Category Archives: Bidding

Yeah, so about those updates…

I’ve been lousy about updating.  And, I can’t promise that I’ll be much better in the future.  But, a lot has happened over the last year and a bit, so I’ll at least do a quick run-down of some of the highlights.

  • Spent seven weeks in Berlin as part of a really cool program organized by the German Foreign Office for “young” diplomats.
  • Traveled to Istanbul, Bucharest, Amsterdam, Luxembourg City, Madrid, and Split for fun.
  • Traveled to Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Munich for work.
  • Covered for my boss for three months while she was out on maternity leave.
    • Also covered for two of our locally engaged staff who were out for significant parts of that time.
  • Got promoted (finally).
  • Visited my host families in Belgium.
  • Worked my first Secretary of State visit.
  • Worked the Vice President’s first trip overseas as VP.
  • Worked a ridiculous number of other visits.
  • Wrote some cables.
  • Went home to Texas twice.

Looking forward, I have a couple of trips planned in the next couple of months and some thoughts about some other travel goals for my last year or so here.  My boss will rotate back to DC and her successor will arrive this summer.  I’ll bid on my next assignment this fall.  And, I’m sure plenty of other stuff will pop up.

If the motivation strikes, I may write up some of what’s happened over the last year in more detail, but sadly can’t guarantee I’ll get around to it.  But I’ll at least try not to wait another year to update this thing. 😛

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Filed under Amsterdam, Belgium, Berlin, Bidding, Bucharest, Croatia, Family, Frankfurt, Germany, Hamburg, Holidays, Home, Istanbul, Luxembourg, Luxembourg City, Madrid, Munich, Pictures, Romania, Spain, Split, Stuttgart, Texas, Texpat, The Netherlands, Travel, Turkey, Vacation

5 Pros and Cons: Ottawa Edition

Ania over at The New Diplomat’s Wife started an FS Blog Roundup on the topic of five pros and cons about your post with her lovely review of being posted in Copenhagen.  FS bloggers did these a couple of years ago and I came up with five pros and cons of being posted in Ciudad Juarez last time around but never did one while I was in Ottawa.  Since a few people have already covered life here in the DC area, I decided to focus on Ottawa for this one, even though I’ve been gone for several months.  So, here goes.

Pros

1. People – Canadians are nice, friendly, and easy to meet.  It’s easy to get out and be involved in the community in Ottawa and I made some wonderful Canadian friends while I was posted there.  It’s easy to blend in in Ottawa and you don’t have to rely on the embassy community for your social life, which I enjoyed.

2. LQA – Ottawa is an LQA post, meaning that you get an allowance and find your own housing instead of being assigned housing from a housing pool like in most posts.  There are some cons to it that I’ll get to later, but after having safety and security frustrations with my house in Juarez and feeling like I had no power in the situation, it was so nice to pick out something that I liked.  I had a lovely apartment and very nice landlords, so overall had a pretty good experience with LQA.

3. Pet friendly – Ottawa is very pet friendly and it’s very easy to import pets to Canada from the United States.  I don’t know if it’s different for dogs, but all I needed for the Diplocat was a rabies certificate, and they weren’t at all interested in seeing it at the border when I entered with her.  Vet care in Ottawa is very good, though more expensive than in the States.

4. Safety – Ottawa is a very, very safe city.  Coming from Ciudad Juarez, it was sooooooooo nice to live somewhere safe, where I never felt like I had to look over my shoulder, worry about my safety, etc.  Maybe if you’re coming from the U.S. or are coming from somewhere else where it’s safe, this wouldn’t make quite as much of a difference in your quality of life as it did for me.  But after spending two years in Juarez weighing the security risks of simple decisions like going to the grocery stores, it was just such a breath of fresh air to be able to go about my business without safety concerns.

