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Foreign Services Officer
Old 12-28-2007, 08:41 AM   #1
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Foreign Services Officer

Has anyone here ever worked (or had a spouse who worked) for the Foreign Services? I'm thinking about taking the test, but I'm not sold on the lifestyle. How do spouses and children handle it? How much control do you have over avoiding posts like Iraq and other less than desirable places?
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Old 12-28-2007, 08:51 AM   #2
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You may not have noticed, but there has been a big fuss lately about foreign service officers who are not only not volunteering to go to Iraq, but are resisting being assigned involuntarily to Iraq. (There are $$ bonuses, by the way.)

Personally, I think foreign service, career or no, has many attractions, even in Iraq.
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Old 12-28-2007, 10:53 AM   #3
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My dad was an FSO for 30 years. I had a blast as a kid growing up. My mom liked it because we were in the Third World and had servants.

You have some control over where you are posted but a lot will depend on what area of State you end up in. We spent seven years in the Philippines but avoided the Vietnam callup.
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Old 12-28-2007, 10:54 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed_The_Gypsy View Post
You may not have noticed, but there has been a big fuss lately about foreign service officers who are not only not volunteering to go to Iraq, but are resisting being assigned involuntarily to Iraq. (There are $$ bonuses, by the way.)

Personally, I think foreign service, career or no, has many attractions, even in Iraq.
I did see that. However, I heard (perhaps incorrectly, but I still heard) that most of the open spots in Iraq were eventually filled with volunteers.

In a few years the wife and I could stand living most places in the world, but with a young child we wouldn't want to be in Iraq. For that matter, I'm not sure the State Dept. would allow an FSO to bring their family to Iraq.
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Old 12-28-2007, 10:56 AM   #5
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My dad was an FSO for 30 years. I had a blast as a kid growing up. My mom liked it because we were in the Third World and had servants.

You have some control over where you are posted but a lot will depend on what area of State you end up in. We spent seven years in the Philippines but avoided the Vietnam callup.
I know I can handle almost any type of conditions, but my main concern is my family. As a FSO child, what were the highs and lows? You said you had a blast, but did you ever wish you had a normal state-side childhood? If you could go back (and you had control over your dad's career choices) would you have rather done something different? Were there ever difficult assignments that put stress on your family?

Sorry for all the questions, but this really interests me, and I'm mostly interested in how the family reacts and adapts.
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Old 12-28-2007, 11:39 AM   #6
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Well, I only lived in the states for K-2 grades. The rest was spent overseas. You have to remember that all your kids' friends also grew up in the same life, so this is normal for them. It was normal to switch posts every 2-3 years. When we were in Korea, most of the kids were Military brats and I felt sorry for them since they moved every 1-2 years.

I would not have changed anything. Things that were stressful, earthquakes and typhoons but that wouldn't be any different from living in California or Florida. We ran into riots and Communist guerillas in the Philippines but that wouldn't be any different than Berkeley or Austin . In Korea, we had the tree cutting incident. In 1968, a lot of our friends parents were trapped in the Tet Offensive (Westmoreland said it was safe for spouses to travel to Saigon during the holidays).

I don't know how old your kids were but it would become normal for them.
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Old 12-28-2007, 11:46 AM   #7
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I was in the foreign service for 10 years, did 4 overseas assignments. As to how families cope, a lot depends on the individuals. I saw so many marriages break up, unhappy spouses left at home to their own devices end up resenting the working spouse, add in the marriages that break up in Thailand/Philippines to mention a few location because they met a new spouse who was much more understanding.

As to how children cope, I saw many who became spoilt brats who thought because mummy or daddy was a diplomat they thought they were somehow special. However, there were other kids who became real citizens of the world and were so worldly.

Would I do it again, without a doubt. However you need to keep realistic expectations, for every place like London or Paris there is a matching shithole somewhere they you may end up posted to. I did 2 years in Pakistan and believe me they were 2 very long difficult years that I only survived by numbing myself with copious amounts of alcohol.
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Old 12-28-2007, 12:07 PM   #8
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I saw so many marriages break up, unhappy spouses left at home to their own devices end up resenting the working spouse, add in the marriages that break up in Thailand/Philippines to mention a few location because they met a new spouse who was much more understanding.
How common is it for spouses to find other work? If there are children, do most spouses stay home with the children, or is it common for them to work and have the kid(s) in daycare? Is day care even an option at most posts?
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Old 12-28-2007, 12:40 PM   #9
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Depends on the post. In some countries, it was illegal for my mother to work since she would be taking away a job. However there was plenty of official (parties, wives clubs) and unofficial (tours, crafts) to keep her busy. Where we lived, we had live in servants which translated to live in daycare. In Europe, you have plenty of day care options.
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Old 12-29-2007, 04:55 AM   #10
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This website is full of first-hand accounts, including extensive reviews of what is available for families at different posts:

Overseas Expat Life from Tales from a Small Planet

Way back in high school I thought I would enter the foreign service. Never did -- ended up in international development instead. But we are staying in one country for the long term for both personal and professional reasons. We do know a fair number of foreign service families, though, and most seem to be happy and well adjusted.

