Eeny meeny miny moe!
One of the things you embrace about being a Foreign Service spouse is that you know you will get to set up house repeatedly in various settings. It’s a fact of life: We move frequently. We move repeatedly. We have to be (or, perhaps more accurately, we eventually become) very good at setting up house. We are currently scoping out the possibilities for our next post. We’ll be officially bidding in a few months, so this is all based on ‘projected vacancies,’ expectations and hopes and dreams. Where in the world would we like to live next?
When one signs on for the Foreign Service, they say ‘world wide availability’, and they really do mean anywhere in the world. You have to be prepared to pack up your belongings and your family and head to Pohnpei. Or Phnom Penh. Or Porto-Novo. Or Prague, Paris, or Port-au-Prince. There is a bit of reason in the assignment system, and the longer you are in, the more people you know and the more influence you have (or should have) over where in the world you end up. More often than not, though, it feels a little like you go where the wind is taking you. The exciting-adventure-loving part of me thinks it’s great (Yay, another place to explore! New people to meet!); the dreading-having-to-pack-it-all-up part of me wishes we could just stay put in boring ol’ Uganda. Still, I knew marrying my hubby that a Foreign Service lifestyle was part of the deal, that we would be moving every two to four years. Still, there is a small piece of me that wishes they would just TELL us where we would go, when we have to be there, and just remove that bidding/wishing element.
The thing about bidding is that it can take so very long from the first steps (scoping out the possibilities before the official lists come out), to the winnowing down the possibilities, to the final submission of your list. Then there is the waiting. Once you finally (FINALLY) receive an offer, it can be so nerve-wracking: Do you accept the first offer? Wait for another? Just get the whole thing over with already?
For your first two assignments as foreign service officers, you don’t have a lot of say in where you get assigned. You get to turn in a bid list (your preferred assignments) but in the end, it’s assigned by a committee who focus more on filling slots more than meeting preferences. After that, though, the game is on. The pre-bidding season posturing can start months before the actual bidding opens. Projected vacancy lists are pored over, options and possibilities mulled over. And in this day and age, there are any number of reasons why just because you would be the best choice (sez you, sez post), doesn’t mean that a PYP bidder (one coming from an unaccompanied post like Kabul or Juba) won’t swoop in and scoop it out from under you. In our house, every evening brings new suggestions for onward assignments. When in DC, it’s significantly easier to go to the office of the prospective bureau and sell your strengths. We’ve been looking at Post Reports, Real Post Reports and Post Info to go for months now.
My husband obsesses over this. I often feel I am purely along for the ride.
The actual bidding cycle doesn’t open until late August or September. First, the positions in the ‘big three’ (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq) have to be filled. Then the promotion lists have to be released. Only at that point, can the bidding officially start. Official bid lists have to have so many bids, a certain number at cone in grade, and in at least two bureaus. You can also weigh them as high on your list. Beyond that, it’s all calculated to best display where you REALLY want to go. For example, if you really want to go to, say Paris, you can’t put Tirana on your list because the bureau will look at that and say, ‘why would we send this person to Paris? Obviously, they are ok with Tirana.’ A lot more people are wanting to go to Paris, so they have a lot of people to choose from; Tirana will have significantly fewer bidders. Make sense? It’s all a game. An important game, no doubt, because this will definitely impact where in the world you end up next. And the ironic thing is, no matter how much you fuss with your list, how much you campaign, you may end up with an assignment not even on your list. This is how we ended up in Phnom Penh. And we loved it there.
This time around, the game has even bigger stakes: next post will be where our eldest graduates high school (which is another piece that boggles the mind; how did I end up with a child almost in high school?!). So all of our prickly little specifics (has to allow pets, has to not have a language designation so we don’t end up in DC for a year with the kids plopped in Arlington schools, has to have IB since I want that for the kids, has to have no harsh winter since I am a weather wussy, …) all fall to the wayside to the one biggie: has to have a decent enough sized high school to have all of the options we would hope for, without being a mega school which would likely be overwhelming for our three boys who are used to 3 classes of 20ish. I would love love love for them to have IB options. I would love love love for them to have sports and activities aplenty to choose from. I would love love love for them to have a safe but not dangerous city to be able to have teen-friendly options to do. I would love love love for them to live in a house and not an apartment. This is all creating a horribly high bar for our next post which is possibly not attainable.
The other thing that is different this time around is we are giving our kids considerable opportunities for input. We want them to do research and look into the what the options are. We want them to invest time and energy into figuring out what might suit them (and us) best. We want them to realize how much effort it takes to bid. This is a highly unusual part of this lifestyle ... it's not normal to move every two to four years. So ... they need to share in it.
Well. I’ll keep you posted. We haven’t yet turned in our bids, but the options are few. ‘Where in the world will we end up next’ is an excellent question. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.