5. The summer and fall – Ottawa is BEAUTIFUL in the summer and fall.  The summers don’t get too hot and everything’s nice and green.  There are a lot of fun events in the summer and lots of great outdoor opportunities in area parks and lakes.  The fall is also beautiful, with changing leaves, crisp air, etc.  Again, lots of fun hiking opportunities with beautiful fall foliage.

Cons

1. Winters – There’s no way to beat around the bush.  The winters in Ottawa are really long and really cold.  It gets down to -20F with wind chills down to -40F.  And, the winters last from about November to April.  Maybe this is no big deal if you’re from Minnesota, but the winters were rough for this Texan who’s used to being able to wear flip flops throughout most of the winter.  And, after two years of being trapped in my house because of the violence, feeling trapped inside by the cold, snow, and ice was a bummer.

2. Expensive – While I was there, Ottawa was a pretty expensive place to live.  The U.S. dollar has appreciated considerably against the Canadian dollar since I left, so I’m not sure if this is still the case, but it was expensive to grocery shop, go out to eat, etc. in Ottawa.

3. LQA – While being able to choose your own housing was liberating for me, there are also downsides.  You have to have a chunk of change ready to cover initial expenses.  There were several hiccups in my case that were not normal, but at one point I figured out that I was out over $10,000 in LQA and unreimbursed travel voucher expenses.  It’s also stressful to decide on a place to live when you first get to a new city or sight-unseen before arrival.  There’s also a lot of extra paperwork involved in getting the housing approved and reconciling the costs at the end of the year.  So, while there are a lot of good things about LQA, there are some down sides, too.

4. Internet connections – This may seem surprising since Canada’s very much a first world country, but while I was there, internet packages usually had a monthly GB cap and you could incur very high fees if you went over your monthly internet usage.  The speeds were also nothing to write home about.  That said, looking back at the website of the internet provider I used then, it looks like they do now offer unlimited internet traffic.  So, maybe that’s not as much of a con now as it used to be.

5. Deceptively similar to the USA – There are a lot of things about life in Canada that are similar to life in the United States.  You’ll see many of the same products on the shelves in stores in Canada as you would in the United States, there are even many of the same stores in Canada that you’d find Stateside, there aren’t language difficulties (usually), etc.  So, you can feel a lot like you’re in the United States, until you run up against one of the weird differences like the internet download limits, etc.  Then, because the difference came out of nowhere, it hits you that much harder.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Diplocat, FS Blog Roundup, FSI, LQA, Mexico, Moving, Ottawa, Snow, Texas, Texpat, Transfer, Washington DC

Handshake Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

When I posted a little over a month ago, I’d accepted a handshake for the FSI Economics Course.  The course runs from September to early March, and is followed by either language training or an assignment in DC at the Department of State, another agency, a company, a think tank etc.

A couple of weeks ago, they added a bunch of jobs to the bid list since there were so many people bidding at my rank who still didn’t have jobs lined up.  Some of those fit well with the timing of the econ course, so I put in a few bids.  Well, one thing led to another and I’ve accepted a handshake for a Political and Economic job in Frankfurt, Germany starting in the summer of 2015, after the FSI Econ Course and a refresher course in German to get my German back up to speed.

I am beyond excited about the assignment and still keep pinching myself thinking that it’s not real or that there must be some hidden catch.  I double checked though, and there was no clause signing over my firstborn child or anything in the handshake offer. 😉

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Frankfurt, FS Life, FSI, Germany, Handshake, Ottawa, Transfer, Washington DC

Handshake accepted!

Earlier today, I finally accepted a handshake to go back to the Washington, DC area for the Foreign Service Institute’s Economic Studies course.  It’s six months of economics training followed by either language training for an onward assignment or a six month stint in an economic job at the Department of State or another economic department like Commerce or USTR, a think tank, or a private company.

It was a nervewracking couple of weeks waiting for something to work out and by my last tally, I sent more than 75 e-mails inquiring about positions that seemed to be open in the bidding system, but that turned out to be spoken for, just not yet registered in the system.  I was not feeling excited about many of the options left, until I had a brainwave and remembered the FSI Econ course.  I’m super excited to get it as an onward assignment, since I don’t have an extensive economics background and could get a lot out of the course.

