On being an EFM

Nate and I are equals.  Neither of us is more important than the other, and we have a lot of respect for each other.  Our relationship wouldn’t work any other way.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in the Foreign Service. Nate is the FSO, and I am the EFM (eligible family member), or, even worse, the “trailing spouse.”

I just started typing a list of why being an EFM sucks, but it was super-whiny and I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me (too hard, anyways). So I deleted it.  I’ll simply say this: being an EFM has its ups and downs.

The reason I mention this is because on a Facebook group for EFMs, FSOs, and others involved in the US’s diplomatic mission, someone recently asked if there were other EFMs that didn’t like the FS lifestyle.  The moving, being far from family, living in other countries, etc.

Wow, were the responses interesting.  Some people truly hate it.  I mean, with a level of vitriol that I found shocking.

The Facebook post got me thinking about why we joined the FS and what my own EFM experience has been like.  Spoiler alert: It’s actually pretty great.  In fact, a lot of EFMs like the FS and appreciate the opportunities that it gives them.  Not everyone is miserable.

Granted, I get annoyed sometimes by the fact that I’m an EFM, but it’s generally not that bad.  It can be occasionally silly (like the fact that I can’t even request for the embassy to come and fix, for example, an air conditioner if it breaks), and I roll my eyes at FSOs that think they’re better than me, but I think of it as water off a duck’s back.  It just rolls off.

Yeah, moving frequently sucks, and having to readjust to a new country every few years probably isn’t easy.  And neither is being far from family, especially now that we have a baby.  On the other hand, we get to explore new countries, learn  new languages (which for some might be a chore, but I love it), and we have a nanny.

As with almost anything in life, there are positives and negatives to being an EFM in the FS.  I have a portable career in public health, and there are lots of mosquitoes in Bangladesh, so that’s good; we both love to travel and explore new countries; and it is important to me that our children be raised overseas. So for us, the FS was a good fit for both of us and our family.  If it wasn’t for Nate being an Officer, we wouldn’t get these opportunities.  We are in this situation because of him, not me.  I get that.

Am I content with my EFM status?  Yes and no.  On a day to day basis, and I happy?  Yes.  Can I ride out my EFM-ness because of the opportunities the Foreign Service gives me and my family?  Hell yes.

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On joining the Foreign Service

Last week I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in several months, and I mentioned that Nate joined the Foreign Service.  She gave a knowing laugh and said, “Nate didn’t join the Foreign Service– you both joined the Foreign Service.”

I’m coming to realize how true this is.  It’s also a little frustrating, and difficult to put into words.

We both (well, ideally both of us) are going to go live where ever the State Dept decides we should go.  We both will be packing our belongings, uprooting our lives, leaving friends and family, and starting a new life someplace else.  And this is going to happen every 2 years or so for the foreseeable future.  It’s going to be exciting, challenging, fun, and also a little frustrating.

The thing is, while we both are living this lifestyle, very much together, Nate is the one who’s an FSO.  I am an EFM, “Nate’s wife,” or, even worse, a trailing spouse.  But that is not me.  I feel like my identity is getting lost in the shuffle.

At the FSI and during A-100, they do a good job of including EFMs.  There are EFM trainings, we are invited to happy hours and social events, I was included in Nate’s meeting with the Career Development Officer, and we even get some happy hours that are specifically for us.  There seems to be a strong understanding of the fact that us EFMs are important in our own right, and without our support the whole moving-around-the-world-every-2-years thing wouldn’t happen.  But even so, it’s like we’re support staff for the main act.

Initially I was excited by the idea that I might not be able to work full time, depending on our post.  It would give me an opportunity to focus on photography or to tackle all those kitchen projects I’ve been dying to try but haven’t had the time (like making croissants and bagels).  Now I’m worried that won’t be enough.

I don’t want to lose myself to the grandiosity of the FSO, because we are both in the Foreign Service.  We are doing this together.

 

 

Before A-100

There are probably people out there who are/will be reading this blog who aren’t our friends and family.  This the internet, after all, so that’s just what happens.

Maybe these strangers (welcome!) just received their A-100 invite, or their spouse/partner did.  If so, this post is for you.

I was going crazy with the small amount of information we had received before Nate’s A-100 class started.  We knew the date he started and that was it.  And that, if you are terribly excited and dying to know more, isn’t enough.

Eventually, maybe 5 weeks before the A-100 start-date, Nate got a very large packet in the mail with some official-looking documents, a bunch of informational pamphlets (including one for the DC aquarium which I’m pretty sure is closed), a handbook called “Let’s Move,” (oh wait, that’s not it) “It’s Your Move,” and loads of paperwork.  It wasn’t very exciting.

Then two weeks (exactly) before June 30 he got several emails with several attachments, including info for spouses.  Finally!  The A-100 class that was two classes before Nate’s is sort of chaperoning them through the A-100 orientation process, answering questions, organizing some social events, and being otherwise awesome.

The really cool thing is that spouses and partners (also called EFMs, or eligible family members, which I suppose also includes children) are involved in pretty much everything except the A-100 classes.  EFMs can even do language training!  How great is that?  Sometimes I wish I didn’t already have a job so I could just go to language classes all day.  There is an orientation class for EFMs, and a bunch of other smaller seminars at the FSI.  It makes a lot of sense, really.  The Foreign Service can’t just send FSOs overseas with their unprepared families and expect things to go well.  It’s nice to already feel included in the community.

So, don’t worry, you’ll know more soon!  And until then, just keep surfing the internet.