Our Next Assignment

In the craziness of the last several weeks (government shutdown, the holidays, returning to Ohio, more government shutdown) I sort of blocked out all the stress and ultimately, relief, we dealt with during this bidding cycle.

Although the official bidding cycle for our next overseas post didn’t start until August, we were talking about potential posts all year. JR and his colleagues made informal inquiries to various places and tried to guess which jobs and locations would make the list. When the official list was released, we still had to wait because the priority bidders (folks currently serving unaccompanied tours) are the only bidders in the first round, as an incentive to go to those dangerous/hard to fill posts. We were also told that certain places on the list, even though they were on there and we would be interested in being posted there, would not be filled for one reason or another. We waited anxiously for the priority bidding round to finish so that JR could make a push for the places we really wanted to go that remained open.

A few technical points on bidding for potential posts: 1) You are allowed to bid on a minimum of 4 and maximum of 8 posts/positions; 2) You are required to bid on one unaccompanied post, one “hard to fill/critical post”, and one “priority post”.  Those can change each year. 3) JR has to interview for and lobby for the positions he wants. 4) Ultimately, the post, DC, and other powers that be meet to determine who goes where. Yes, your list and preferences are considered, but they also have to consider the needs of the agency, employees and families with medical limitations, and a million other factors.

The priority round ended I believe at the end of September, leaving JR a few weeks to really push for the positions he wanted. He was in close contact with people from those posts, through emails and informal calls as well as official interviews. It’s a delicate dance and guessing game. Posts can rank up to 3 people that they want to fill their opening. Ideally, the posts you rank high will also rank you high. But some posts don’t want to divulge how they are ranking you, so it feels a lot like a middle school relationship. Do you like me? Ok but do you like me as much as I like you? Give me a hint!

We were right in the height of all of this when we took our family trip to Paris. We were dealt some blows (one post had two positions in SE Asia we were super excited about and planned to bid high, and then at the last minute we were told they wouldn’t be filling either of those jobs after all) and some surprises (a post we had written off completely asked JR for a last minute interview and said they were really interested in him). It made for a tense vacation and lots of agonizing and going back and forth about how to rank our list, where we coud possibly end up, what was best for JR’s career, and what was best for our family.

At the end of October he submitted his bid list. We felt really great about our top 4-5 places, less so about the bottom 3. Then came several more weeks of waiting. We were told assignments would start to be made the first week of December. In addition to pregnancy insomnia, I was having trouble falling asleep while waiting for late night or super early morning email notices from DC (Tbilisi is 9 hours ahead) that would seal our fate. The first round of assignments was released December 6 and JR’s name wasn’t on it. Unfortunately, our number one post was listed, but with another name beside it. Double whammy. Over the next two weeks, more and more rounds of assignments were made and each time, JR’s name was not on it. It was so disappointing and frustrating each time another notice came out. We knew that a potential shutdown was looming, which would certainly stop assignments for a while, and we also knew there was a possiblity JR would not be assigned at ALL and we’d have to start the entire process over again in January. The stress and anxiety was really wearing on us and I found myself struggling to focus on the holidays.

The government shutdown on Friday, December 21 at midnight. A few hours before that, while we were sleeping, Round 7 of the assignments was released and finally, FINALLY, we made the list. We are super excited for our next adventure because we are moving to…

 

CAIRO, EGYPT in summer 2019!!

Our next assignment!

A few hours after I hit publish on my last post, JR received notice that more positions had been assigned.  We quickly opened the document and searched for our last name – and we were THRILLED to see that we are headed to our first choice post: Georgia!

Not this Georgia georgia

But this one Tbilisi_sunset-6

We’ll be living in Tbilisi, Georgia located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.  The bidding process was a bit stressful and difficult for us.  As early as this summer, we started to get a general idea of which posts would be likely to have openings for JR’s level and position.  A list was released in August, but only employees currently serving in CPC posts (critical priority countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Yemen, that are one year unaccompanied tours) were eligible to bid at that time, because one benefit of serving in a CPC is priority bidding for next cycle.  So, although there were quite a few places on the list that looked good to us, we knew we had to wait and see which spots remained after the priority bidders were assigned.

