Foreign Service questions
April 17, 2010 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Thoughts on joining the U.S. Foreign Service?

I don't know if there are any FSOs or FSSs on MeFi, but if so I'd like to hear your thoughts and opinions on joining the Foreign Service. I am currently a Specialist candidate - I passed my assessment in March, and am now waiting for my clearances to go through. I was initially excited about getting this far in the hiring process, but am starting to wonder if Foreign Service life is right for me.

Some background info: I'm a former engineer (laid off last year) who is currently teaching EFL in South Korea. I'm interested in joining the FS for the opportunity to see the world, great pay (once you factor in hardship differentials, free housing, per diem, etc), and career stability. I applied thinking "why not" and am actually rather surprised I've made it so far into the hiring process.

Right now I'm thinking of defering until the end of 2010. This is partly because I recently started an employment contract I would like to finish, but also because I'm not 100% onboard yet and want to have a few months to properly think this through.

That being said, there are a few things I'm still wondering about. How difficult are "hardship" posts? I have a lot of travel experience but limited mostly to China/Korea/Japan - certainly foreign but not exactly third-world living conditions. Are many of them isolated? How do you handle the isolation? I've been told that I would "most likely" be serving in D.C. for the first year or two, but I know I have to be prepared to go anywhere.

Here's another question - Is being single in the FS difficult? A lot of the info provided seems to be geared towards families. I'm glad that I don't have to worry about the "trailing spouse" issue, but should probably mention that I don't intend on remaining single forever.

Feel free to shoot your thoughts or suggestions my way, particularly if you have any insight into the Foreign Service or expat lifestyle.
posted by photo guy to Work & Money (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think Cairo is a hardship post, and when I lived there, it seemed to me that State Department folks had it pretty damn good.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:24 AM on April 17, 2010

Yes, hardship varies. Armenia is a hardship post but it isn't Khartoum.
posted by k8t at 10:28 AM on April 17, 2010

Bogota is another example of a hardship post where the living conditions are pretty nice.

According to my FS friends, though, everyone is pretty much required to do a year in Iraq at some point. (If not an actual stated requirement, then at least "your career will go nowhere without it...") If you're truly ready to go anywhere, then that shouldn't be a problem, but just make sure you're aware.

You'll start in DC because you'll need various training, depending on your post -- language, security, etc. And you'll return to DC periodically (not necessarily in between each foreign post, but relatively often) thereafter.

Being single in the FS would seem to be much easier than being married, which is why there's so much info provided on the details of family living in the FS. In certain posts, your family would not be able to accompany you anyway, or would be sent away if security conditions deteriorated. But overall, FS folks seem to be a pretty tight knit, fun-loving bunch, so I don't think loneliness will be too much of a problem.

IANAFSO, but I have many friends who are. (And, single or married or married with kids, they all love it.)
posted by somanyamys at 10:50 AM on April 17, 2010

I'm currently serving my first tour as an FSO, and I know there are more seasoned folks on here too. To answer your questions, hardship posts do vary, as pointed out above. I'm at a medium differential post right now, and my standard of living is far higher than when I was teaching ESL in Asia. This is not to say that it isn't sometimes challenging to be here on a daily basis. As another data point, I have friends in Kabul who have a much higher differential, but also have mandatory time off every couple of months (though they do live in shared trailers). In my opinion, as in any living situation, it really comes down to what you make of it.

I don't know if it is different for specialists, but I think the days of quasi-mandatory Iraq tours may be over. Also, some of my A100 classmates are doing Washington tours (one year max), but the majority are overseas.

Last, being single can be hard no matter where you are. There are some posts that are better, but once it comes time to bid, you can find out more information about specific post conditions. I'm actually at a rare post that is supposedly easier for single women than single men.

If you have more specific questions, please feel free to message me. And congrats on passing!
posted by eulily at 11:11 AM on April 17, 2010

my closest friend from high school recently resigned after a quarter of a century. there is a spiritual cost involved apparently - i'm being deliberately vague - something to keep in mind and consider. spiritual not as in religion but as in cost to your spirit, moreso if you are naturally empathetic. that is all, she said.
posted by infini at 11:14 AM on April 17, 2010

I'm what they call a foreign service brat, I grew up in a succession of countries, changed schools/languages/cultures way too many times and I wouldn't wish it on any family. It's probably fun and interesting if you're single, but if you plan to have a family in the future you'd be better off choosing another career.
posted by mareli at 6:09 PM on April 17, 2010

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