Reflection is not just what you see in a mirror. Every now and then it’s a good thing to take a step back from your life and reflect on where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. Since Tabaski has stretched out to two and a half days (not a series on CBS), I’ve been doing some of that the past few days. No conclusions, but a few observations.
But first! The hottest video among foreign service officers this week is a “Sims” like simulation where a young woman asks a series of questions about being an FSO. I’d post it here, but they don’t let me post videos, so the link is http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7587243/. It’s a worthy preview to a viewing of “State Department: File 649”
All joking aside, entering the Foreign Service has always been an experiment for me. Would I like the work? Would I like the people? Would I like working and living overseas? Revisiting those questions, it’s been a mixed bag.
If you are creative, and/or have been used to being able to set your direction at work, the Foreign Service is going to be a big change, and perhaps not a happy one. This is the Government, capital G, and it seldom pays to be entrepreneurial. They want you to do what they want you to do, how they want you to do it, when they want you to do it. I don’t think this makes the Foreign Service any different from the rest of the Government, but it is what it is, and you should know that.
With rare exceptions, the people are great. They tend to be smart, curious, outgoing, open and altogether worth knowing, working and playing with. The Foreign Service seems to attract these kinds of people. I guess it takes a certain attitude to want to do what we do (or what you thought we did before you actually found out :)). People who never travel more than 50 miles from where they were born during their lifetime don’t apply to the foreign service. Still, we’re not stamped out of a mold, and if variety is the spice of life, you’ll find plenty. The old stereotype of the Ivy League, old money FSO is not true if it ever was.
Living and working overseas is really, really individual taste. And, I’d not be surprised if it’s at least in part dependent on where overseas you are living and working. I can only speak for myself. I am very aware that there are people in the Foreign Service, maybe most of them, who absolutely love living outside the U.S., at least as an FSO. After all, housing is (usually) provided, usually ample, and the General Services staff is on call if the washer breaks or A/C goes out. In many parts of the world, hiring someone (or several someones) to clean, cook and look after your kids is well within your means. I’ve spoken to several FSOs ( and their kids) who dread going back to the U.S. to live, where they have to wash the dishes and find a plumber on their own.
I, on the other hand, have decided I love living in the U.S. and don’t mind doing my own laundry and cooking. It’s the land of 24 hour restaurants and grocery stores, potable water from the tap and 110V/60Hz electricity which won’t fry your electronics, the Interstate Highway System and bad roads better than the good roads in Africa. And, most important, it’s home. It’s amazing how important I find that. I was asked when I came back from R&R what I like the best about being home, and I said “My stress level just dropped 10 degrees. Not because I wasn’t working. Just because living there is so natural to me.”
So, that’s where I am. As they say, “your mileage may vary”. Everybody is an individual. But if you’re thinking of joining the Foreign Service, understand that it’s like nothing you’ve ever done before. Yes, even if you’ve been in the Peace Corps. For you, as for me, it will be an experiment. That shouldn’t discourage you from considering it. After all, all of life is an experiment. That’s what makes it interesting.