Posted in Belgium, Foreign Service, Iceland

Change of Posts!

In true Foreign Service fashion, fate hasn’t quite finished with us this bidding season. We had pretty much figured we’d be heading to Washington and had verbally agreed on a position there. But since this particular job is at a different grade than I actually am, I am considered a “stretch bidder.” This means they weren’t able to officially offer me a written contract or “handshake” until stretch season in February. So we’re all pretty much just hanging around wading through the bureaucracy.

Since all of bidding is akin to moving a bunch of chess pieces around, it should come as no surprise that one of the top two posts we were bidding on in Europe contacted me a couple days ago, almost a full month after bidding has ended, to let me know that their #1 candidate had fallen through and asked if I wanted the job.

So this is where things got awkward. I had already verbally agreed to the job in DC, but my current supervisor, and the half dozen officers and fellow OMSs whose advice I asked, all told me that without a written handshake, I am under no obligation to follow through with the position.

Also, people curtail all the time, which means they not only accept a handshake, but they actually get all the way to post before they change their mind. So turning down a verbal is not necessarily a huge deal. Better for them to know ahead of time when they can still plan.

But I can’t help feeling extremely guilty, like I’m breaking up with a really nice guy to go out with someone else. Funny how much emotion we can attritube to this process. Plus I feel like this re-introduces an element of uncertainty. Who knows what else could happen between now and February if we start changing things around.

But hey, I try to remind myself that the whole reason we joined the FOREIGN Services is to go to foreign places, which DC is not. It’s a beautiful and exciting city; it’s in a section that I enjoy working; it will save us at least 50K in rent; I will get to use a bit of French; and our son is pretty much guaranteed to get better support at one of the few international schools that had actually accepted him. Plus they have awesome beer and chocolate. 😉

So as of today, our next post is…

Posted in Foreign Service, Iceland, WashingtonDC

And Our Next Post Is…

That’s right, people! After seven years overseas, we’re going home!

Well, sort of…I would hardly call DC our home since we’re both from the West Coast. And I’m not looking forward to the hot humid disgusting summers or the ridiculous cost of housing. But maybe we’ll get lucky and be there for another Snowmageddon. 🙂

And once we just accept the fact that we’re going to drop 50K on rent in the next two years, and that the HOURS AND HOURS of my life that I spent vetting overseas schools were a total waste of time, we can take a moment to consider the things we are looking forward to. And there are quite a few of them!

  • Being closer to family and friends.
  • Doing fun things in around DC – like wine tastings at nearby vineyards and DC Restaurant Week.
  • American-style holidays – such as a good-old fashioned Fourth of July, pumpkin patches and neighborhood trick-or-treating on Halloween, amazing East Coast autumn leaves, Thanksgiving and Christmas with family, and hot summers by the pool.
  • Potential American East Coast road trips – like attending the Maine Lobster Festival, visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina, watching the Chincoteague ponies swim from Assateague Island, scoping out New York City for superheroes, and going to Disney World and Universal Studios Florida in the off season. We could even pop up to Canada and go to Montreal or Quebec…or do an Anne of Green Gables Tour on Prince Edward Island! Better start saving now.

Other more mundane things we’re looking forward to…

  • Getting mail in less than six weeks.
  • Having a fridge with an icemaker (hopefully).
  • Being able to walk into a shoe or clothing store and afford it…or any store! Having direct access to Target or Home Depot!
  • Canned soup! – I know this might sound strange, but I love to bring canned soup to work for lunch in the winter. London had a ton of great canned soups, but Iceland basically has three, and they’re a bit heavy on the garlic.
  • Not having to fill out government forms in triplicate if I want a bottle of wine.
  • Getting all of our stuff out of storage after seven years (and probably getting rid of half of it). I believe “eclectic mess” will be our decorating theme.

Our son is looking forward to finding a comic book store and being in an American school for the first time where everyone “speaks American”…(and they can’t refuse him admission because he has ADHD!!).  And I’m sure my hubby will be thrilled to drive his Jeep again.

And last, but not least…

I’m really looking forward to the job! I won’t be in the rabbit warren that is Main State in downtown DC; I’ll be at the Foreign Service Institute, which is a lovely training facility in Arlington similar to a university campus. If I hadn’t joined State, the other career field I was interested in pursuing was university administration. So this will be a lovely combination of both worlds. And it’ll be nice to get away from embassy politics for a while. 😉

Posted in Foreign Service, Iceland

Bidding Update

So the fourth week out of a five-week bidding season draws to a close today. Even though there’s still one more week where you can officially register a bid on a post, many bureaus (offices that cover entire geographic regions) want their short list of recommendations from posts today.

In theory, the process is very straight forward. You email the person you want to replace and get an idea about the job. You officially apply for the job in the online bidding system. You email the hiring person with your resume and tell them why you want the job. If they like you, they interview you. If they still like you, they put you on their short list and send it to the bureaus. The bureau then decides who they want.

