THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
The problems in being children abroad seemed far more
awesome in the 1950s than now. Ever since our daughter, Kit,
was born in a small, reasonably immaculate French clinic in
Abidjan, my own conception of health conditions in foreign
countries has become more realistic.
The logistics of raising a family abroad have nevertheless
increased in complexity. Where an international or American
school or other accredited form of education is not available,
the biggest wrench comes when the Foreign Service child must
leave the family circle for school, usually in the United States.
The British have long since adjusted to this problem as, seem-
ingly without a tremor, they send their young ones off as early
as the age of 8. For most Americans, there are sleepless nights
and many sinking sensations. The problems of school, travel,
friends, vacations, jobs, medications and other considerations
for Foreign Service children are all real, and the Family Liaison
Office has an important role to play.
A Daughter Remembers
When Dad died suddenly in December 2006, my Foreign Service spouse and I were studying language for a tandem
assignment in Asia. We wanted Mom to come with us. That included packing two small plastic bins Dad had compiled of
medical and other documents. Mom lived with us for five years, and then spent her last 15 months with my brother Dick
and his wife, Mary, at the embassy in Tbilisi. After she died on May 20, 2014, I took a closer look at the bins—especially a
brown file folder Dad had labeled “Pat’s Essays and Poems.”
The folder included a mix of writings. An essay penned at age 16 on the importance of the Merchant Marine that
earned Mom her first foreign trip: England in 1937. A startlingly prescient 1941 college essay suggesting that “the great
problem of our times is not how [a nation] becomes strong, but, rather, how to remain strong.” A poem, “To My Plane,” in
which she asserts: “your wings make of me a god, stronger than a thousand straining horses, swifter than the wind, and
free as hope to rise above war, peace, soil and sea, hate, laughter, love.” A hand-scrawled speech she gave at a school in
Serowe, Botswana, in which she lauds “Sesame Street” to underscore the value of early-childhood learning.
And this 1982 essay, reflecting on 30 years of being “married” to the Foreign Service.
Mom intended to—but never did—submit this essay for possible publication by her alma mater,Wellesley College.
Throughout her life, she was an ardent advocate of Wellesley and its mission to provide an excellent liberal arts education
for women who will make a difference in the world. She took delight when two other Wellesley grads, Madeleine Albright and
Hillary Rodham Clinton, became U.S. Secretary of State.When we lived in Laos from 2011 to 2012, then-Ambassador Karen
Stewart, another Wellesley graduate, would come to our home, and she and Momwould dredge up lyrics toWellesley songs.
Our parents instilled in their kids such a profound appreciation for the profession of diplomacy that the three of
us joined the Service. Mom’s essay portrays the “public” part of public service on which our profession depends; she
embraced her role and represented our country with poise and devotion. And, in her time, without remuneration.
She loved the Foreign Service life. She made lifelong friends. And she found it “raptly absorbing,” as this essay
But distinct advantages for children in Foreign Service life
remain: new languages, friends of all nationalities and visits
to such far-off places as the lagoons of the Seychelles, the high
Atlas, the canals of Friesland and the incomparable Okavango.
And there is also the opportunity to live in different cultures,
not as a tourist but as a privileged resident. The latter is not
something to dwell upon. One can only hope the family, both
parents and children, will live up to and enhance the image of
the nation that has sent them abroad.
As for the Foreign Service wife herself, the diplomatic
life can offer infinite rewards: good friends (both foreign
and from the embassy “family” itself ), theater, shops, travel
and, of course, a variety of excellent cuisines. While a recent
symposium has concluded that “the role of the husband
depends in no small part upon the wife,” much also depends
on her husband’s position on the career ladder and where
—Kit Norland, FSO