My Adventures as a U.S. Diplomat and Family Man

First Stop: Tel Aviv, Israel (July 2012)!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

First Post Preferences

First of all, this post is a bit silly. I am a long ways from shipping out for the Foreign Service. I have not even received an official "call" and will have no idea about possible postings until I begin orientation in DC. That hasn't stopped me from incessant daydreaming though. In fact, I have been having recurring dreams about being assigned to random posts, which I have gleaned from others going through this process is very common. Just to show how my subconscious mind works in mysterious ways, I was weighing the pros and cons of Bujumbura (Burundi) and Nouakchott (Mauritania) several weeks ago and last night it was the social life in Baghdad's embassy compound. Go figure.

Anyway, in an attempt to put some of these ruminations to bed (literally and figuratively) and since so many people ask where I am headed, I've decided to state my preferences for potential postings. Keep in mind these preferences could change (maybe after my wife reads this tonight). Nevertheless, I thought it would be a good idea to record some preliminary preferences to guide my thinking later on.  

Without further ado, here are my three rank-ordered preferences accompanied by a brief rationale:

1) Political officer opportunities: Although most available postings for first timers are consular because of the high demand for immigrant visa services, I would like to have some opportunities to perform some of the responsibilities of a political officer in my first tour and, if not, definitely in the second. This is by no means a sure thing but I'm hoping that making it my first preference will help. I have heard that there is a limited number of political jobs in each bid list with a few assignments split between consular and political duties. Those posts, almost regardless of location, would appeal to me. My understanding is that some smaller posts also allow new officers to serve in various roles. In short, I feel that it is very important that my new career entail something related to my academic and professional background in politics. After all, this cone is why I wanted to join the Foreign Service in the first place.
2) Safe environment for family: My wife and kids are along for the Foreign Service ride, for better and worse, so the least I can do is mitigate the latter in terms of living conditions. More than half of the State Department posts around the world are classified as "hardship" not so much because they are in war torn countries ravaged by endemic disease, but because the living standards are below what we enjoy in the United States. The reality is that I will serve in several posts that are hot, crowded and polluted. I feel there are ways to deal with those inconveniences. I do not, however, want to go somewhere with rampant crime and indiscriminate violence such as any of the Mexican border posts. Bear in mind that U.S. embassies go to great lengths to ensure the safety of their personnel but the mental wellbeing of my family is of utmost importance. For this reason, my family would not accompany me to a post where the normal everyday environment was unsafe. Hopefully this preference will not come into play.  

3) Arabic-speaking post: Sorry to disappoint those who were pining to visit us in Rome next year. We will likely enjoy a cushy European post later in my career but not as a newbie. In fact, I am required to serve one of my first two tours in an Arabic-speaking post and would strongly prefer to meet this requirement at the outset so I have more latitude while bidding for my second tour. I also happen to feel a strong call of duty in light of the profound changes in the Middle East. Given the swelling registers of eligible candidates for the Foreign Service, I am also fortunate that my Arabic proficiency is my ticket in and I suspect it eventually will be for my wife as well. And finally, don't think that we will be stationed in some desert wasteland. Believe it or not, the Arab world has a lot of diversity and some capitals are very cosmopolitan. A posting in Morocco would be ideal because of its politics, food and people. Other attractive family-friendly posts include Jordan, Israel (Jerusalem), Syria and Oman.

This exercise obviously entails a lot of wishful thinking but I do think it is grounded in reality. It will also be fun to look back on this post before I present my actual preferences to the Career Development Officer who will use them to help determine my first assignment. Right now, I will just have to commiserate with other diplomats in waiting who have bid list envy and follow other bloggers who provide flag day recaps with overjoyed reports about assignments matching their preferences.

Unfortunately, all of the uncertainty surrounding the federal budget has cast a dark cloud over the "Foreign Service wannabe" blogosphere. The HR Department announced today the cancellation of a previously scheduled orientation class for May. I had taken myself off the call list for this class but am hopeful of entering the next one in mid-July. In the meantime, I'll share any new developments (instead of weird dreams) and continue to throw darts at my world map on the wall.

"No, I don't really do this. I haven't gone off the deep end yet!"


  1. Great post! We have to keep our minds busy. I might copy your idea and post something similar with 3 guiding factors in our decision making process.

  2. HAHA. is on my list. I hear the housing is great in Burundi for FS employees.

  3. Congrats on making it to the register. I have added a link to your blog to my blogroll of Future FS blogs at

  4. Sure there are challenges in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, but I think NEA posts are great for families. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise :)

    Tel Aviv would be another great family post - Jill Pearlman at The Pearlman Update did a tour there with her two girls and loved it. We'd go there in a heart beat. They have Arabic speaking jobs there as well as Hebrew.

    I really liked how you talked about the call of duty you feel towards the Middle East right now - it is certainly a fascinating time to be here and we feel that call too.

    Good luck with everything!