Today was the last day at post for one of my coworkers, who is the first FSO of this year’s summer transfer season to leave post for her next assignment. She and her husband, whom she met here in Juarez, are headed to a great job in a nice, European capital via Washington, DC for 8 months or so of language training. It’s bittersweet to see them go, since it’s sad to say goodbye but exciting to see them setting off on a new adventure in a great place.
It varies from post to post, but we have a really good FS community here in CDJ. I think that a lot of it has to do with the shared challenges of living and working here, but also the really great local and foreign service staff that we have here at post. I remember that one of the first social events I went to here in Juarez was a party at this officer’s house and thinking at the time about how much the great community of foreign service personnel and locally engaged staff here helped me feel welcome and get settled in after I arrived.
Saying goodbye is a constant theme in the foreign service and is one of the more difficult parts of it for me. I spent a lot of time with my A-100 classmates while I was in DC for A-100 ang language training but then had to say goodbye to almost all of them as we all went off to different posts, though a couple of awesome classmates were also posted to Juarez. Now, I’m starting to have to say goodbye to people who have been good friends and a great support system for the past year. Most tours are two or three years long and you will be saying goodbye to a lot of your coworkers over the course of those two or three years. Anyone who got to post before you will likely leave post before you do and then you leave post and say goodbye to the local staff and the foreign service officers and specialists who arrived at post after you did. It’s hard to get so close to people just to have to say goodbye to them after a year or two and to not know when you’ll see them again.
The good news is that I will likely cross paths with many of the foreign service officers and specialists again at some point. Many of us will end up serving together at posts or in DC, overlapping at FSI for language training, or just visiting each other at some point. So, it’s probably not saying goodbye forever in most cases. It’s still hard and still sucks a little though.
At some point between being assigned to a post and arriving there, FSOs are assigned a sponsor who is currently at post. The sponsor’s duties vary a little bit depending on the post and the person coming, but generally sponsors serve as a contact person to help answer questions about post prior to arrival at post or route them to the appropriate person or office to get answers to the questions. A few days prior to arrival at post, a sponsor usually visits your housing and make sure things are all set up and does some basic grocery shopping for you to get you through a few days. When you arrive at post, your sponsor usually meets you at the airport (or somewhere in El Paso in this case) and takes you to your housing, helps you get to work the first day, and helps you get started with your check-in at post.
For me, especially since this was my first post, having a sponsor to answer questions about what I needed to do before arriving at post, what I would need to do after arriving, and so on, was really helpful. It was good to find out a little bit about the process of setting up my internet, cell phones, whether there was anything that I needed to make sure to buy before arriving at post, and so on. Since my sponsor was so helpful, I was really eager to volunteer to sponsor a new officer and pay the help forward.
My first sponsoree got here last week and it was great to be able to share what I learned in my transfer from DC to post and to help get things set up for him here. He’s worked overseas a lot and seemed to settle in very quickly, so I think my job as his sponsor is pretty much done now. However, it was nice to be able to help someone else navigate through the transfer process and arrival at post since I remember how much my sponsor and other officers helped me get oriented when I first got here.
My sponsoree’s arrival last week was probably the most interesting part of the week last week. I did get news that I would be taking on a new responsibility at work which will be nice. It’s nothing that fancy or exciting, but will mean working on some administrative projects for a few hours every week, which will be a nice break from the visa interviews.
We also had Thursday and Friday off of work due to Mexican federal holidays, and I used those days to run some errands that weren’t super pressing and that I never seemed to get around to on normal weekends. So, that was my week!
I find that I tend to spend more time on the phone with customer service people since I joined the foreign service. There are more things that can go wrong and my situation is more complicated.
For example, earlier this year UPS re-routed a package addressed to the consulate’s PO box to my parents’ house which is located over 10 hours away from here without contacting me or the company which shipped the item. Now, both times, the company shipped something to a PO Box via UPS, and they should have known better. However, UPS re-routed it without verifying the new address. Apparently their computer will look for other addresses associated with the same name and somehow they found my parents’ address and sent the package there. So, after calling UPS five times over the course of two hours, getting redirected to the El Paso UPS office which couldn’t do anything since the package had already been delivered elsewhere, and finally getting a supervisor who would take ownership of UPS’ mistake and could do something about it, they told me that the package would be picked up from my parents’ house and delivered to the consulate’s physical address in El Paso. However, nothing is ever that simple and the UPS person came by but left the package since it didn’t have a label to tell them to pick it up. So, I made another couple of calls to them to have it picked up and finally talked with a local manager where my parents live who sent someone out to pick it up. However, this was about the time that a giant ice and snow storm hit large parts of the US, so the package went from my parents’ house in Texas all the way up to Kentucky then Missouri, before making its way back to El Paso. 😛 This was actually the second time UPS had re-routed a package, but the first time I couldn’t figure out whether it was the company’s fault or the UPS’ fault, since I had ordered things from that company to be delivered to my parents’ address before.
I had a similar experience with my insurance provider. I called to update my addresses and contact info prior to moving here and one representative told me that it would be no problem to continue my car insurance and renters insurance in Mexico. Great! However, a couple of weeks later, I get a letter in the mail informing me that both policies would be cancelled since I was now living in Mexico. Again, I called and spent about two hours on the phone with a representative trying to find out one way or another whether I could continue the policies, or whether I would have to find a new provider. To her credit, the lady tried to run down every angle to find an answer one way or another, and I eventually got an answer but I spent 2 hours on the phone with her then and another hour on the phone with another representative this weekend about renewing the policy. When I got insurance for my car through the same company but was simply living in the US, I spent about 20 minutes on their website.
Fortunately, these situations have been resolved and ended well, but these are problems adventures that I wouldn’t have had if I were not in the foreign service.
I’ve been writing about thing that I think that might be interesting, but I was wondering if any of you have any questions you’d like me to address in an entry. They can be questions about the foreign service, life in Juarez, my work, whatever. So, let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to cover in an entry here.
Foreign Policy magazine has a great article on its website about what the US Embassy in Cairo is doing for Americans stranded in Egypt. I encourage you all to read it. One of my friends from my initial training class at the State Department is posted in Cairo and has been working insane hours to help get people out of Cairo and provide information and services to people still there. Another friend has also been working intense hours at the Consulate and airport in Istanbul to help Americans arriving on evacuation flights and to coordinate with the Embassy in Cairo. A coworker here had 2 hours notice to leave his house and get on a flight to Cyprus to help with evacuation flights from Cairo arriving there. A lot of times, the image of foreign service officers is one of attending cocktail receptions and fancy parties, but we’re posted all over the world in all kinds of conditions and this article talks about some of the amazing work foreign service officers do when Americans are caught in a crisis overseas.