— By Domani Spero
*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If…
√ The sound of packing tape makes you cringe.
√ Every time you stay in a hotel, the kids ask if it is their new home.
√ You look at everything you want to buy with a view to: A., how much does it weigh and B., will it explode without a transformer.
√ When you return home, you have a nervous breakdown in Walmart because there are too many choices.
√ You come back to the States for home leave and your 3-year-old yells, “Look, Mama, they have McDonald’s in AMERICA, too!”
Every day, somewhere in the world, one or more of the 13, 787 Foreign Service employees and unknown numbers of family members are in the process of moving. The largest rotation often happens during the summer transfer season, typically after school is out. This is one of the most stressful part of the Foreign Service, one that we don’t think ever gets easier with time.
If you want to know what moving is like every few years, pick up The Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind. This is a 180-page book divided into five sections: The Big Picture;The Nitty-Gritty; Kids, Pets, and Moving; When Things Go Off-Script and Taking Care of Ourselves.
Eva Groening, a 30-year veteran of FS life with seven consumables posts writes that “moving begins, at least in your mind, the day you learn you will be leaving “here” and going “there.” Then this gem:
“Barter is a wonderful thing – some roach killer for a few tubes of toothpaste? A box of corn starch for a package of chocolate chips? I treat expiration dates as mere suggestions, but bulging cans go in the trash immediately.
Ana Gabriela Turner, a spouse who naturalized in 2012 writes about foreign born spouses: culture shock particularly for those moving to the United States, the naturalization process, to work or not to work and other challenges. She forgot to add obtaining a driver’s license as one of the necessities for foreign born spouses navigating their new lives in the United States.
Ed Dyer is part of a trailing household currently assigned to Harare, Zimbabwe writes about the Azimuth Check, a bearing point or why you need that home leave.
Danielle Dumm, a traveling, writing, shutterbug mama currently in New Delhi, India writes that storing your household’s most important documents and most treasured media in digital form has never been easier and tells you How to Digitize Your Life.
FSO Janet Heg from US Embassy Kabul writes about Packing for an Unaccompanied Tour, what to put in your “Go Bag” and passes on an advice for “shoes that are not only comfortable but also allow you to run in an emergency.”
Michele Hopper, a mom of four who “lives by a well-stocked pantry” writes about Shopping for Consumables and advises readers that “A full pantry of familiar foods eases even the most difficult day.” True dat. Also, how can one not enjoy having a grocery store in your very own home?
FSO Sadie Dworak writes about losing her faithful 10-year-old shih tzu, Hattie during her assignment to Saudi Arabia. A heart-wrenching experience at home but particularly overseas where so many things can go wrong.
Then there’s Public Diplomacy Officer Marlene Monfiletto Nice’s Packing Out is Hard to Do to the tune of Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”
Don’t take my plates away from me, My pots and pans, my cutlery,
Got more entertaining to do,
And packing makes it hard to do.
Remember when we first arrived,
It took so long to get the house just right, Now I can’t wait to start anew,
But packing up is hard to do.
But our favorite contribution is hands down, The Slacker’s Guide to Moving by “Ima Spouse Oh”
An international move could be compared to a hurricane: You know it’s coming, you look at maps and worry, and you do the best you can to get ready, whether that means securing patio furniture or downing huge tropical drinks.
The list of things that you “should do” before a move can darken your mood faster than a chocolate shortage. For instance, the first chapter of the State Department’s Foreign Service Assignment Notebook fills 13 pages with preparation suggestions.
This Slacker is here to tell you that you can skip pretty much every- thing in that chapter and still arrive at your destination. In many cases, spending more hours on your move will not actually result in a better experience at post.
Somebody described this book like having folks over and chatting about packouts. If so, then we’d all be happy to have jugs of coffee with EFM, ‘Ima Spouse Oh’ and her pearls of wisdom. Do you know that you can have things moved in “as-is” condition? “Yes, the trusty toaster oven arrived complete with crumbs and blotches of melted cheese.”
We had a full laundry basket and a trash can moved in “as-in” condition. Both survived the transfer.
Looking for work before you get to post? Forgetaboutit. “All of the local work Ms. Spouse Oh eventually found was obtained once she started meeting people face-to-face. She decided to change from a job “hunter” to a job “gatherer”: The work is sitting there, she just has to show up in the right place and load it into her basket!”
Mrs. ‘Ima Spouse Oh’ is also huge on delegation, unless “it’s too much effort:” “Ask the movers to unpack the boxes. Claim you have to work and let your spouse handle everything…. Go on vacation and let the Foreign Service officer in the family manage the move –that’s what would happen if he/she were single anyhow! Just promise not to complain about how things were done if you did not help do them.”
The only thing missing in this book is when a spouse is ditched by the FSO overseas, and how that packout in the midst of a separation or a divorce can be extremely messy.
The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) has put together this Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind. The book edited by Kelly Bembry Midura and Zoe Cabaniss Friloux. Kelly blogs at wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com. The editors and authors are volunteers. Your purchase will benefit the programs of the AAFSW. We understand that this is part one of a series planned for publication, we look forward to the rest of the books in the series.
*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If… excerpted from the book.