twice a year, so it’s important to look into the schedule early. During our short time here in DC, I will only be able to take three, which is regretful since I’ve so far found them productive and useful.
A couple of weeks ago, I took Employment Tools for Foreign Service Life. The course description says that attendees will “gain information to utilize foreign affairs experience in forming a comprehensive employment plan.” Essentially, we spent six hours discussing résumé building, interviewing tips, networking, and using online profiles such as LinkedIn to build our brand and get exposure. For someone who has been active in the workplace recently, I’m not entirely sure how informative this course would be, and for myself, found it a bit tedious at times. Yes, I need to dust off my résumé and make it highlight my accomplishments. Yes, I need to practice my interviewing skills – strengths and weaknesses anybody? Yes, I need to work harder at networking and marketing – note to self: handing out my business card to the 12 year old dog walker is not going to land me any job offers. But overall, it served as a good reminder of the perseverance it takes to land a job.
I realized later that the irritation I was feeling had more to do with my own anxieties about what it is that I do as a profession, and less to do with the course information being presented. As I sat there, I wanted to easily fill in the blanks to the instructors’ questions but struggled with seeing my future goals. Will living abroad afford me the right career opportunities? Will I be a teacher? Will I do assistant work? One of the thought provokers provided was the question, where do you see yourself in ten years? The idea is that once you can determine it, you will know what you’re working towards.
I couldn’t articulate it.
I couldn’t fathom it.
I couldn’t see it.
I doubt that I was the only one who felt insecure after the class was over and I collected my handouts and tried to say goodbye to my newly made acquaintances. It definitely left an impression on me and I continue to think about my “30 Second Elevator Speech.”
The second class I took was Realities of Foreign Service Life – “Explore what it is like to be part of the diplomatic community overseas.” This class was EXTREMELY useful. While it basically confirmed my own expectations for our future abroad, it was gratifying to hear the words spoken by veteran and newbie FS spouses. We talked about the Organization of the Mission or “chain of command,” so to speak, learning about the different positions in an Embassy or Consulate. We made lists of our goals and expectations, and of the opportunities and challenges FS life presents. We discussed Culture Shock, the Fishbowl Effect, Overseas Communities, and Transition Shock. I appreciated the open discussions of these realities and how to manage and balance them. Most importantly, I learned that I was supposed to have received a Welcome Packet from post that would be an introduction to Dhahran and would address any frequently asked questions. (I found this out by making a very valuable suggestion to the instructor. So I thought.) Really? Did I really miss this vital piece of information that would help me figure out all my questions regarding shipping packages, formal wear, shopping, household items that will be there when we arrive (i.e. sheets, pillows, plates, blender, etc.), and any other question that I should be asking but don’t have experience to know to ask? After I returned home, I searched my email and sure enough, there it was. A neat attachment to our welcome email. After I told my husband that I found this very informative Welcome Packet (four months later and less than two months before we arrive at post), he said, “Oh that! I printed that out a long time ago and gave it to you to read. Here it is!” And as he pulled the paper copy from a pile on the desk, I felt even more sheepish.
Did I mention how stressful the last year has been yet?
My next and final class before leaving is the Security Overseas Seminar. It is a two day course and I anticipate it to be very enlightening for me.