(Still recapping, nearly caught up)
A couple days after Flag Day is part 2 of Spouse Orientation, aka “Ready to Roll” at FSI. This day’s events focused less on the bid list, since you already know where you’ll be going. Instead, I spent the morning in Diplowife’s classroom, watching lectures on several topics, some not really relevant to me. But it was interesting to see how she spends her time. As always, I’m very impressed by Diplowife’s classmates.
After lunch, we learned all about passports, and how to get one. I already had one, but we also covered how to get a Diplomatic Passport, and what we’ll do with them. Basically, they’re for entering and leaving your post country. But you’ll still need a regular passport for vacations and other trips.
Then, we learned more about getting to post, pack outs, and how mail works. The Consulate in Shenyang has what’s called “DPO”, or Diplomatic Post Office. Essentially, our mail will go to an address in the DC area, then it’s forwarded to our post. Easy! Except it takes a few weeks each way, and some items aren’t allowed to be sent to DPO. Not every Consulate and Embassy has DPO, so we’re fortunate. Other posts have to rely on the diplomatic pouch, which is even more restrictive that DPO, and using the post country’s own mail service.
Then we spend a couple hours with three experienced EFM’s, who shared their experiences with my classmates and me. One of them is a CLO, or Community Liaison Officer, a person whose job it is to act as a go-between for the State Department and EFM’s. Lots of good info here.
After that, my day was basically over, but Diplowife was still busy with a mock diplomatic reception her class was putting on. They invited a bunch of local diplomats to FSI, brought in some leftover food from the Flag Day reception and had a party. All in the name of practicing how to behave at official functions. I got to participate as an honorary guest, which was fun, and I got to meet more of Diplowife’s classmates. And what do I find there, but cookies! I knew it, I’ve heard people call FSO’s “cookie pushers” and here was the proof. Sweet, delicious vindication.
Seriously, I’m not sure this day was all that helpful to me, most of the info in the lectures I could have found online. However, there is an important concept to learn about in the Foreign Service called “corridor reputation”. That’s what the other diplomats think of you, and you better have a good one if you expect anyone to help you out or stick their neck out for you. The reputation is built up over the diplomat’s career, based on how they handle themselves professionally, how dependable they are, how easy they are to get along with, that sort of thing. This reputation can make the diplomat’s career much easier, or much harder.
And here’s something I didn’t know at the start of the day: EFM’s have their own corridor reputation to think about. The Foreign Service is a small community, and words gets around about good and bad EFM’s. You need to have a good reputation if you want to succeed as an EFM. Navigating the State Department’s bureaucracy is difficult, and it pays to have friends you can call upon. So get out there and meet people, be friendly and helpful. You never know when you’ll be stuck in a post without a job and could use an insider that can get you a job inside the mission. Or knows the arcane rules about ordering your favorite cereal from the Embassy’s commissary. Or can watch your cats when you go on a vacation or medical leave for a week. So coming to FSI for Spouse Orientation, or any other excuse to meet with your fellow EFM’s, is a good idea.
Personally, I’m going to try to have a reputation as that guy who always brings cookies to Consulate parties for some reason.