Family Member Employment in the Foreign Service

In case you were wondering what I do in my “free time,” here you go. This is a reprint of an article coming out in the AAFSW’s newsletter, the Global Link in a few days. The original piece can also be found on AAFSW’s website here. (And in case you’re not familiar with the great resource of the AAFSW, please spend some time exploring the very helpful website!)

Spousal employment is an issue close to my hear and I look forward to hearing back from many spouses on the issue! Please read on and send me an email (nicole@aafsw.org) if you would like to exchange some emails about your work situation as a spouse in the Foreign Service.

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Spousal Employment in the Foreign Service – or – 
Why I said NO the First Time
“So, what do you do for a living?”
I am on my second tour and still respond to that question with a blank stare, especially when it is asked by someone outside of the Foreign Service. (I have a similar response when people ask me where “home” is.)
It’s not that I am not working–I am quite busy keeping up with two toddlers, running an expatriate household, and using some of my precious free time to write and volunteer. Of course, little to none of this is paid work so not everyone considers what I do to be “work.” But it is work, I promise!
Since we joined the Foreign Service, I have had countless conversations with spouses about the careers, jobs, and miscellaneous parts of our self-image that we all left behind when we agreed to this crazy and unpredictable lifestyle. It is topic that comes up repeatedly, with both new acquaintances and long-time friends. As spouses, we all struggle to find our professional place in a life that is constantly changing and in which we have limited control over important factors such as where, and for how long, we live in any one place.
Not long ago, I had a formal career and a strong professional identity. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time earning degrees that now give me the right to the title of “Dr.” (don’t worry, I won’t make you call me Dr.).  Finishing my PhD was a dream come true. By the end of that long road, I was ready to establish myself in the working world. At the same time, my husband decided that his lawyering days needed to come to an end if he wanted to keep his sanity. And so, the topic of the Foreign Service came up for the first time.
We talked for hours about what life would/could be like in the Foreign Service, searching the Internet for blogs and other information. While John was overjoyed that he had found a career path that seemed perfectly suited for him and his interests, I was far more reluctant to agree to this life in which my career would be over before it started. So, I said “no, thank you.”
A few years later, after gaining valuable work experience in my field, and with a baby on the way, I was ready to try something new. I was also very ready to take a break from my academic life, especially writing those never-ending grant proposals to keep my position funded! Raising a family overseas seemed to be a great alternative. So, this time, I agreed to follow my husband and his career around the world.
We have since experienced the usual Foreign Service roller coaster ride as we navigated through moving to DC, orientation, Flag Day, language training, and our first post in Sao Paulo, Brazil. While I have been able to maintain some meaningful part-time consulting and volunteering work, I have also observed and greatly admired other spouses who have secured employment overseas, maintained their careers through telecommuting, or creatively reinvented themselves to allow them to work while living a nomadic life.
This year, the Global Link will feature a series of articles on the hot topic of spouse employment, with wisdom from spouses for spouses. Each article will focus on a different employment option, including:  work in the mission, work in the local economy, telecommuting, working as a tandem couple, and running a business from home.
If you would like to discuss your experiences and challenges in seeking employment, please contact me at nicole@aafsw.org. Until next time…and don’t forget to start working on that resume!

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