Tuesday, July 16, 2013

He's in the the Foreign what?

Two of the most frequently asked questions I have received in the past year are "So what exactly is the Foreign Service?", and "What exactly does your husband do now?".  Fair enough - I was fairly clueless about the Foreign Service before P started the application process back in 2011.  And as the departure date for our first Foreign Service post approaches, I'll be referencing this crazy, exciting life we signed up for more and more frequently.  With that in mind, for those of you who are curious, I thought I'd answer those two questions and fill you in on what our life has been like since P signed on the dotted line with the US Foreign Service.

First, a little background:  when P first mentioned that he was going to apply to join the FS to me back in June 2011, admittedly, I only half listened (sorry, honey).  We were living in Dublin at the time and had made the decision that, for many reasons, it was best for our family to move back to the States. Through his work in Dublin, P met an American Foreign Service Office who worked at the US Embassy (which was, quite literally, a block from where we lived).  They chatted a bit about life in Ireland as an American expat and P became increasingly curious about the mysterious life that American diplomats lead and decided to do some more research, which whetted his appetite and prompted him to embark on the process that would ultimately make FS his new career.

The US Embassy in London - site of the first phase exam.  Fun fact: I spent a looooong day there when I was 9, when my family applied for their green cards prior to our move to 'Bama!  Hasn't changed a bit, but I hear it will in the not too distant future....    via

He went online, and applied and registered to take the first phase of a series of tests that would ultimately take a year to complete (you can read all about that here).  We thought that test would be extremely convenient as he could just walk 5 minutes down the road to the Embassy to take the test.  Nope!  He had to fly to London to take it at the US Embassy there.  It was a multiple choice/essay exam - based primarily on US history and government and politics and all that good stuff.  It took a while but we learned that he passed and could proceed to the next phase, which was a personal narrative concentrating on his experience and the "knowledge, skills, and abilities" he would bring to the foreign service.  While we were waiting to hear if he passed that phase, we moved back to the States, to the DC area.  After a couple of months, we heard he passed and could progress to the final stage of testing, the QEP (Oral Assessment).  Around this time, we also learned how competitive this process was and I felt even more proud of my better half.  :)   I think he was a little nervous about this last test - we heard it was very tough and very competitive.  Apparently there are no guarantees that anyone will be accepted at the end of the day (which ended up being a very long day: 7AM - 4PM!).

Home base, Washington DC.  via
Luckily, there was no waiting to find out if he passed.  At the end of the exam, each person was individually taken into a room and told whether they passed or not.  Obviously, he passed, along with only 2 other people out of 35!  I was a proud wife that night and there was much to celebrate, but there still wasn't a job offer yet.  After his acceptance, he was told that he would be ranked by score along with all the other people who have passed.  Then, he had to wait until his number came up.  That could take as long as 18 months and if it didn't happen by then, he'd be off the list and would have to start all over again.  We were told not to make any major life decisions based on the possibility that this might happen, so with that in mind we moved for a short time to Columbus, Ohio, where P worked for a big bank.  Five months into that job, he got his official offer to join the Foreign Service and we packed up and moved back to Northern Virginia to begin a new life and a new career.

Phew! Are you still with me?

So, to answer the first question, the Foreign Service (a part of the Department of State), carries out the foreign policy of the US and helps its citizens abroad.  A Foreign Service Officer (FSO) - more generally known as diplomats - are men or women who seek to fulfil the mission of the FS, serving in any of the 265 embassies, consulates, or diplomatic missions around the world, and at home (UN, anyone?).  Some of these locations are fantastic (think Paris, London, Rome, Sydney), some are not (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc).  When you start out as a diplomat you do 2-year assignments, as you progress they can be 3 or 4 year assignments.  The highest position you can reach in the Foreign Service is ambassador.

US Diplomat Passport.  We just got ours.  Feels kinda 007-ish.  :)

To answer the second question:  first of all, see the answer to question #1.  :)  To be more specific, right now he is spending every waking moment studying French (widely spoken in Mauritius) - quite literally, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.  When we move to Mauritius, he'll be working at the embassy as the Political/Military Officer, where he'll be working on issues such as human rights, aid projects, human trafficking, and piracy in maritime Africa.  We move there this summer and we will be there for 2 years.  About half way through that time we'll find out where we're going next.  As P is a new FSO, his next post will (should) be consular, meaning visa processing and American citizen services, probably in another French speaking country.  I'll talk about that more in a future post, along with what our housing situation has been for the last year, what it will be like in Mauritius, and anything else that I  you might find interesting.  We are so excited to embark on this adventure and I hope you'll be a long for the ride!

In case you had no idea where it was.  Don't worry, we were a little foggy on that initially, too.  via

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