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Old 12-29-2007, 02:57 PM   #11
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Thanks everyone for your feedback. I'm still on the fence. The cinnamon girl seems agreeable, but we have a kid on the way in the next month. I might just stay on the fence for a few years and look at it again later.

Thanks for the website, Imaho. It looks like there's a lot of good information there.
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Old 12-30-2007, 08:52 AM   #12
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I couldn't handle the stress of moving every few years and not knowing where you're going to move to. There is a bidding process where you get to bid on assignments but it is also very political. You have to be good at playing the game to get what you want.

If your interested you may was well start the process it takes a while to get through the process. The Foreign Service thinks very highly of themselves and like they say, not anyone can be a Foreign Service Officer. If you make it through the process and decide you don't like it you can then turn them down.

I think being in the Foreign Service is a way of life. So you really need to be committed to wanting to do it.
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Old 12-30-2007, 09:05 AM   #13
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If your interested you may was well start the process it takes a while to get through the process. The Foreign Service thinks very highly of themselves and like they say, not anyone can be a Foreign Service Officer.
The selection process was actually one of the aspects that initially drew me to it. I read an article about the tests and screening processes (also the fact that many bright FSOs tried for YEARS before they were accepted) and it intrigued me. I read more into the career and it seemed like something we might like. It also came at a time when the cinnamon girl and I were talking about how we can spend time (months and years at a time) abroad while we're still in the accumulation phase of our FIRE planning.
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Old 12-30-2007, 11:58 AM   #14
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Yes, one of the nice things about being overseas is that the government pays for your housing, utilities, healthcare and so on. You only have to pay for food, gas and entertainment. And my dad had an official car with driver so he didn't have commuting costs.

A back way into the foreign service, which may no longer be open, is to get a GS position in the State Department and then apply for a foreign posting. You will be converted from GS to FS.
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Old 12-31-2007, 06:01 AM   #15
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If you have student loans, you may also be able to get a portion of them forgiving by taking a foreign service job.

Don't let having kids put you off -- especially while kids are very young, life abroad can be pretty good. We moved permanently to China when DS was 9 months old, and have had a second child in the meantime. Even when kids hit school age, you get an allowance that covers most of the fees for what are often top-grade private schools.

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Old 12-31-2007, 07:52 AM   #16
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A back way into the foreign service, which may no longer be open, is to get a GS position in the State Department and then apply for a foreign posting. You will be converted from GS to FS.
Those types of appointments are getting harder and harder to get. The FS was always complaining about about GS folks taking their jobs. I don't know if it is still happening but the FS wants it to stop.

You could accumulate some huge wealth while overseas. Free housing, cheap labor, etc. I know many FS people get used to having maids, cooks, etc, because in some countries you can hire them for dirt cheap. The problem is when you have to do a DC tour and pay for your housing in DC.
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Old 12-31-2007, 09:14 AM   #17
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If you have student loans, you may also be able to get a portion of them forgiving by taking a foreign service job.

lhamo
Do you know more details about this? I've heard this as well, but I've also heard it depends on where you are at. An FSO in Sweden is unlikely to get loan forgiveness (or hazard pay for that matter!) while an FSO in Pakistan or Iraq can get +/- $5,000/year in forgiveness.
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Old 12-31-2007, 03:24 PM   #18
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I wouldn't plan on getting assigned to Sweden early in your career. Some of the hardship posts aren't too much of a hardship and would probably be worth it.

From their website:

Student Loan Repayment Program
The State Department ranks near the top of all federal agencies offering the Student Loan Repayment Program. Since the program's implementation in 2002, this recruitment and retention incentive has assisted more than 1700 Civil Service and Foreign Service employees pay down considerable student loan debt. Foreign Service employees are eligible to apply when assigned to and encumbering positions at designated criteria hardship and/or danger pay posts around the world. For Foreign Service employees the purpose of the program is to encourage assignments to the more challenging U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Since implementation in 2002, annually the Department has approved payments of close to $5,000 be made to the lenders of qualifying Department of State employees.
Queries regarding the specifics of our Student Loan Repayment Program may be directed to the Department at SLRP@state.gov. A response will be forthcoming within two business days.
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Old 09-12-2016, 12:31 PM   #19
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Retirement

What retirement pay does an FSO earn? Is it like the military - 50% of base pay or something like that? How many years do you have to do to earn retirement.
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