Our official list came out in October, and we had two weeks to submit our bids.  Prior to that, JR had been in contact with some of the posts that interested us, and we were doing a ton of research, looking into things like the job details for JR, salary (different at each post because of differentials like cost of living and hardship), spousal employment, language requirements, if malaria medication was required, safety, housing, quality of life, etc.  We created a very detailed spreadsheet that listed all of those things, and more, and then used various resources to fill in the blanks.

JR had to bid on at least 3 and no more than 8 positions.   He had to bid on one CPC, one post in Africa, and one priority country (Haiti, Bangladesh, Liberia, among others).   Needless to say, we had many difficult discussions about how we wanted to rank the posts and which posts we should try to avoid.  Ultimately, we were able to agree and we felt good about our chances of being assigned to one of our top spots.

Then the real waiting started to set in.  Lots of rumors and talk about who was assigned where, when we might find out, past stories of people getting unfortunate assignments – it was nerve-wracking!  We also thought we would know by the first week of December, and then there were multiple emails about how we might have to bid ALL OVER AGAIN in January, although thankfully that is not the case for us.   Knowing we are scheduled to leave Kosovo in early May, it’s been challenging to not know which continent we will be living on in six months, whether or not we’ll need to be in DC for language training, and so many other things.

BUT – this story has a very happy ending because we are so excited that we will be working and living in Tbilisi.  We have heard great things about the mission and the work being done there, and we think it will be a good fit for our family. Neither of us have visited Georgia before so we are incredibly excited to explore a new country and region!

315_9822TbilisiGeorgia

 

It’s almost time to bid

In this crazy life we’re living, it’s hard to believe we’ve been calling Kosovo home for more than a year (well, a little less than that for me due to my maternity med evac stint in the US) and that our time here will end next summer.  And even though that is still a year away, it’s almost time to bid on our next assignment.

JR’s bidding process is probably different from State Department FSOs, so I can only speak to how it works for us.   We will receive a list of available positions and their locations, along with the length of each tour.   Most tours are four years.  Some locations, such as Kosovo, are considered hardship posts and are two year tours.  Finally, there are a few one year unaccompanied tours (UT), in locations that are considered too dangerous or unstable for your family to go with you.

We knew when we joined that JR would have to complete at least one UT during his career.  It’s really tough to think about spending a year apart, and it’s even harder to try to figure out when it would be best to do this.  Now, while Abigail is too little to remember him being gone?  Or when she is older and could Skype with him and look forward to his visits home?  Right now, we don’t feel ready to face a separation.  If we’re forced to, of course we’ll deal with it, but don’t expect him to pull a Katniss this bidding cycle.

katniss

Currently,  we’re in a weird waiting period because although we have some idea of what positions will be open, we really don’t know for sure.  All we can do is think about what factors are most important to us, and what locations might be a good fit.  And we also have to prepare ourselves to wind up somewhere unexpected and possibly undesirable.  Try as I might, I’ve been unable to convince anyone that the Bahamas or France are developing countries in need of US support.

Our considerations for bidding this time around are a bit different than last time.   We have Abby to consider, and if we end up at a 4 year post, she’ll be starting preschool there.  So now we find ourselves researching preschool options all over the world.   Two other major concerns are safety and medical – specifically with regard to malaria.  Malaria is a serious threat in many of the countries that we may serve in, and we would need to consider the risks of having Abby take anti-malarial medication daily for several years.  I’ve done a small amount of research on this already and we are very concerned about the possible long-term side effects.

Another major factor for us is the availability of spousal employment.   Many countries do not have bi-lateral work agreements that would allow me to find work on the local economy.  In countries where that may be an option, it’s unlikely that I would have the requisite foreign language skills needed and it’s also likely the pay would be significantly lower than what I would have recieved for the same job in the States.   Ideally, I’d like to find work at USAID or the Embassy.  I enjoy my current position in the Public Affairs office and it would be great if I could do something similar at our next post.   Another option is to consider some type of telework or web-based job.   I honestly wouldn’t know where to start.  And knowing myself, I would prefer a job that gets me out of the house and interacting with people on a daily basis.
Right now it’s a big guessing game.  Which posts might be open, who wants to go where, and which countries will be on the list we turn in for assignment?  As Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part.