This period of home leave between my third and fourth diplomatic tours has been a time to rest, recuperate, and set up life in the United States again after spending most of the last seven years abroad. At 35 business days, it has intentionally been my longest home leave since joining the Foreign Service. Counting from the day after our PCS travel to Virginia ended, to the day before my next assignment starts (holidays and weekends don’t count), I have taken exactly seven weeks. Uniquely, for the first time, I’ve spent it all on the east coast.
It has been almost five months since the last edition of Your Questions Answered, so I thought I’d share some recent Q&A from the blog’s inbox, edited for length and clarity. In this edition, I’ll address how embassies decide which officers get language training (and how much), length of service vs. number of tours, whether officers serving on the U.S.-Mexico border can live on the U.S. side, and what consular officers do as they advance in their careers.
And as always, please remember these are my unofficial answers derived from my own experiences. Your mileage may vary.
Three months ago, during the last week of July, my diplomatic posting to Australia was ending and my colleagues threw me a going-away lunch. Over Indian food, one colleague asked what I would miss about serving in Canberra and what I was looking forward to in the United States. Funny he should have asked, because at that time, what I was going to miss about Australia was a topic I had been thinking about a lot. I’d actually been sketching a blog post outline about it for several weeks!
However, life happened and I didn’t manage to finish writing and editing the post before I left, or even during the past several weeks since we returned to the U.S. I started thinking about it again when I saw the post sitting in my drafts folder, and during my recent Spanish evaluation, when I was asked to compare and contrast life in the U.S. with life in Australia.
So here are my thoughts, in no particular order, about what I miss (and don’t miss) about living in Australia.
After wrapping up our second diplomatic tour in Australia, we spent the entire month of August on mandatory home leave in the United States, where I hadn’t been in 25 months (my longest time out yet).
As I described in my previous post, we spent the first week of our four-week home leave in Honolulu, Hawaii, where neither V nor I had ever been. We drove just over 300 miles around the island, and then we flew to California, where we threw our eight suitcases into a Nissan Pathfinder and spent three more weeks visiting family, friends, and touristing our way through California, Oregon, and Washington. Here are a few snapshots and highlights from the “mainland” part of our home leave, in which we drove 1,700+ miles through three states, after flying 7,683 miles from Canberra to Sydney to Honolulu to Sacramento.
In my prior post, I was recapping a February trip with my family to Melbourne and Tasmania. I’ll pick up where I left off on that very soon, but first wanted to share a little career-related news from down under.
I remember the afternoon in August 2014 that I got my flag for Uzbekistan, surrounded by my cheering A-100 colleagues. And I also remember the hot summer evening in June 2016 when I received my second tour assignment to Australia and stood bolt upright in my Uzbek wallpapered living room.
And very early this morning, I had that moment again. I checked my work BlackBerry and saw an email with the subject line “Handshake.” I actually waited almost 30 seconds to click on it, fumbling for my glasses and barely breathing.
On October 19, the day that bids were due, I hedged my bets by adding one more job to my bidlist. So the final tally on the list I submitted was 11 jobs in nine countries. Since a mid-level consular bidlist with four to six bids is apparently a safe bet, I thought I had given decision-makers plenty of options to work with. But October 29, the unthinkable happened: Handshake Day came and went without a handshake for me.
The Summer 2019 bid cycle officially ends tomorrow! That means that bidders are finalizing and submitting their bid lists, and hoping that all their lobbying and interviewing pays off with a great onward diplomatic tour assignment. In less than two weeks, handshakes start, and no one wants to be left without a job when the music stops.
By the time you’re halfway through your second tour, third tour bidding goes from an abstract concept to very applicable. The end of first and second tour “directed assignments” means the beginning of your own advocacy to get your next Foreign Service position. What was previously in the hands of your Career Development Officer (CDO) is now your process to manage. No more percentages of high, medium, and low bids like in A-100. No more justifying your top 30 ranked jobs like in second tour bidding. Now you hunt for a handful of jobs, and go after them.
That’s right: Third tour bidding means a lot more than sending in a list and waiting anxiously for Flag Day or an assignment email. Identifying projected vacancies, reaching out to incumbents, and lobbying decision-makers is now your responsibility. You may be thrilled to get the “permission to persuade,” or you may be a little freaked. But regardless, boldly forward – an entry level officer has been tapped to take your place, and it’s up or out you go.
In this first of a short series about third tour bidding, I will talk about how I’ve prepared, why it can be a little intimidating for first-timers, and what we’re crossing our fingers for.
A few weeks ago, I went on a work-related trip to Melbourne, Australia’s second most populous city. Nearly thirteen years had elapsed since my prior visit, but it was evident that Melbourne still has a spirit all its own – it is definitely not Sydney, or Brisbane, or Adelaide, or Perth. Melbourne is one of Australia’s most diverse cities; often called Australia’s “cultural capital,” one-third of Melbourne’s 4.9 million residents were born overseas. Visiting the melting pot that is Melbourne to attend the Strong Cities Network conference on preventing violent extremism, amidst this year’s confluence of global politics, the threat of terrorism, and the halfway point of my tour as a political officer in Canberra, made me reflect on the immigrant experience in Australia and Melbourne’s successes in social cohesion.
Earlier in April, I went on TDY (temporary duty) from U.S. Embassy Canberra to U.S. Consulate Sydney to cover a short staffing gap. Although I was only in Sydney for a week and a half, it was a fantastic opportunity to help out the mission while learning how to do a different job. And of course, I was able to spend time in one of my most beloved former home cities – and visit old haunts, old friends, and even my postgraduate alma mater, Macquarie University. It was rewarding, it was fun, and it was even a little bittersweet.
November has been a surreal and packed month, and as it winds down, I’m reflecting on some of its twists and turns.
During the first week of October, I was fortunate enough to travel to Hyderabad, India to attend a work-related conference. The conference was hosted by U.S. Consulate Hyderabad and our regional South and Central Asia bureau, and specifically targeted at first and second tour (FAST) officers, meaning new diplomats on their first or second overseas tour. I went with one of my Embassy Tashkent colleagues, K, and as we flew over Iranian air space between Tashkent and Dubai, I thought how nice it always is to change the scenery.