Page 81 - Foreign Service Journal - October, 2012b

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You Want to Join the What …?
ewspaper reporter spouse
comes home one day, and says
she wants to change careers
and join the Foreign Service.
Te what?
“It’s the State Department.”
Oh. Well, then which is it?
“Hillary Clinton. We get to live in a
foreign country.”
Spouse says not Paris. “Don’t get
excited; there are 1,000 tests to take to get
She says the Foreign Service is in the
middle of a hiring increase—good news,
considering her industry is downsizing
by the minute. “Te Surge,” it’s called on
a zillion online bulletin boards. We live
in Miami; the only surge we know comes
with a hurricane.
Spouse passes frst test, exciting! Not so
fast, 999 more tests to go.
Spouse passes the rest of the tests!
She’s hired! What? She’s only on a list?
And she might “wash out?” What kind of
agency is this?
Weekly list-checking takes over our
lives. “Up 11 spots to 34, and they pulled
26 people from the list last month,” she
says. So we really don’t know anything. We
wait months, up and down, up and down
the list.
CNL enters our vocabulary. Like those
ads promising you can make money at
home: “Pass a language test and increase
your score!” Remember that Russian from
Spouse joins Russian social group, gets
a tutor. I learn to say “What a nightmare!”
in Russian. We meet new friends. Te
Foreign Service experience is already
rewarding, and she’s not even hired.
Spouse studies hard for six months;
passes the Russian test! 1,001 tests passed!
Spouse catapults up the list. Still we
But not long.
Te call
comes—an e-mail, actually—
and suddenly reality hits. We really are
not going to live in Paris!
Te acronyms food in. TA, UAB, HHE,
Te waiting is over; time for action.
Spouse goes to D.C. for A-100. I stay
behind to take apart the life we built dur-
ing the past 20 years. I have a fewmonths.
I sell everything we don’t need, an
embarrassing number of items. Craigslist
is amazing. We begin telling friends and
neighbors, a bittersweet exercise.
Spouse calls with daily training
updates. I have no idea what she is talking
Te bid list is out. So many great places
to go! So many places we don’t want to go!
OBC is nowmaking sense. Where on earth
is Mbabane? I can’t even pronounce it. We
study, worry and rank. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I arrive in D.C. for the next life-
changing event: Flag Day. A 20-second
announcement that determines the next
two years of our lives. No pressure.
Te assignments cascade forth.
Spouse’s name is not called. I can now rec-
ognize the Mexican and D.C. fags.
Places highly ranked are called, but
none with Spouse’s name. Uh oh. Are they
testing her diplomatic skills?
I’ve crossed of every place on the list,
still no assignment.
“For the position of consular ofcer in
Chennai, India ...”
Spouse goes to receive her fag, returns
to seat, gives me a teary look. I give her a
huge thumbs-up; the tears are for joy.
Flag Day is over. Everyone in the room
will be scattered all over the world, an
amazing concept. Spouse shows me our
details. We leave that soon?!
Everything accelerates. Spouse con-
tinues training. More items are discarded,
our house is sold. Suddenly it’s all about
Parties are thrown, goodbyes repeated.
Travel orders are set; so is our arrival
date in Chennai.
We have one last fing in New York on
our way to India: the Big Apple, where we
attended college and got married. A per-
fect place to say goodbye to our home.
She’s hired! What? She’s only on a list?
And she might “wash out?”
James Talalay is married to FSO Sarah Talalay. Tey are on their frst tour in Chennai. James is
a commercial flmmaker, and now he and Sarah are serial travelers and bloggers. You can read
about their adventures at