A few more questions and answers:
What exactly will you be doing as a political officer? Harry Kopp and Charles Gillespie provide a terrific overview for prospect foreign service officers in Career Diplomacy. They provide a concise description of a political officer’s duties: “[p]olitical officers carry the burden of bringing foreign governments around to the U.S. point of view[, and] present U.S. views and values as persuasively as possible to local audiences.” The political officer’s portfolio includes a number of substantive areas, any one of which could be the focus of a particular assignment for 1-3 years: internal politics, relations with third countries, multilateral affairs, nuclear nonproliferation, environmental affairs, narcotics and crime, human rights, labor, refugees, political-military affairs, alliance relationships, military-to-military relations, arms trafficking, disarmament and demining, and international peacekeeping. My specific duties will depend on the location and needs of the particular embassy/consulate. Large embassies will have several political officers each with a more narrow focus while small consulates will have perhaps only one with a much broader scope.
Where do you want to go? I’m open to going anywhere. This is good because while E and I will have some input in the process, it’s not up to us. The first post bidding process presents a few conflicting challenges for us given our unique circumstances. I want to learn a second language as quickly as possible as that is a major hurdle to securing tenure. It would be great to get a Russian posting (Vladivostok here I come) starting in September 2010 so that I could take a full 9-month Russian fluency course. I took some Russian and college — not enough to retain much other than how to count to ten, hello, goodbye, and thanks — but at least it’s something. My high school French — also completely useless as far as currently vocabulary — might also provide a good starting point for learning in advance of an African post on the same time frame. At the same time, my daughter is excited about the idea of spending the summer with me abroad which would require an English-speaking first post (anything requiring a foreign language will require months of training before deployment). A posting in Washington DC is also a possibility working a region or country desk to see the other end of the process before working overseas. I expect there will be very few posts that I’ll mark as low interest, with an inordinate number of high and medium interest posts.
Can we come visit? YES! Again, depending where we are posted, we absolutely expect to see family and friends make the trek. Conventional wisdom has it that the more remote the post, the better the accommodation. Unfortunately, the opulence of the accommodation tends to be inversely proportionate to the interest of visitors. Thus, so I’m told, I should expect a nice 3+ bedroom house in Bangladesh or Zambia with very few visitors making the trek, and a 4th floor walk-up unfurnished 1 bedroom apartment in Paris with hordes of prospective visitors. Come visit us in the developing world…
Aren’t you a little old for this? That remains to be seen, but no. Looking at the biographies from my class of fellow junior officers, I’m definitely at the upper end, but starting in one’s mid-40s is far from unique. There are a handful fresh out of college in the their 20s, but most seem to be either post-grad school in their late 20s/early 30s, or second-career folks. While no doubt I will have a steeper learning curve for languages, with age comes some advantages: experience working with all kinds of people, running organizations, and confidence to say “I don’t know” without embarrassment. Mandatory retirement kicks in at 65 so I’ve still got the prospect of a full 20-year career before heading off to the home for old diplomats.
What about the dog? Many do select posts and orient their foreign service lives to accommodate dogs and cats. Our 11+ year old lab, unfortunately, will not be traveling the world. We have amazing friends willing to add her to their dog-friendly household — much more room to run and other dogs to run with. We will miss her dearly, but she’s just too old to put on long flights to parts unknown.
Are you allowed to blog? I certainly don’t check all my first amendment rights at the door, but I will be diligent not to come close to violating my security clearance obligations. The blog thus may transition from foreign service experience to more of a travelogue once training and work begins. There are many foreign service blogs out there, some written anonymously and some that more for family and friends. I will likely not be blogging about my specific job-related life and, in some posts, probably won’t be able to give much detail about my living situation. Like everything else, it depends.