Tell me about your experience in the Foreign Service.
November 10, 2009 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Are you in the foreign service? Do you like it? More inside.

So, there are plenty of questions about the foreign service exam on Ask MeFi. But I'm a little more concerned about the job itself. About a year and a half ago my wife and I had the good fortune to be able to stay with a high ranking Foreign Service member during a trip abroad. We were able to talk to a lot of foreign service members and then, for a variety of reasons, we kind of forgot about it. Life changed very quickly!

We're now in Korea teaching English and we'll likely spend a few years here and then move on to somewhere else. But it's not really a career move. The Foreign Service keeps knocking around the back of my brain, but I'm not really sure what the job is. I know that a lot of the 101 stuff entails desk-job consular stuff, but what's beyond that?

Better: If you're a member of the Foreign Service, what were your other options? Are you happy to you took the job? What does your day-to-day look like?

Bonus points for details on married life in the foreign service. The member we stayed with had a wife who did teleconfrence speech therapy. Their experience was obviously not standard, he'd been with the FS for nearly 30 years.

In general, I'm just curious and staking out my options. Thanks!
posted by GilloD to Work & Money (4 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: It's worth noting that between the two of us we've set foot on 6 continents and spent several years abroad in both Europe and Asia. Right now, neither of us has a 'career'. I worked in marketing for a bit, social media for a bit after that and we did some tandem web-design gigs. She has a Master's in Poli Sci and we're both teaching English. She likes language, I like culture. We're generally not afraid to travel and move and dive in. She's expressed an interest in being a trailing spouse, so. Details from that end would be nice, too!
posted by GilloD at 9:50 PM on November 10, 2009

Best answer: I wake up in my government-issued Ethan Allen knock-off faux-colonial bed in a four-bedroom apartment in a South Asian city. I take a shower and try to remember not to swallow any water. I get dressed for work, put the trash out, and eat Nutella on a home-made bagel made with a 220 V breadmaker I had shipped to me duty-free through the pouch system.

I take provided shuttle to work; it's approx. $1/way and we drive straight through the toll booths since we have diplomatic license plates.

I get to work by 8:00 a.m. and am interviewing visa applicants by 8:15. When I started a year ago, I was doing 100-150 interviews a day. Now I am something of a manager and do only 50, while keeping an eye on my colleagues' interviews, helping regulate the flow of applicants, and dealing with VIPs, tricky cases, and emergency appointments. Interviews wrap up around 2 p.m., leaving the rest of the afternoon free for meetings, email, desk work, and goofing off with colleagues, both local staff and American. My Foreign Service colleagues are--with few exceptions--well-educated, interesting, laid back, funky people. We can goof off and make crude jokes until the cows come home, but we can also all turn on our diplomatic charm at the drop of a hat. It's a bit freaky.

After work I either go home and head to the gym, grab dinner with local friends, attend an interesting talk (or give one myself), or attend various high-society/diplomat/expat events. At least every two weeks I have to show up an after-hours work function the Embassy hosts, and play the smiling American. These events can range from the sublime (Eve Ensler debuts her new play!) to the interminable (7th Annual American Chamber of Commerce Awards for Success in the Field of Excellence!).

Halfway through your first tour, you will find out where you're headed next. A typical Foreign Service career will have you doing six months of training at the Foreign Service Institute after you join, a two-year Consular tour, a year back at FSI, another two-year tour abroad (generally one year Consular, one year in your field of choice), and then three years back in D.C. After that it's really how hard you want to work and how far you want to go.

This my career. I joined really young. For me, this is the best job in the world. I think a lot of my colleagues would agree.
posted by whitewall at 11:32 PM on November 10, 2009 [19 favorites]

A fellow English teacher in Korea? Excellent - let's mefi mail - I've been in the Seoul area since March '08. I suspect we could share information - and possibly even a book about life in the Foreign Service.
posted by chrisinseoul at 2:25 AM on November 11, 2009

Best answer: I'm what they call a Foreign Service Brat, my father was in the Foreign Service when I was a kid. You don't mention children. If you have children, or plan to have children, let me warn you that it can be really hard on them, no matter what the State Department tells you. I changed schools a dozen times, learned and forgot languages, made friends I never saw again. It was culturally enriching and alienating too. I was an alien everywhere I went. We'd come back to the States and I would find that I lacked the cultural reference points my peers had.

I know lots of Foreign Service kids who ended up really messed up.
posted by mareli at 6:54 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

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