I am excited to kick off the Stories from the Field series with Danielle, the author of the blog 2 Cats, 7 Continents, and a spouse of a recently hired FSO. How recent? They go on their first deployment in June. Exciting!
Danielle breaks down her and her husband’s Foreign Service application timeline, moving to Washington, DC from a small town, and how they are preparing for the big move. This is a very fitting first post for the series as many of us have experienced a part of what Danielle has gone through.
Hello everyone, my name is Danielle, and I’m very honored to be able to share my journey (thus far) with you all! My husband J just became a Foreign Service officer; his A-100 class was September 2016. As you probably know, the process before that is quite a long one. We went from dating, getting engaged, and getting married in that time frame. It’s a weird feeling of so much life happening, while still being stuck in this process and feel like you are standing still.
Our FSO Application Process
My now husband and I had been dating for about 2 and ½ years when he, who is former military, took a job in the private sector. He quickly realized that was not the world for him, and the impact on the world he wanted to make wasn’t being fully utilized in that capacity. While still working in that job, we began looking into the Foreign Service. We researched and tried to find out everything we could about the timeline, the lifestyle, and everything in between.
I myself have always lived in semi-small town Oklahoma, and any shot at traveling the world sounded great. So we researched what the application process was and jumped on it. There was a test coming up in just a few short months.
In February of 2015, J took the FSOT. We found out that he had passed with flying colors in May of 2015.
We had talked about marriage in the future, us both wanting a longer engagement. However, when we found out J passed the FSOT and was invited to the written portion, it was clear (to me at least) this could really be happening sooner rather than later.
Wanting a wedding in my hometown so all my friends and family could attend was important, so we decided the sooner we started the process, the better. I’m forever thankful for that decision. We got engaged the beginning of July 2015, within that month J submitted his written essays, and they were accepted as well. They were submitted the day before they were due and it was roughly a 3 week process for hearing back. Acceptance of the essays meant, we got a formal invitation to Orals in Washington D.C. There was a few month window we could go, so we chose September of 2016, which was just a few months away.
Being that getting to orals and the stay there is completely out of pocket, we decided to make a trip out of it. I had never been to D.C before!
So we went in September of 2015, we explored, had our engagement pictures taken, and J took his oral exam. Luckily for this portion, you get the results immediately. After an entire day of interviews for J and exploring the city alone for me, J came back with a tentative offer to be a Foreign Service officer, pending medical and security clearances.
Just like that, it was happening! But… this is very much a “hurry up and wait” type of process. Big exciting milestones happen, with several month lulls in between. It was difficult for me, the unknown, and to this day it still is, very much unknown.
The security and medical clearance process started shortly after we returned home, and from September to December it was basically a waiting game. Things had been submitted for the process, but we didn’t really know where we stood. We knew activity was happening behind the scenes, but we had no idea what.
During this time, I decided with things being so unknown we should probably make the wedding a few months out versus a year, so we set a date for March 2016 and started planning.
Then in December of 2015, I was minutes away from leaving for a girl’s trip to Dallas when our investigator showed up to talk to me.
He had been talking to people and had finally made it down the line to us. Me having no experience with public sector life at all, it was very intimidating, the investigator had a few things he needed to be clarified and answered, and few more contacts to get from me. He was great, very straightforward but it was a pleasant interaction! Just like that we knew, things were moving along!
At the same time, medical clearances were being processed as well. In a small Oklahoma town, very far from D.C, these things did not seem very commonplace to the medical community. Getting the proper paperwork and testing completed was very challenging and took several attempts over a few months time. J and I both had to get everything submitted to the state department; from there it was another waiting game.
As a spouse, I really had to balance my current life, and this one that was pending and affecting and yet seemed so far away. I still had my own full-time career and was planning a wedding as well. So much was pending and waiting and it was a semi-stressful in-between time for us.
March came around, and it was wedding time! Finally!
Once that was out of the way it was a tad bit of relief. We didn’t get any calls or have to move before it, it had come and gone, and I am still super thankful that the timeframe that came about allowed it.
The months kept going, and by May we still had not heard a word. At this point, it had been 15 months since this process started. I got offered a promotion at a new company. It was tough, I didn’t know if we would be here much longer, but with 15 months and counting, it seemed like it could go on forever. So I took it.
Even when the security and the medical process ended, there was no telling when we would be picked up for an A-100 class, so I felt I might as well keep living life here and make the most of this in-between time. June came, and I had just started my new job – still learning, still adjusting and settling in. Then, of course, the unpredictable happens.
We get “the call”, or email I think it actually was! All within a week, we found out that not only were our medical and security clearances approved and we had been added to the Register, but also J had been picked up for the next upcoming A-100 class in September. That was about 90 days away. It was the craziest feeling. I was overwhelmed, mad, happy, excited, and nervous. It was really, really happening.
A-100 Training and a Temporary Life in Washington, DC
We moved to D.C September 2016, after 3 days in the car with 2 cats I might add. Adjusting has been an interesting experience. As a “trailing spouse”, adjusting is a full-time job. Getting new doctors, setting up where to get prescriptions, changing addresses, decorating, grocery shopping, accepting shipments, unpacking, taking spouse courses. Suddenly having a long distance relationship with everyone you know has been an interesting dynamic as well.
We had our bid day in October and found out we will be leaving for Venezuela in June 2017. Hurry up and wait yet again!
J has been in Spanish training since November and will be until March, followed by his consular training for this post. There are a lot of things that will happen between now and then: shots for the cats, buying any and all consumables, getting Visa’s, and traveling to see family before we leave. But as of right now we are taking things a day at a time. J’s primary focus is Spanish, and we are doing the other tasks as they come down the line. All while enjoying D.C life while we are here.
The best advice I can give to you is to be excited about the future, but don’t forget to live in the present. In this lifestyle, it would be all that you ever do. Embrace the in-between you’re in for what it is. Don’t be too stressed about the next step, it will happen when it is time.
Do your research. Be your own advocate.
I can’t stress those last two enough.
I encourage spouses to be as involved in the process as possible when transition time comes, your partner will have specifics to focus on, and a lot of things will end up being moved to your plate. Find out and prioritize what will make you feel at home. Keep up your close relationships at home, everyone is on their way in or out here, and connections take time.
I’m very thankful for the journey we have had so far and wouldn’t change it for anything. Feel free to see more about our story, and what’s to come on the blog. Thanks for your time and good luck!