All’s well that ends well. 🙂

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, FSI, Handshake, Ottawa, Pictures

Empty hand seeking shake for 2-3 years of FS-03 Econ fun

So, Monday was the first day that they could offer jobs to mid-level bidders.  They call it a “handshake” because you shake on it, but it still has to be approved by the panel.  As it turns out, I did not get any offers.  I made a couple of short lists, but was not the top choice anywhere.  I had hoped that one of the places I’d bid on would pick me after someone declined an offer, but I found out late today that all of the jobs I had bid on had given their handshakes and their top choices had accepted them.

So, now I go back to the drawing board.  I will look at the list and start reaching out to jobs that haven’t nailed down a candidate and also watch for new things that might be added to the list.  Things come open unexpectedly as people leave post early, volunteer to go to a place where they really need people, or have to back out of a handshake for some reason.  So, while I’d realllllly like this process to be over, /begin Dory voice I’ll just keep bidding, just keep bidding, just keep bidding, bidding, bidding /end Dory voice.

As frustrating as it is, I’m in very good company.  I know a lot of good officers who are in the same boat as me.  I think that the hiring surge that happened in 2009-2011ish has contributed to the craziness that was bidding this time around.  One senior person who shall remain nameless called the FS-03 bidding this year the Bidding Hunger Games, and given that 20 and 25% hardship differential posts had 30+ bidders on a job, does seem a bit appropriate.

Once I have something firm enough to announce though, I’ll be sure to share.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ottawa

Bid list! I has it!

So, the summer mid-level bid lists have been released and now I can see what has made it on to the list.  State has a newish projected vacancy tool where you can search for jobs that are scheduled to be on different lists, so I had an idea of what would be on the list, but it’s a relief to have the actual list and to see what’s on it.  There weren’t too many surprises and most of the jobs I’d been eying turned up on the list, plus at least one job of interest that I hadn’t seen on the projected list.

I’ve been reaching out to the people who are in the jobs I’m interested in now and it’s been interesting to learn about the jobs and there’s a lot to get excited about.  It’s also interesting to get a sense of the people in the jobs, and the supervisors in a few cases where there’s no one in the job right now.  Due to the rotational nature of the Foreign Service, I definitely won’t work with the incumbent and might not work with the supervisor, especially if I had to learn a new language, but you start to get a feel for the job, office and such by talking to them.  So, a couple of jobs that sounded great from the description and/or from reading post reports of the cities sound a little less great (so far nothing’s actually been bad) and some that I had initially thought wouldn’t be as interesting have sounded more interesting as I’ve learned more about them.

That’s more or less as far as I’ve gotten in bidding so far, but the list has only been out 2 days.  Eventually, I’ll have to convince someone to actually offer me a job, which is the hard part!  I don’t want to jinx anything, so I won’t post the jobs/places I’m interested in, but I’m sure this won’t be my last post on bidding.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ottawa

Worry? Who me?

I’ve been bad at blogging lately, but mostly because there hasn’t been a ton to blog about.  Work has been busy, but nothing that stands out as “OMG, I must tell the world about this!” though the Italian National Day party was pretty neat.  🙂  I’ve just been trying to keep on top of all of my files, learn more about what I’m doing, get info for Washington, etc.

I’ve also been doing some worrying about bidding in my free time.  If you actually know me in person, you also probably know that I am a professional worrier.  So, naturally, I need something to worry about.  If I don’t have something to worry about, it’s worrying because clearly I must be missing something that is worry-worthy.

