glimpse into the future
Unlike most careers, which encourage one to put down roots, the Foreign Service seems tailor-made for people who can’t sit still or be happy in one place. A three- or four-year assignment might afford one the chance to settle in a bit, but a two-year tour, which is the norm until D is tenured, makes it all but impossible not to think about the next assignment. The typical two year timeline is usually broken down into 3-4 months of learning the ropes, a year or so of actually focusing on and doing one’s job, and half a year of mentally preparing for the move to the next post.
For us, it’s been all the more difficult not to think about our onward assignment because we’ve known where we will be going all this time. Whereas most entry-level officers bid on their next job halfway through their first tour, we learned our post-Nairobi destination even before we left for Kenya eight months ago. As a native Russian speaker, D was hired under the critical needs language program, which means he has to serve one of his first two assignments somewhere where this language is spoken. To make it easier for him to fulfill this obligation, Diplomatic Security precluded D from serving in the country where this language is most obviously useful, and which not surprisingly also has the bulk of the State Department’s Russian-speaking positions. On top of that, D also has to do a tour of duty in the consular section if he hopes to be tenured. Turns out there were not many entry-level consular positions that were designated as Russian-speaking outside of Russia itself. In fact, only one worked with our timing. So, a few days before we boarded the plane for Nairobi, D was notified that a consular position awaited him in Chisinau in 2013.
By and large, we have been enjoying our tour in Kenya too much to give Moldova much thought, with one exception. Cognizant of the fact that we were destined for Eastern Europe, S signed up this year to do the first of a series of long-distance Russian courses offered by the Foreign Service Institute. Actually, given that Moldova’s population is only 20% Russian and that the native language is a lot closer to Romanian, the usefulness of the classes in preparing S for our next assignment is a bit dubious, but at the very least it will help her communicate with the in-laws.
As the State Department is not known for technological innovation, the online course modules look like they were a product of some harried 1980’s programming and the videos are populated with people whose wardrobes support this hypothesis. The self-study course work is supplemented by a weekly phone call with a dowager of a Russian teacher who, even after a month’s worth of long-distance calls, cannot fathom why someone in Africa would be studying Russian. Despite complaining that the course is poorly designed and that the people in the videos speak too fast, S is making good progress, even if she still thinks that some of the extraneous Russian letters sound more like guttural noises one would make while getting punched in the stomach than vowels that belong in a civilized alphabet.