It has been six months since the last edition of Your Questions Answered, so in this post, I will share some questions recently asked and answered by the blog’s email box – as always, anonymously and without attribution. In this edition, we discuss the rewards of consular work, being single in the Foreign Service, what I know now that I wish I knew when I’d joined the Foreign Service, financial matters like savings and what expenses Foreign Service Officers should plan to budget for overseas, and the typical Foreign Service “car.” Enjoy!
It has been about a year and a half since my last YQA post, so I decided to share a selection of repeat questions the blog has received since then for wider distribution, along with my answers. I have edited both questions and answers for clarity and privacy wherever necessary. In this edition, I tackle questions about candidate experience and qualifications, travel, dual-citizenship, and mail.
These are unofficial opinions and my personal advice, which are worth roughly what you pay for them. (Wink!) These posts remain popular through the years, so I will try to do them more often if the questions keep rolling in.
Go ahead, ask a diplomat! You can email the blog a question at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am going to try something a little different with this post. I’m not a beauty or fashion blogger, nor do I plan to become one. I don’t want to disappoint long-time readers who follow this blog to read about the Foreign Service and overseas life/travel, or attract new followers looking for fashion topics that I will likely never talk about again. But I can’t see creating my own YouTube channel to make just one video on this topic, and I really want to write about it. So I thought I would make an exception to regular topics and do a one-off post on one of my favorite things: the discontinued Louis Vuitton Multicolore collection of handbags and accessories, and how to spot a fake. (I want to emphasize that I do not in any way wish to be insensitive to the financial and social strain we are facing right now by discussing this topic, nor to ignore the fact that during the global pandemic handbags are not a priority for anyone, including me. I simply enjoy researching this bit of nostalgia, and it interests me and cheers me up. So for the niche audience who would enjoy it or benefit from it, I would like to share what I have learned as a mini-escape from the other things I have to do. If it comes across more superficially, please know that is not my intention.)
My interest in this topic might be surprising, as I’m not much for shopping and generally dislike pop culture. But acquiring a few items for my Multicolore collection has been a longtime dream, and when I eventually did so, I realized there was a real gap in reliable information on how to spot a fake. So I decided I wanted to share some very specific layperson tips on how consumers – if so inclined – can purchase authentic Multicolore items. Consumer education can help avoid money lost to fraud, and it can help informed consumers stop underwriting the unethical and exploitative labor practices of the transnational crime syndicates that benefit from counterfeit sales.
(Regular readers who are not interested in this, please bear with me, and we’ll get back to business as usual with my next post! It is a very niche topic on an already niche blog, and it will not offend me if you give this one a pass. But you never know… it might still be interesting!)
During this past week, I was in the State Department’s Mexico area studies course put on by the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). It was similar to the two week Russia/Eurasia course I did in 2014 while preparing for my assignment to Uzbekistan. Most area studies classes at FSI are regionally-focused, but the complexity, depth, and breadth of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship means Mexico has its own dedicated course, and it was both useful and fun. Narcotics, crime, migration, American Citizen Services emergencies, difficulties in determining citizenship, film, art, culture, indigenous issues, trade, mariachi bands, and tacos – what else do you want?
Lately, I have been thinking a lot (and feeling all the feels) about the issue of work-life balance: why does balance going sideways seem to happen to some people more often than others? And is getting the balance back really as simple as just “leaving work?” I can’t say that I have all the answers, but I’m getting closer to my own personal solutions.
As the end of the Foreign Service bidding cycle came to a close, all of the waiting and ambiguity I thought would end upon that long hoped-for handshake instead deepened into more waiting, frustration, bureaucratic entanglements, and medical clearance issues. I am working on it and hopefully will be able to announce our onward assignment in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the feeling of getting very close to a good outcome, only to keep getting further away while jumping over unexpected obstacles in my path has been dogging me. Someday I will tell that story.
Today, I’ll tell a different story in the same vein, about a day in March 2003 during my first couple of months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Macedonia. Originally entitled, “All For a List,” I wrote this piece about trying so hard to do something simple and being foiled, and foiled, and foiled some more. I silently raged against the machine, I almost lost patience, I almost let it get my goat. When the most straightforward situations devolve into total clown shows, it is the ability to laugh when you want to cry that keeps you resilient. I meet much bigger challenges more easily now, but for me that day in 2003 still marks how far I’ve since come in learning patience, thinking on my feet, and innovating on the fly. It is a snapshot in time of learning to build resiliency, and finding the calmest path to the destination you want. Don’t miss the scenery along the way!
This month I am marking 13 years of federal service, and reflecting on some of the professional and personal lessons I’ve learned since coming into the federal workforce.
At our embassy here in Tashkent, there is an active Federal Women’s Program group that meets once a month for a brown bag lunch discussion. The group is inclusive, made up of Americans and Uzbeks, men and women – usually embassy staff but sometimes spouses, too. Participants take turns facilitating discussions on topics we want to deconstruct or bring more awareness to, like maternal and gender bias in the workplace, perceptions of power, communication, diversity, work-life balance, leadership and management, and more.