My current focus of worry is bidding for my third tour.  The list won’t come out until August, but that does not stop a champion worrier such as myself from worrying about it.  State recently introduced a new projected vacancy tool that you can use to search for projected assignment vacancies.  So, you can see what will be open for a particular rank in a particular bid cycle, what will be open that requires a certain language, or by post, etc.  So, I’ve been able to see which jobs in which places are projected to be on the bid list this summer and I’ve been doing some research in the evenings to find out more about life at different posts, pet import issues, cost of living, etc.  However, the projected vacancy info does not include much info about the actual job, so it’s hard to tell what would really be interesting job-wise.  It’s also subject to change and anything on the projected list may or may not be on the actual list when it comes out in August.

Bidding this time around will be a lot different than it was the first two times I bid.  Your first two assignments are “directed assignments,” meaning you put in your preferences, but the State Department directs you to go to a certain post.  The first time, my A-100 class got a list with roughly as many posts as there were people in the class and you had to rank each post high, medium, or low.  Then, in the last week of training, we got our assignments.  The second time, we had to rank 30 posts off of a list of about 250 jobs and then received our next assignments about two weeks later.

Starting with your third tour though, the process is much more like a job interview process.  You will usually talk with the person who currently holds that job and then interview with supervisors at post and in the DC office responsible for a post for an overseas assignment and with people in DC for domestic assignments.  Then, the decision makers at post (if it’s an overseas assignment) and in DC get decide who they want to offer the assignment to and start offering “handshakes” to people after a certain date.  This process is also tricky because it’s sort of a rolling process.  Not every office is ready to make offers when that date rolls around or you might not be a post’s first choice, but might be their second or third choice.  So, you might get a handshake offer from your #5 choice, but not yet know whether you’d get an offer for a higher choice when they make a decision or if their first choice turns them down.  Sometimes they can wait a bit for you to decide whether or not you want to accept the offer, but not always and you may find yourself deciding whether to take the bird in the hand with your #5 choice or hold out for the chance you might get a better bird in the bush with one of your higher choices.

It’s sort of a bizarre game of musical chairs where everyone will get a chair in the end, but it’s a nerve wracking process to find out which chair you’ll get.  Of course, people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and now Libya and Yemen can link to their chairs ahead of time or get offered a chair earlier than the rest of the bidders coming from other posts.

A few people, who must have nerves of steel, sort of sit out the first process and then just swoop in on what’s left over or not otherwise assigned.  Some of those posts are places that no one really wants to go, but some are gems.  In watching what got left over in other bid cycles, I’ve seen some pretty swanky European posts make it through the first round of musical chairs, probably because of a first choice turning them down for another excellent post and the other bidders figuring that they ought to take the birds they have in their hands because no way will they offer a handshake for Swankovia if you’re not their first choice.  However, I do not have nerves of steel and I think the fear of a tour in Ickyville will keep me from employing this tactic.

So, I’ve been doing research and imagining my life in places like Tokyo, Podgorica, Tirana, Brussels, Santiago, San Jose, Jakarta, Bogota, Taipei, Manila, Chisinau, or even back in DC.  Of course, this is all with very, very limited information about the actual job I’d be doing, which will play a big part in my decision of which jobs to go after and also with no idea what I’ll actually be competitive for which will also affect my bidding.

In other goings on, Ottawa continues to be a really nice place to live.  It’s been great to wander around at lunch time, see lots more people out and about, and enjoy the mostly lovely weather we’ve been having.  The U.S. embassy is in the Byward Market area and is close to Parliament Hill and downtown, so it’s easy to pop out for lunch or after work.  Canada Day preparations also seem to be in full swing, with Canadian flags going up all over the place, shops promoting Canada apparel and party supplies, etc.  I’m looking forward to Canada Day here in Ottawa, since it sounds like it’s a great celebration.

The embassy’s 4th of July party is also coming up.  I’m looking forward to it a lot since it’s a big party and I’ll know a number of the guests.  I helped with a couple of them in Juarez, but since I was adjudicating visas and not out meeting contacts or anything, I didn’t know any of the guests.  So, this one promises to be more interesting due to the scale and actually knowing more of the people who will attend.

So, that’s what’s been going on here.