The reality is much more organic. What you expect to happen rarely does. We have to bid on a minimum of five posts and no more than 10. When bidding first started, I registered my five bids (that had also been approved for our son by MED) and continued on my way. Within the first week, two of those five positions dropped off the list. One person decided to extend, and the other one decided to retire early. I had a small panic attack, because getting MED to approve posts has been fairly difficult.

So I started applying for any job available at any of the posts that had already been approved, plus a couple of others I hadn’t previously considered, and managed to get it up to eight bids. Technically there are still two posts that have not been MED approved yet, but I don’t expect any problems.

Over the last four weeks, I’ve interviewed for five of the eight jobs and didn’t hear a peep out of the other three. One of which surprised me as I actually knew someone there on the hiring team, which I thought would at least get me an interview. One post I interviewed with has already told me they’re going to stick with at-grade bidders, and I’m one above. So we can scratch that one off.

I know some hiring managers that went on leave during bidding season, so if you didn’t interview with them during the first week, you probably weren’t going to make the short list. One post on my list popped up during the third week of bidding, so you wouldn’t even have known it was there if you weren’t continually downloading the list for any changes, which I did.

At the moment I’m on two short lists and considered a “strong candidate” for another. And I’ve noticed that one post we were interested in still has no bidders. Unfortunately, MED won’t approve it. But if nothing else works out, I suppose we can always appeal the decision and go for it. We shall see what happens!!

Posted in Foreign Service, Iceland

The Joy of “Helpful” FB Forums

I belong to a few groups on Facebook. Some are for women’s issues, some for Foreign Service employees, a couple for the choir I’m currently in, one for parental advice, and a super cute one made by our dog breeder for all the people that adopted her eight puppies.

Being in a group can be extremely helpful and practical. Anyone who’s been in a group can probably also attest to the fact that not all groups are that way, and certainly not all of the people in them.

After our first school year in Iceland, I was trying to figure out child care for our son for the summer as my hubby and I both worked. Subsidized summer camps are an extremely popular option.

For the most part, you don’t need to learn Icelandic to live here, most people speak English. That said, they are a very proud, homogeneous community and, from what I’ve seen, don’t have many support programs in place for non-Icelandic residents. So all the information I was coming across, and the summer camps themselves, were conducted in Icelandic. Most local kids haven’t learned much in the way of English yet. Our son is a fairly brave kid, but I thought he might find it frustrating if he spent three months in camps where he couldn’t communicate.

Still being new, I had recently joined an FB group called “Away from Home – Living in Iceland.” To this forum I posted a fairly simple question asking if anyone knew of any summer camps that were held in English. One local member responded by saying, “Of course the camps are going to be in Icelandic. You’re in Iceland, duh.”

Needless to say, that comment was not appreciated. I was dying to respond with similar sarcasm along the lines of: “Thank you for your completely unhelpful comment. I hadn’t noticed when I moved my entire family to a new country that everyone happened to be speaking a different language. Oh, wait, I did! Which is why I posted the question on THIS forum, mistakenly thinking someone in this group might be kind enough to share their experiences.”

But, I reminded myself that I was a representative of the US government and getting into a verbal pissing match on FB wasn’t particularly professional. So I simply left the group and found other resources.

I had completely forgotten this incident until yesterday when I saw a colleague of mine reply to someone’s query on another group with a similarly unhelpful reply. The difference is that I know this person. I know that he’s actually quite nice and would never intentionally try to hurt someone’s feelings. He just tries a little too hard to be funny sometimes. I wondered if I should say something to him about playing nicely with others…but then, who knows, maybe he was best friends with the person who asked the original question.

So instead I tried to take this information and apply it to my situation last year. Maybe the annoying person that replied to me wasn’t really a sadistic jerk, maybe they were just trying to be funny and impress their friends with their local pride. Or maybe this entire post is just about me finally being able to write my intended response on a public forum. 😉

Posted in Foreign Service, Iceland

Bidding 2017

Dept of State Embassies and Consulates, 2003

So today is September 5, and bidding will be in full swing in a couple of weeks. I must admit that I’m having a difficult time mustering any enthusiasm for it this time around, which is unusual for me.

I think part of it is because this was a three-year post. So I feel like I’ve been thinking about it and planning for it for soooooooooo long already. And this year has the added complexity of bidding with a special needs child.

So the State Dept medical office has downgraded his medical clearance to “post specific” meaning that they have to approve every post we’re thinking of bidding on before they’ll put him on my travel orders. And in order for them to approve it, I have to get a letter from a school at each post saying, not just that they’ll accept him and have ADHD support available, but that they can provide the exact same 1:1 support that he happens to be getting here.

Personally I’ve found this to be an absolutely ridiculous requirement. And we’ve already been turned down by 13 schools that can’t quite meet that criterion. I’m sure it didn’t help that I found out that I had to provide all of this information in June and was given a deadline of August 31 for most of them. So guess what, half of the schools had already let out for the summer, and their staff was on leave.

