Learning Curve

So now that we’ve been back in the US for about 6 weeks and are starting to get settled, I’ve had some time to look back on our first post and think of all our “lessons learned” (can’t resist making a little fun of “consultant speak”). It’s so nice not to be a complete newbie anymore, but I’m far from knowing all things Foreign Service. Far. But after lots of bumbling around, we did learn a few things.

1. You never ever need to buy q-tips in bulk from Costco.
This may sound ridiculous, but people do it. *ahem*. Two years later, we still have so many q-tips that if I were creative enough, I could build a bunch of q-tip houses for my cats. I think the point here is – resist the temptation to buy too many things in bulk when you’re shopping before pack out. Reason #1 – a lot of posts have housing that does not have a lot of storage space, especially when you’re in Junior Officer housing, so wise usage of what storage space you have becomes crucial. Reason #2 – there is always Amazon! Every post will have a DPO or Pouch (pouch is a little more limited/strict with what you can send/receive) where you can have things sent to, so if you really need something, you can most likely get it (unless it’s a large liquid. Or flammable.). Which brings me to my next point:
2. Amazon is the greatest thing ever. 

Get ready to use Amazon more than you ever thought possible. Join Amazon Prime. Use Amazon Smile. I have no idea if Prime helps with actually getting things faster, since 2-day shipping is just never feasible to a post. I believe that everything at least gets shipped at the “Prime” speed to the last destination it gets shipped to in the US (before it goes into the ether). At the very least, you’ll get free shipping on many many items, and that is a wonderful thing.

In case you’re wondering why I ordered so much off of Amazon while we were living in London – one of the most fabulous, up-to-date, “you can get anything here” cities in the world – the reason is very simple: I could buy anything there, but at at least 1.5 times the price in the States. Not worth it. It took 2 weeks on average for mail/packages to get to us, which was fine with a little bit of planning ahead. I’ve heard that it was even faster to at least one post in Africa, so you never know.

3. Try to live in the moment.
Let’s be real – this life is ridiculous. You spend 2-3 years in one location. It takes about 6 months for you to get really settled once you get to a new place, and then 6 months after that, you could be bidding on the next post/job. Then you spend the last 6 months at post prepping for the next move. This can make it really hard to focus on where you are, but it is so incredibly important to enjoy that place, take advantage of what it has to offer, (or if you’re in a really bad place, to appreciate the best aspects of it. Large housing, maybe?) and to live in the moment. Otherwise, you can spend your whole life counting down to what’s next, and that’s no way to live. Someone from the Trailing Houses board added this photo, which I think says it perfectly:


4. Join an airline rewards program and stick with that airline.

We fly a lot. If you’re in this business, I’m guessing you like to travel, so besides just flying to post, you’re also traveling while you’re at post. Even though we only have Silver status with our airline of choice (and that’s after buying miles and flying a ton), getting little things like economy plus seating for free makes a BIG difference. And anything like that will make an even bigger difference when you bid on that Asia post that comes with a – lucky you! – full 24 hours of travel. Yay!

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for things. But don’t be a cow.
Be nice to the people you work with. And EFMs/MOHs, be nice to your partner’s co-workers! Especially the GSO (aka General Services Officer, aka part of the section that runs housing and everything associated with it). Need your furniture swapped out? Ask! It’s ok. Just try to be considerate about how many times you ask for furniture to be taken out or added. Some posts even have a rule on how many times you can request changes, so you’ll probably need to plan ahead. Need something hung in your apartment that requires a drill that can bust through concrete? Ask! They’re usually happy to send someone over. Need to get a new passport? No problem! Just try to make sure you know the process for employees and family members at your post. A lot of times, Management Notices (aka emails) will be sent out detailing the process for these kind of things. At a huge post like London, there was a great process and a separate email contact for officers and their family members, but some people didn’t use it, and/or started demanding things/special treatment. My rule of thumb: treat others in the embassy the way you would want the officer in your family (or yourself) treated. Also, always remember that you may very well run into any of your coworkers/partner’s coworkers in the future. If not at another post, almost definitely in DC. That could get awkward. So be nice! But – there’s always a but – don’t be afraid to fight for your family and yourself. In the end, a lot of the onus falls on you and your family to get what you need.

Next time, I’ll try to post some tips on EFM employment. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Any other tips I missed?


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