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Filed under 4th of July, Bidding, Canada, Ottawa

Ottawinter

I’m in the middle of my first Ottawinter and I’m muddling through.  I won’t go as far as to say that I’m enjoying it, but I’m definitely managing ok.  I’ve got the snow boots, the long underwear, the ear warmers, the toque (toboggan to those of us from south of the border, eh), the mittens (even the mittens have layers!), and so on.  So, I waddle around in all my layers and look like the Michelin Man. The good news is that everyone else looks like him, too, so I blend in. I’ve even gone ice skating without falling down.  I hope to make it to the Rideau Canal next week and give that a try.

I’m not going to lie though.  I miss my flip flops.  I think they miss me, too.  I can hear them calling from my closet.  “Wear us! Wear us! It’s warm enough.”  Little do they know, though, that it is not warm enough.  Not by a long shot and I’m rather attached to my toes and don’t want to lose any of them to frost bite. So, since The Weather Channel’s 10-day forecast doesn’t show any temperatures above freezing, I don’t think I’ll be wearing them any time soon.

On the up side, I can tell that the days are getting longer.  It’s no longer completely dark when I leave the office after work which is nice.  I can tell that we’re slowly moving toward spring, even if there’s still awhile to go.

So, I’m making it through my first Canadian winter, but I still think I prefer Texas winters, where it’s 75F in February.  Someone remind me of that this fall when I’m bidding on my next post.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ottawa, Winter

Onward to Ottawa!

Since I was assigned to Ottawa for my next assignment, I’ve been getting pretty excited about it.  The city seems very livable, with a lot of cultural events, museums, parks, and so on. I am still a bit worried about the cold, since I’ve never lived anywhere that’s nearly as cold or that gets nearly as much snow, but I’ve reached out to friends and family members who’ve lived in cold places, am coming up with a list of things that I may need to get, and starting to do a little research on costs and options for some of the cold weather gear.  Since I’ll get there in August, hopefully before winter sets in, I also plan to consult the professionals after I get there, since who would know Ottawa winters better than Ottawans!  If any of you lovely readers have suggestions for winter weather gear, please share!

I was a little concerned about housing, since Ottawa is a Living Quarters Allowance (LQA) post, where the Department gives you an allowance and you go find and lease your own housing.  However, after looking up the allowance and doing some research on rental costs in Ottawa, it sounds like I can find a nice place and stay within the allowance.  In LQA posts, the Department doesn’t provide furniture, so I was also a little concerned about having to buy a lot of furniture since I don’t have much furniture and I don’t really want to buy a lot of furniture since I’m likely to end up in a smaller place in DC and wouldn’t have space for it all.  However, after doing a bit more research, I found out that you can use part of the housing allowance to rent furniture.  So, I’m a lot less worried about the expense and hassle of buying furniture that I might not use past Ottawa.

One of the best things about the assignment, however, is no more visa work!  While consular work is very important to our mission overseas, it’s just not what I want to do long-term, so I’m really looking forward to getting to do something else and to get a chance to work in my career track.

So, while the initial assignment came as a surprise based on how low it was on my list and how others who had bid in previous cycles had gotten one of their top 3 choices, I’m starting to get really excited and I think it’s all going to work out well.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ciudad Juarez, LQA, Mexico, Ottawa

Ottawa, eh?

And the winner is Ottawa, Canada!  I will be headed there for a 2-year Econ assignment.  It was #9 on my list, which is relatively low for a 2nd tour bidder from CDJ, but it fits in a lot of ways and the longer I think about it, the better it sounds.  All of the rest of the posts that were in my top 10 were in Europe, so that’s where I was headed mentally.  So, as my GPS would say, I’m “recalculating, recalculating” from what I expected, but it will be a great opportunity to do Econ work in one of our largest trading partners and the city is very nice and, more importantly, SAFE.  Also, there’s an Apple store and an IKEA in Ottawa, so what more could you want? 😉

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Ottawa