• Susie Csorsz Brown

A work in progress

As a trailing spouse, since entering the foreign service, and leaving behind my ‘real’ job (the one that I went to university to pursue), I have had the good fortune to start a new job seven different times, which is a lot more than most people, I assume. Four times, the jobs were in the same office (though in different countries); at least, the work was familiar, if the setting and particulars different. Three times, the jobs were out of my comfort zone, out of my area of knowledge, leaving me floundering a bit in the deep end in the beginning. Thankfully, I am a good swimmer.

You might wonder what’s with all of the position hopping. When we are trailing, employment can be very tricky, especially the higher up your spouse might be (nepotism rules); if you are uber-selective about your area of employment, then your options are even more limited. Though I had a career before we headed to our first post, I quickly realized if I wanted regular employment I would either have to work at the embassy, at the school (international or American associated with the embassy) or other local organization (usually for a local salary, and often having to deal with paying local taxes), for myself, or not work at all. Some family members are fortunate enough to bring their work with them (telecommute), but that is a small percentage. As I was a professor before, this was not an especially portable career. With three college tuitions to pay for soon enough, retirement to fund, adventures to finance, I realized the embassy option was probably the best money choice. I’ve had some great jobs, and done not-so-great jobs. Regardless, each one has had its perks, for sure.


It is an astonishingly demeaning thing, to be the 'new kid' in the office, again and again. I am a highly organized person, and I can learn pretty much any skill. I say that in all modesty. If I can teach myself Excel, and use it competently (which I did for my last job, making spreadsheets that would be useful tools for the groups I worked with), then I can probably learn pretty much anything. In fact, I dare say EFMs are a group that can and do learn more job skills than any other ... because we have to. If we want to do something productive with our day for a salary, then we have to keep starting over.


Don't get me wrong: you can TOTALLY be productive at home all day. Truth be told, I think when I am home, when I am taking care of my to-do list and not just 'working from home' for a desk job, I accomplish more than you can imagine. Remember, I am highly organized. And those are the things I am accomplishing for myself: for my blogs, for my family, for my home. Want me to reformat the layout of my blogs, add another post on each, help my kid with physics, spell check an English paper, note some recipe changes for a new recipe, make lunch and dinner, and order groceries to be delivered? No problem. I'll go for a run first, so I can get that out of the way.


Here I sit, though, in an office. Doing my best to learn about the job, and to learn who I work with to accomplish what. As this is a new office to me, I am not completely sure I know what steps to take; I know full well what the end accomplishment should be so at least I have that going for me. Thankfully, another gentleman landed around the same time as me, so we can be lost in this whirlwind together. I feel like the two of us are sitting together, puzzling things out, while everyone else in the office is flying around us, or so tired from the hoopla that they have petered out and are on vacation.

On one hand, I hate to complain. I know we are super lucky in the US Foreign Service because very very few other nationalities really care or support what the spouses of their diplomats are doing. They don't do anything to facilitate employment or anything else, for that matter. So in that sense, we are definitely luckier than most. But still, why does it feel like it has to be so hard? Why are there so many fumbles with HR in the hiring process? Why is a hiring policy set out, and then just as quickly forgotten? Would the same thing happen to direct hire employees? I hear often about the 'unprofessional behavior of EFMs' and I agree, some of the things I see or have been told about r.e. the behavior of fellow EFMs while on the job are indeed unprofessional. But in the same sense, I see the way hiring offices and HR treat EFMs and it is not the same as how they treat direct hires. Or, perhaps more accurately, they don't have to go through the quitting-one-job-starting-a-brand-new-one over and over again. Why, when I ask about my work email account, why are you responding to my husband? Why, when I try to set up my paperwork, why are you cc'ing my husband? Why, when I try to work effectively at home, why do you not give me something meaningful to do? This is super frustrating. I know I am not the only EFM feeling this.

I don't know. I like to work. I like to contribute to a greater thing. I like to go to an office and work as a team. I like to accomplish goals outside of my home goals. But this? I don't know. Let's give it a whirl and see what comes of this. I can do anything for 3 years.


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