Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Let the nail biting begin…

nail biting I’ve never been a nail biter or a pencil chewer, not because I am not OC (obsessive-compulsive) but because those two have not been my OC behaviors of choice until now. The Foreign Service bid list and bidding on openings for our first post may just put me over the edge though.

Why, you may ask? Well, because it’s a pretty complicated process and its outcome will determine what happens to us for the next two years and beyond, which is making us a wee bit anxious.

We (Paul) got the overview of the process and its implications last night. We are supposed to get the bid list this afternoon and submit our final bids in two weeks, after thoroughly researching every post and determining how we feel about it. The Foreign Service takes our preferences into consideration but their needs trump everything in the end, so there are no guarantees we will get what we want.

In case we haven’t had a chance to explain in person, the bid list has all the openings available to new Foreign Service officers. It lists the city and country of the position, language requirements and the timing of when the position needs to be filled. There are about 100 openings that Paul can bid on as a newbie. Of course, his 100 or so classmates are bidding on all positions as well. And there are some really amazing people there, so it’s going to be very competitive. We have to bid “high”, “medium” or “low” on each of the openings on the list depending on our preferences for serving there.

We hear that the list is different after you get tenure and you do that by performing well during your first two posts, which are two years each. Apparently, we are not going to be required to go to Afghanistan or Iraq for our first post, which was a serious concern for us because those posts are unaccompanied (you can’t take your family with you because there's a great deal of danger involved). We would have had to separate and we didn’t want to do that unless it was absolutely necessary. It was such a relief to learn it is not a must right now, though serving in a danger post at some point is a requirement for career advancement.

Things to consider when bidding are language requirements of the post vs. the candidate’s proficiency, career objectives (for Paul), education opportunities (for Nia), job prospects (for me), pet friendliness (for the cats), relative safety of the place, and it’s overall desirability. As far as language is concerned, Paul is fluent in Bulgarian but as much as we would love to go to Bulgaria, it  may not be an option for us because I am from there and we hear that serving there may be considered a conflict of interest. Besides, we don’t even know that there are any openings there. So, we’ll have to see about that.

Career objectives are related to the career track each person chooses when they first submit their application for the Foreign Service. Career tracks are also known as cones, which may or may not mean that Foreign Service officers are coneheads but you never know.

Anyway, there are currently five tracks in the Foreign Service: consular, economic, management, public diplomacy and political. But not all tracks are created equal in terms of the needs of the Foreign Service and the relative appeal of each to Foreign Service officers. For example, consular has the most openings because there’s at least one consular section in each country but consular jobs are less appealing to Foreign Service officers than jobs in the other tracks. Political and public diplomacy are the most appealing tracks but there are fewer openings for those tracks because not every country has those types of jobs, so relatively speaking there is more competition for political and public diplomacy.  Thus it is harder to get in the Foreign Service if you pick political or public diplomacy.  This is also why no matter what track you choose you end up in consular positions at some point in your career, usually in the first two posts. Paul is in the public diplomacy track because he is a Foreign Service Badass, which we already knew, and because it is most closely aligned with his interests and experience. He is aware that he may not serve in a public diplomacy position in his initial two posts.

I also think public diplomacy is the coolest track but it may not make sense for me to pick it when I apply because my Foreign Service Badassery is yet unproven and it is harder to place a tandem couple (a husband and wife who are both in the Foreign Service), who are in the same track, especially if the track they are both in doesn’t have positions in every country, which is the case with public diplomacy. So, I may be better off picking consular (the other tracks are somewhat less appealing to me) but I haven’t made up my mind yet and I have a little time.

There’s also the choice between a large and a small post. Picking a small post may be a good idea if you want to get a wider range of responsibilities but it may limit your social life, job prospects for your spouse as well as educational opportunities for your kid(s) among other things. Who would’ve thunk there’d be so much strategery involved?!!

So, we will spend the next couple of weeks poring over reports for each country and deciding how we want to bid on each post. That and biting our nails and chewing on every pen and pencil in sight.

Tomorrow, I am going to a training for spouses at the Foreign Service Institute. It’s designed to help us spouses navigate the system and get a better idea of what our role is in the process. It’s also going to address things like job opportunities for spouses as well as educational options for children and that’s stuff I really need to know.

In other news, our air freight cargo, aka unattended baggage, or UAB, arrived yesterday. That’s 600 lbs of stuff I forgot was coming. It’s things like dry foods, spices, toiletries, more clothes, cat condos and the like that we couldn’t possibly fit in the cars, so we had to have it all packed and shipped to our new place. 600 lbs in addition to what we brought is a lot for our new apartment and fitting it in is putting a strain on the storage capacity of the place but it sure was nice to have all my spices handy when I was making my wicked good (even if I say so myself) bean soup yesterday. I know what you’re thinking: It’s bean soup, how good can it be? Well, that’s because you haven’t had my lip-smackin’ version .

How’s that for a parting thought?!


  1. Perhaps you could post the recipe for the lip-smacking bean soup?

    I'm also very eager to hear what your top 10 or so countries are.

  2. Happy Easter!

    A big hug & million of kisses from us!

    Have all the luck to get your top choice destination.

  3. Martha,

    I'll email you the recipe.


    Sooo good to hear from you. Hope all's well.


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