So we’re trying to widen our bidding pool. In addition to the three or four posts with schools that might actually take him, assuming they want to hire me above every other OMS that’s lobbying for that job, we’re throwing Washington, DC into the mix. Because American public schools are required by law to take every kid. Ironically, he probably won’t get the exact same 1:1 support he’s getting here! Bit of a double standard. But, hey, if you put your six-year-old child on medication that he doesn’t need, they’ll happily send you anywhere. Grrrr……

Unfortunately, we don’t really want to live in DC. One of the best perks of life overseas is that you get to live in government housing. The minute you set foot in DC, you’re on your own in a rental market where a small two-bedroom apartment near a decent school is $2,400 per month. Not to mention that you have either 30 or 60 days (I can’t remember which) to get all your stuff out of storage. So you’d better hope it’s big enough for that and all of your household goods that are coming back from your last post overseas.

So it’s been a fairly stressful summer. I know there are much bigger problems in the world. And I’m still thankful for our many Foreign Service benefits. But this is a huge part of our life, and I’m feeling a bit defensive when it comes to my little one being rejected. I also want to give people an accurate picture of life abroad. It’s not all Girls’ Weekends and R&Rs. It does come with its fair share of frustration. So I hope you’ll take this with a grain of salt, but it’s always good to know what you’re getting into. 😉

Posted in England, Foreign Service

The Five Stages of Packout

Ha! I came across this on Facebook the other day. Hopefully the author will forgive me if I leave it unattributed to protect her privacy. We pack out at the end of June. So I think I can safely say I’m approaching Stage 2.

Stage 1 Denial: We’ve got 7 months until packout. TRA LA LA LA.

Stage 2 Anger: We are never buying anything ever again. Do you REALLY need to keep those socks from 9th grade?! They are missing three toes!

Stage 3 Bargaining: Okay, if you haul all the consummables crap from the car, I will go through and sort the clothes to get rid of. Please, not another Costco trip, please. Dear God, I beg of you. We don’t need shampoo! Who uses shampoo these days, I mean, really? We can just go au natural.

Stage 4 Depression: The movers are coming tomorrow and our UAB and HHE is still not fully sorted. Pretty sure we just guaranteed ourselves a miserable life.

Stage 5 Acceptance: The movers are here. There is nothing else we can do, time has run out. Bring the wine and anchor down beside me on the couch. We might never see all this crap again, but really, who cares? Mmm…wine.

Posted in Belize, Foreign Service

Packout!

We’re on day three of what looks like it’s going to be a five-day packout. The State Department graciously gives you time off to oversee your packout, make sure your items are being cared for properly, nothing’s going missing, and it’s all going to the right location…storage, air freight, cargo container, handy-carry luggage. But they only give you three days…after that you have to take personal vacation time.

Things did not bode well from the first day for us. We were told to expect the packers between 8am and 8:30. They arrived at 11:00 after having tire trouble but never called to explain. Whenever you go to a U.S. embassy or housing compound, you have to submit an access request with the names of everyone in your party. They brought someone not on the list who then sat outside the gate for two hours while we tried to track down one of our approving security officers who was in meetings all morning. So we had three packers instead of four, and the first day was basically shot.

The next day they arrived on time and everyone was on the access list…and they even brought two more heavy lifters. But the new guys showed up around 10:00 and spent most of the day leering at our nanny who was inspired to take our son to the compound playground not once, but three times, just to get out of the house. And the whole process was painstakingly slow.

I wasn’t there for our last packout in Colorado and felt I had abandoned my hubby who mentioned it relatively regularly whenever the topic came up. So this time I made sure that I was present, tracking, labeling… whatever I needed to do.

The only problem was that I didn’t need to do that much. We were told not to prepack anything otherwise their insurance wouldn’t cover it. And they were going to do their own general cataloguing at the end when they loaded the crates. So all I could really do was sit and watch them and keep a somewhat-detailed list of everything in each room.

The company owner was a very nice guy, as was his second in command. They were very friendly, hardworking and efficient, and our son liked them, which is always a sign of good character. They showed us pictures of their families on their phones, told jokes, complimented my hubby on the music he played, and gave us a little history of their coworkers.

One of the guys that showed up the second day hadn’t made a good impression because he wore his sunglasses in the house all day. My hubby was raised in a military family and found this very disrespectful. Rather than confront him directly, he politely asked the owner if the glasses were prescription.

We found out in lurid detail that they were…and why. Apparently the man had been caught in the act of cheating on his wife. The woman was so enraged that she threw acid in his eyes. He is now slightly blind and bright light gives him a headache. (In retrospect you’d think he’d have learned his lesson and not be ogling the nanny.) So after that story, we didn’t even ask about the guy missing two fingers from his hand.

To their credit they were incredibly thorough. They made individual cardboard sleeves for all of my grandmother’s china and even put plastic covers on every piece of clothing hanging in the walk-in closet so that it wouldn’t mildew while sitting in a container in the tropics.

Regardless of deadlines, I guess the most important part of a packout is that everything gets from point A to point B in good condition. So we’ll keep our fingers crossed that it won’t get looted in Belize City or washed off the pier in a hurricane while waiting for transport.