Refashioning Your USGov Housing? Free E-Book Available

I posted about Sarah Novak’s new blog last month.  In collaboration with Mindy Jeppesen, a Professional Organizer and fellow expat, Sarah has now come up with a new 22 page e-book “From House to Home: Personalizing Your Overseas Living Space” that hopes to guide you through managing the transformation of your overseas house from start to finish.
Sarah says: This e-book is one part workbook, one part tips and tricks and one part action plan!  In Part 1, you’ll look back on what you liked about past spaces, assess your current space and create a rich vision for what you want now.  In Part 2 we’ll teach you the secrets to organizing your space successfully and creating a home that supports and re-energizes you.  Once that learning is done, the only thing left to do is to get on with the implementation.  Part 3 is all about getting into action and will take you through step-by-step regarding what you need to do to make your vision a reality.

As Foreign Service spouses ourselves, we have seen that creating a comfortable, energizing living space is one of the biggest factors that guarantees successful integration into a new country.  Our hope is that this e-book will give you the structure and tools you need to transform each new space you inhabit!

Excerpted from the ebook:  Why is your living space such a big deal? It may seem like an insignificant part of overseas living in comparison to more exotic aspects like discovering unfamiliar foods, traveling to far-off locales and enjoying new experiences. The fact is, though, when you’ve come home empty-handed from the grocery store after trying to buy milk and are about to punch something, it WILL matter what your home looks like. If it’s appropriately set up, it can soothe and take away the frustration. And if it doesn’t feel like home, then the reverse is true and it will only add another layer of tension.
To receive your free copy of From House to Home: Personalizing Your Overseas Living Space, please go to and enter your email address in the top of the right-hand column.
In addition to Sarah’s guide, I should add that you may actually repaint your USG provided housing subject to certain conditions.  I cannot find the specific language for repainting the interior of your house if you get tired of offwhite walls, but I know a couple of folks who did this with concurrence from post management.  In places where labor is inexpensive, it is quite possible to repaint the inside of the house, and/or have some decorative paint work done in the children’s bedrooms for a very reasonable amount.  You are, of course, expected to return the property to its original condition upon vacancy. That is, if you repainted the interior green, you are expected to restore it to its original color — usually cream or offwhite. I don’t know how strict they are on color tone/shade.   
Do check with your GSO or Management Officer for permission before undertaking any alteration, renovation, or construction even at personal expense. Also check out the relevant sections of the FAM for official guidance.             
Related items that you might find useful:
15 FAM 630 | Maintenance, Repair and Custodial Responsibilities | PDF
Occupants of U.S. Government-held residences are responsible for maintaining them in presentable condition and returning them to the U.S. Government in clean and habitable condition. Posts must issue, as part of the post housing guide, uniform rules detailing these responsibilities. The responsibilities should conform with what is normally expected of an occupant who leases residential quarters in the United States. Posts
should prepare a written statement of employee responsibilities to be signed upon occupancy (see also 15 FAM 247).           
15 FAM 240 | Using Residential Space | PDF
Before any alteration, renovation, or construction at personal expense is undertaken, written permission is required from the SRPM or USAID executive officer (for USAID). The property must be restored upon vacating the quarters.

Exchange US Diplomat in Tokyo Blogs at “Z Notes”

Andrew Ou is a Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy Tokyo and an exchange diplomat at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Below is an excerpt of his guest blog post in “Z Notes,” the official blog of US Embassy Tokyo:

When I first arrived at MOFA’s headquarters in Kasumigaseki in the summer of 2008, we were in the middle of “cool biz” season, which allows employees the option of wearing short-sleeved dress shirts without a tie, in order to rely less on air conditioning and save energy. This is something we don’t currently have in the U.S. government, except for here at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. But then again, we also do not have gargling machines or washlets in our bathrooms, a branch of a convenience store chain inside our building, or elevators where you can “undo” a button if you pressed it by mistake.

At the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Secretary of State and other senior officials’ offices are on the top floor, while at MOFA, the Foreign Minister’s office is on a middle floor of the building. A Japanese colleague explained that was so the Foreign Minister’s office could be as accessible as possible to all employees. Other differences I noticed immediately include:

Lunch breaks – At MOFA, lunch was strictly one hour from 12:30 to 1:30, while in the U.S., individuals have flexibility with both the start time and duration.

Paperwork and detail – MOFA overwhelmingly has more paperwork than the State Department, and that paperwork is much more detailed.

Career paths – At MOFA, diplomats are largely at the mercy of their personnel division on assignments, whereas U.S. officials are responsible for their own fates after the first two postings.

Miscellaneous – Also, I could not help noticing some differences in interaction with our respective legislatures, concepts of leadership and management, sense of hierarchy and division of labor, and formulation and enunciation of policy.

Continue reading: Andrew Ou – MOFA Exchange

“Z Notes” in is unique in a couple of ways: it is the official blog of the embassy but the main blogger is the deputy ambassador, Jim Zumwalt not the chief of mission, John Roos. It is also the only official blog I know that has other mission members as guest bloggers. Previous bloggers include: PolOff Jamie Roane – Celebrating Heroes; the DCM’s wife, Ann Kambara – An American O-Shogatsu; and FSN Keiko Kandachi.

Insider Quote: from intellectual independence to making do with less

Biggest change so far: It’s been a total career change and I’ve had to adjust my perspective significantly.  The State Department encourages intellectual independence — the Foreign Service truly places a high value on constructive dissent — but in the end, my job entails defending and supporting the policies of the United States 24/7.

Am I sleeping better? Well, I no longer worry about getting laid off. Gaining or losing weight? I’m on a government per-diem now and the restaurants around here are pretty decent. I’ll just leave it at that. I’ve also had to learn to be diplomatic in and out of work. F-bombs and extreme cynicism aren’t as common in my new work place.  
I left because: I wanted to travel more, I wanted more job stability, I wanted to get paid to learn relatively obscure languages, and, frankly, I was increasingly disheartened with the state of newspaper journalism. I was getting tired of being told to make do with less. After surviving roughly 10 rounds of layoffs at papers in Montana and Washington State, I was laid off in October, 2007.
James Hagenbgruber 
(New FSO – Sarajevo–bound in July)
From Poynter Online | Ask the Recruiter by Joe Grimm