Single Foreign Service Officers: Dropping a Truth Bomb

This week, Heather, from the blog Adventures Around the World, shares her perspective as a single “solo” Foreign Service Officer. Her story is one shared by many in the Service, but not one readily discussed because of its hard truths. A career in the Foreign Service has many perks: the profession, the chance to visit and live in new and beautiful places, the opportunity to meet cultures and people you normally would not be able to, and much more. However, there are many drawbacks, and it is critical that you be made aware of them, and understand them.

I have looked forward to sharing Heather’s thoughts on this matter, as it reveals much-needed candor on the subject and a viewpoint that I am not able to personally provide to you. I very much look forward to reading about your thoughts in the comment section.

If you were to randomly ask 100 Foreign Service Officers to describe their experiences, you would probably see a lot of common themes about their careers and living abroad. But those experiences are profoundly colored by their own circumstance, their personality, their family situation, etc. In my case, I joined the Foreign Service in my mid-30s and have remained unmarried throughout my 10+ year FS career.

I don’t claim to be a spokesperson for all single FSOs (and there are a lot of us). But in an effort to shine a light in some of the dark corners of the FS lifestyle for those who think it’s a piece of cake, I will highlight some of the issues that always come up when I talk to other single FSOs. (In recognition of the fact that single parent FSOs have a whole slew of issues that single dependent-less FSOs like me do not, I will refer to the single, dependent-less FSO as a “solo FSO.”)

There are a number of irksome practical matters solo FSOs frequently cite. Number one being PCS (permanent change of station). Granted, moving one person around the world is logistically simpler than moving a family of five. However, the weeks leading up to a PCS are chaotic and require a lot of running around. Two legs and two arms just aren’t enough. And if you have pets… a colleague of mine once commented that it was easier getting her children’s travel in order than it was getting her dog’s travel documents.

Once at post, health and security seem to be the solo FSO’s top concern. If you live in a house or apartment that is isolated from other embassy employees and you become ill or suffer an emergency, you could be at the mercy of how proactive and compassionate the RSO, Med Unit, and CLO are. I’ve heard both horror stories of neglect and heroic tales of kindness from solo FSOs. In the event of an emergency, which outcome you could expect is out of your control.

Often overlooked is the emotional well-being of solo FSOs, who are far away from family and friends. Solo FSOs have missed birthdays, weddings, funerals, and holidays back home, without the consolation of family celebrations at post. Social media and videophone apps make it easier to stay in touch with loved ones, but for many solo FSOs, the infrequency of personal contact with the people they care about can be demoralizing. The State Department could do more to address this.

I don’t want to just drop a truth bomb and walk away. There are many, many benefits to this career and to being a solo FSO: I can be completely selfish when it comes to bidding; I can take full advantage of traveling in whatever region I’m in whenever I want; I can use the second bedroom in my embassy-provided housing as a storage room! I have no regrets about this path I chose. Before you choose a similar path, just be sure your eyes are open and you know it’s not always easy.

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7 thoughts on “Single Foreign Service Officers: Dropping a Truth Bomb”

  1. Why is important for foreign service to offer a unique professional experience of not just visiting, but living in a foreign country, as well as the pride and gratification of representing the United States in an official capacity?
    Why Foreign Service facilitate critical bilateral trade and commerce?
    Was it necessary to facilitate tourism and cultural exchanges by the Foreign Service?
    Was it necessary to strengthen U.S. border security living and working in a foreign country?

    The story takes place in Sydney Australia District!
    The district includes the States of New South Wales and Queensland and also includes Norfolk Island. This area is home to half of all Australians and because of its exotic agenda for opportunity, security and strength, many U.S. citizens call it home and U.S. tourists frequent it. New South Wales is Australia’s most populous and industrialized state. Sydney, its capital, is Australia’s largest city and most important port. New South Wales has a population of 7.6 million, of which 4.9 million live in the Sydney area. Queensland has a population of 4.7 million people and around half of those (2.3 million) live in the greater Brisbane area. There are around 170,000 U.S. citizens in NSW and 80,000 in Queensland at any given time. Over the decade ahead, technological change, challenges to globalization and the rules-based international order, continued economic dynamism and growth in Asia, shifts in strategic power regionally and globally, Islamist terrorism and climate change are among the significant trends shaping their world. Some of these developments challenge Australian interests. Others bring opportunity. Which Australia should respond with confidence? Sydney a regional power with global interests. Their strong economy and institutions, innovative businesses, educated and skilled population and secure borders provide solid foundations for success. They need to keep reforming their economy, boost their competitiveness and resilience, and invest in the other domestic foundations of their national strength. A framework for the future demands active and determined diplomacy and strong partnerships to help advance a secure and prosperous Indo–Pacific and strengthen the rules-based international order.

    The Answer is Yes, it’s important to provide facilitating service on critical bilateral trade, commerce, tourism, and cultural exchanges, while at the same time strengthening U.S. border security Living and working in a foreign country, and American Citizen who may involve an uncommon level of hardship, but serving as America’s “face” to literally thousands of foreign nationals.
    The Answer is Yes, Assist in the supervision/oversight of Locally Employed staff (LES) and/or Eligible Family Members (EFM), Conduct outreach, pro-actively representing the U.S. and U.S. policies abroad.
    Participate on boards, committees, and task forces. Interact with non-government organizations (NGOs) and/or foreign government officials. Monitor and report on developments of interest to the U.S. government. Evaluate policies and procedures. Provide consular services to U.S. citizens.

    In a globalized world, my work is link with business, development partners and state and territory governments which needs critical and important foreign policy. I contact Foreign Service official to provide facilitation by Working with me and local officials to facilitate legitimate business, educational, and tourist travel to Australia.
    In addition to our five main policy priorities, the Government develop new approaches to harnessing Australia’s soft power assets in ways that add to our international influence. We did work to improve how we market our commercial, educational and cultural credentials in a competitive global market.
    The Foreign Service economic officer was resourceful with negotiation by building and maintaining a positive economic and trade relations between the U.S. and Australia’s institutions and expertise are themselves important sources of influence internationally, as is an effective and responsive development assistance program.
    The Foreign Service officer brought an in-depth knowledge of quantitative economic approach into promoting Australia’s excellence in education, science and research and the creative industries.
    We have been proud to host hundreds of thousands of students from across the Indo–Pacific. We aim to welcome many more in the decade ahead. The foreign service officer identify global opportunities for U.S. businesses and ensure that American entities to fairly compete for foreign investment and trade in Australia and reduce impediments, through acquiring and applying expertise in local laws, culture, and economic and political conditions to make prompt, informed decisions affecting the lives of foreign citizens and Americans in Australia.

  2. Mileage will vary if you’re a straight man vs. woman, queer, etc. Divorce rates are pretty high overall, but particularly among more senior women. Think carefully about joining single. The first few years can be rough. Really rough.

    1. Hi Mike, this is not the conclusion I would make. Many FSOs enter the lifestyle single, and many find love. There is actually a running joke, and I am paraphrasing, that to know a FSO’s first posting you need only ask where his/her spouse is from. Relationships, love, family, and more are all possible with the FSO career. You may find it with either a colleague or with a national. I’ve seen both of them take place.

      The intent of this post was to show the other side, and the side that is not talked about as often. Heather was kind enough to share her perspective on the challenges she has gone through and her reflections on them.

  3. Thanks for the insight, will keep in mind d. I have a cousin in the Navy who’s stationed in Asia, I wonder if he feels this way sometimes.

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