Saturday, November 23, 2013

Oh the Possibilities!

It has been a tough month. 
From leaving the comfortable routine of life in the NIV section; to the start-all-over-again mental gymnastics that is being in a new and more complicated section (IV), add in two VIP visits to the Consulate, and oh right, a 400-post bid list to sift through and narrow down where we want to live and work for two years - there's been a lot going on lately! It all came to a head last week when our in-Spanish, after-work salsa class started to get way too complicated and I felt like my brain was just going to send out a little puff of smoke and then seize up.  There might have been tears when I got home that evening; there certainly was whining and self-pity.

But now the visitors have come and gone; I took a break from salsa for a week, and best of all - the bid list has been turned in to my Career Development Officer.  There's nothing to do but wait while they put together the assignments and deliver us the news in a very non-Flag Day unceremonious email.  It doesn't even have a little drum roll that activates when you open the message, which truly it should. 

 I don't want to jinx our chances by telling you what we're hoping for, but I can throw out some hints. 

  • Our top ten posts are located on five different continents;
  • They represent the chance to learn one of six new languages, two of them tonal (I'm going to kick myself if one of those comes to be); 
  • We will either live in dry sunshine in a coastal country, or have four distinct seasons surrounded by thick forests and mountains, or live in a teenie urban apartment where we will change out of our shoes into little slippers whenever we come home;
  • We've already visited three of the ten cities, and I've lived in two of them;
  • Four of the countries are known internationally for their amazing cuisine, as in, "Should we go out for x, y or z tonight?" and three will most probably never make this category. 
As you know, I love bragging about our amazing weather down here in the northern Chihuahua desert. Two years full of blue-skied sunshine and the ability to do outdoor activities 11.5 months of the year. So, while going through our bid list, I began thinking of the opposite and romanticizing life in northern climates, even mentally trying on the wardrobe I'd need. I caught myself thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice to have a 'real winter' again? I could wear my sweaters and we'd walk through snowy cityscapes to our new favorite little restaurant on the corner, you know - the one with the fireplace?"  Our cozy home, kitties curled up in their baskets, will certainly be located in a Thomas Kinkade painting. 

While across from me at the dining table, with his own list, is my husband the tropical weather beach lover, with his own images: weekend trips to post card beaches, sweating when he steps out the door each morning and sitting on our patio in the evening, hearing and smelling the surf nearby. 

However, probably the truth will be closer to this:


But now we're in the relaxed, ignorance-is-bliss time where everything is still an option and the images are all positive and exciting.  When we finally get The Email containing our assignment, and realize that we'll be in urban drear from October to May, or I come to grips with the fact that I'll be one of only three employees at a tiny consulate, having to be duty officer every other weekend - well that will be the time for dealing with reality. 

Right now, we're loving the romantic possibilities instead. 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Winter Bidding

It's a scary time of year here in Mexico, what with:

Dia de Muertos 

...and the new bid list was just released.
Yup, it's bidding time again! Time to start day dreaming/nightmaring about where we'll be going next:

As an entry-level FSO, my first two tours are directed. Which means that we're allowed to submit our general priorities and then rank the list of positions we're offered, but the final word on where we're headed is made by the nice folks in the assignments department in Washington. Even though this will be our third post, because I switched from being an FS Specialist OMS to an FS Generalist Consular Officer, my directed assignments clock was re-set when I got to A-100. Further, while all of my OMS classmates recently received tenure (woohoo!), due to my switch over, I've gone to the back of that line, too and won't be eligible until a minimum of two years have passed in the new job.  

We arrived at post in February, therefore we're considered "Winter Bidders." The year is broken up into Winter, arriving from October-April, and Summer, for those who arrive between May-September.  (It might be November instead of October, so don't quote me on that part.)  Once two directed tours are completed, officers are able to lobby for their own jobs and there is a lot of jockeying that goes on to try to get onto the Summer bidding cycle.  This cycle is far better for families with school-aged children, and so the vast majority of the available positions come onto the Summer cycle.  People play with home much home leave, training, vacation etc... they take to try to become Summer bidders.  But for us now, it's Winter Bidding time and here is how it boils down:

I'd like to explain Bidding Math 101, not for the faint-hearted:

Start with a list of available positions for your bidding cycle, sent to everyone on your bidding cycle at the same time, all over the world. Our list has close to 400 positions.

  400  Then subtract all the positions that are in your same country, as we can't repeat yet.
-   91    Minus Mexico
= 309   

Now go through the list and cross out any position where the timing for arrival will not work out. For example, if they want someone to be at post in April, already being able to speak Russian to a 3/3 level, then I have to cross that out because I speak no Russian now and we will be leaving post in February. We have a Congressionally-mandated minimum of 20 work days of home leave to be taken within the United States, for which we need to tack on one extra month, so really we're not eligible to be at any post until March. I don't think I can go from 0/0 to 3/3 in Russian in one month... so that post gets scratched off the list.  Go through each and every position and do the "timing math," crossing out as you go, even if that means heartbreak for eliminating a prior "dream post" that just won't work out. 

Using the comprehensive bidding instructions and a guide to when language and functional training classes at FSI start, we begin to shape which positions are viable simply based on timing. They fall into two categories: "perfect" bids wherein they want me in October and I can arrive in October, and "imperfect" bids wherein they want me in October and I can arrive in either September or November.  We must whittle down the list to come up with 30 bids: 22 of which must be perfect, and there can be no more than eight imperfect. There can be ZERO "invalid" bids, which means they want me in October and I can get there in December or August only.  Plus we have to list a minimum of two different world regions and six of the 30 bids must be in our own cone; I'm Consular-coned. 

To add more wrinkles, if we were not at a hardship post (10% differential or more), we'd have to select a minimum of 15 posts at 15% hardship or more, and if I were still on language probation - I'd have to select posts that are language-designated so I could be trained in another language.  If I'd never served a Consular tour, I'd also have to do that. Coming to Juarez scratched all three of those requirements off the list in one go, so we didn't have to worry about that part. Phew. 

So now let's get personal.  We need to consider places where my husband has a better-than-average shot of getting a job, either in or out of the mission. We determine this by reading post reports from officers living/having lived at the post and from reports of how many family members are currently employed there and whether or not the host country has a work agreement for foreigners and/or an economy to support foreign workers.  

Then we consider hauling three elderly kitties to post: are there quarantines? Will it take three flights and 31 hours to get there? Will there be decent vet care once we're there? Will we be able to buy or import pet food? 

But wait, there's more: will we be learning a language that will be useful to daily life in the host country? For example, there are frequently officers trained in a non-native language to serve a particular population in the country. Example: learning Farsi (to serve the Iranian population) in Turkey, but not learning Turkish and therefore not being able to direct a taxi, order food in a restaurant or speak to your neighbors. Hmmm.... important considerations. 

We made an elaborate Excel sheet enumerating our priorities and tabulating how each of our top contenders ranked.  We're also realizing that the whole is not equal to the sum of the parts, meaning a post we really aren't interested in might just numerically come up the highest. We've decided to reserve vetoes for these occasions. 

And on a far more frivolous note, my husband and I also have a flag collection for the countries we've lived in.  Countries with cool looking flags are very attractive, like this one, and I'll let you figure them out...

But then the following flags of very interesting countries kinda' look all alike. Hmmm:

And keep in mind our last post looked like this:

So I think we need to mix it up a bit more. Oh the decisions!
Stay tuned, we should know before Christmas.