Page 32 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2012

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32
F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / A P R I L 2 0 1 2
abroad, the immigration officer invariably asked him, “And
what is your designation?” Even well-traveled business
contacts seemed bemused that a husband would follow his
wife. On a positive note, this provided plenty of fodder for
chitchat on the cocktail circuit in India.
Organizing social activities, even when trailing spouses
do it for their peers, is the easy part of adjusting to the For-
eign Service. What is harder is figuring out how to support
a spouse’s career aspirations while trying to maintain some
semblance of one’s own career. Constantly having to up-
root and reinvent oneself can take a real toll on self-es-
teem, family life and marriage, though those of us in the
Foreign Service don’t talk about it much.
Still, many trailing husbands — and wives — do
achieve their professional goals all over the world even
as their spouses thrive in the Foreign Service. Some of
them pursue independent careers in fields such as re-
search, photography, writing and consulting. Others
teach in international schools or work for large compa-
nies that facilitate transfers. And some, like Rahul, find
different jobs in each country.
Unfortunately, though, many of these don’t include
Social Security contributions or allow employees to ob-
serve U.S. holidays, pay substantially lower salaries and
require onerous reporting of foreign taxes and earnings.
Moreover, months spent searching for employment can
generate terrible anxiety, and a significant loss of income
can affect dependent care benefits. But at the same
time, working in the local economy can open a new
world of friends and increase one’s appreciation of the
host country.
Employment outside the mission has benefits for the
U.S. government, too. Spouses and family members
working in local jobs are often astute (albeit unofficial)
representatives for the United States, able to connect
with and befriend professional, middle-class colleagues
who are not necessarily part of the embassy’s or con-
sulate’s orbit. I can attest to the fact that in-depth in-
teraction with Rahul’s office colleagues and their families
strongly enhanced our experiences, both in Mexico and
India.
Job-Hunting Tips for EFMs
Besides dogged determination and the ability to with-
stand potential rejection in a foreign language, the fol-
lowing tips can help eligible family members find jobs
outside the mission and not get too discouraged by set-
backs along the way:
• Know before you go.
Identify countries that offer
work visas for diplomatic spouses, research the compa-
nies operating in the country (the American Chamber of
Commerce often provides a list of its members), and
make a target list before you arrive at post. Though some
spouses are able to find employment before arriving, most
companies require an in-person interview and are more
likely to entertain the option of hiring a foreigner when he
or she is in-country.
Network, network, network.
Attend every cocktail
reception you can, accept all social invitations and request
informal interviews at the companies you’ve targeted from
your research. FCS officers are a good source of infor-
mation about companies and local business contacts. And
don’t forget to ask trailing spouses already at post to help;
even if they’re not working, they probably have good con-
tacts and are usually eager to lend a hand. Rahul once
picked up two critical leads from a colleague’s husband
(who lived in a different city), and he, in turn, helped an-
other spouse get a job at the same company.
• Leverage all resources, far and wide.
Talk to the
Global Employment Adviser (if there is one at post) and
contact the Family Liaison Office for international job-
hunting pointers.
• Screen potential employers.
One reputable company
in Chennai met with Rahul three times, only to offhand-
edly request a list of the officers at the consulate in the
final meeting. Though he managed to work for a large
multinational company in Mexico for two years before his
colleagues learned of our diplomatic status, in posts where
officers and their families are “big fish in small ponds,” it’s
F
OCUS
The Blue Cross Animal Shelter dedicated this plaque to the Hus-
bands of Chennai for donating proceeds from the HOC calendar.