When an officer and family arrive at their new post, another officer that’s been at post for a while is assigned to be the new officer’s “social sponsor”. (There’s also a work sponsor, but I know little about that) The social sponsor is responsible for several things, including meeting the new officer at the airport, showing them around their new home and neighborhood, setting up their new home’s welcome kit, and corresponding before the new officer’s arrival, to answer any questions they might have.
Recently, Diplowife and I volunteered to be a new family’s social sponsors. We had already met the new officer, back at FSI before we moved to Shenyang, but his family was new to us. We sent some emails back and forth with him before they arrived at post, he had some questions about using VPNs in China, arranging to buy some IKEA furniture and having it delivered, and scheduling us picking up the family at the airport.
Our correspondence was similar to Diplowife’s and my emails to our own sponsors last winter. I had questions about VPN/Internet stuff, what to put in our consumables, and using a Roku in China. Diplowife wanted pics of our new apartment, mainly. And, of course, arranging for our airport pickup. Even if there’s nothing important to discuss, I found it helpful to talk with somebody already at post, it helped with my anxieties about moving someplace so unfamiliar.
Before you head to post, you fill out a checklist of groceries that your sponsor will buy and have in your home. Nothing unusual for an American kitchen, stuff like milk, bread, eggs, etc. So basically you can get home and have something to eat without going back outside again. Plus you have the option for your sponsor to take you and your family out to dinner and/or leave a ready-to-eat meal in your refrigerator. I’ve done this several times now; I like to make a one-pot chicken and rice dish that makes enough for the new family and enough leftovers for Diplowife and me.
Sometimes there’s the “welcome kit” to deal with too. This consists of an assortment of silverware, coffee maker, toaster, dishes and stuff like that. It might include a vacuum cleaner, bed linens, towels, it depends on where you live. The family we sponsored is in a hotel that supplies all these things, so there was nothing for me to do. But our home is in a different building that doesn’t supply it, so our sponsor had the welcome kit to unpack for us.
The day you arrive at post, your sponsor should meet you at the airport, along with transportation to your new home. Our sponsor also brought along a local staffer from the Consulate, who helped us get our cat into China. Make sure your let your sponsor know how much luggage you have, we needed two big vans to get all of our sponsee’s family and their stuff home.
After arriving home, and getting everybody settled, (and after sleeping a while, probably) you’ll want to take your sponsee and family around the neighborhood and show them around. Let them know the important nearby streets and landmarks (important when telling your taxi driver where to go!), where the good grocery stores are, and anything else they’re curious about. Don’t rush them, let them ask questions, or not. You may need to leave them a map afterwards if they had trouble getting their bearings.
It’s a good system, overall. I was very nervous about moving to China, and having somebody there to meet us and guide us through the first couple days helped a lot. I hope we helped our sponsee and his family in the same way. Please pay it forward and sponsor somebody else when you’ve been at post for a few months and feel comfortable with it.