Here’s How It Should Be

So, I requested information from our onward post. I was put on the newsletter list, which is great. I can remember the days when posts wouldn’t even do that. But, I was told that I could get the welcome materials on the Department intranet. You know, that “open net” to which I have no official or practical access. Again.

Call me a dreamer, but after 25 years in the Foreign Service, and lots of experience in online content management, I have some ideas how this could and should work.

I should have a State Department login. Maybe a different one than an officer, with a different level of access. I don’t need the Super Secret Handshake Level Clearance, for heaven’s sake. I don’t care about any of that Very Important Diplomatic Stuff. That’s not my job.

My job is to get this family moved to and successfully settled at our next post. This is why I absolutely should be able to access:

→ All post orientation materials, especially regarding housing. Hello! I am the one organizing the shipments! I need to know if there aren’t going to be any closets in the place, or if there isn’t going to be a garage or a yard. This is really basic information, people.

→ All information available about schools at post (which I don’t need any more, thank God, but still).

→ The Global Address List for the post. I should be able to directly email anyone at post from whom I need information. For example: the Community Liaison Office Coordinator (CLO), the Medical Unit, and the General Services Office. I mean directly, without having to hunt down names and emails. That is a pointless waste of my time–and the time of anyone I have to pester to get them, including my husband.

→ Current job listings, so that I can apply before arriving for positions at post. Shouldn’t embassies hire the most qualified people for positions, not just the ones who happen to already be there? Seems to me that broadening the pool of applicants for positions could only be a good thing. Healthy competition and all that.

→ Current and archived issues of the post newsletter and/or classified advertising. Because, you know, people departing post want to sell stuff, and people arriving at post want to buy stuff. How can I buy stuff if I don’t know it’s for sale?

→ Links to any post social networks: email groups, Facebook groups, and so on.

→ Information regarding language training at post.

→ Information about the community association (if there is one) commissary, health club,  and any other services available to the post community.

Or hey, how about an internet site with a login for each spouse? That would work, too, if State were willing to put real, useful information on it. In this lifetime.

Sit back for a minute and think about how awesome this would be. Not just for incoming spouses. Imagine how much time it would save each and every CLO, if they could just direct newcomers to a link with most, if not all, of the information that they need.

Oh wait, I wouldn’t even need to ask the CLO for the link. I could just go right there. All by myself! Like, you know, a person with a brain who can be trusted to do more than schlepp suitcases every two or three years!

Well, that was a nice little daydream. Must go now. I have to bug my husband to go on his Super Secret Net Thingy and email me stuff about Warsaw.  Because, you know, email is totally secure, right?

Sigh.

Addendum: when I posted this on Facebook, several people pointed out that the Overseas Briefing Center will email these materials to me. I did actually know that, and of course it is a good thing, but it is still inefficient and silly. Every Foreign Service family moves every two or three years. WHY, WHY, WHY is this information not online in a place where we can get to it ourselves?

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17 comments

  1. YES! Just got three emails from the CLO in Jakarta all with docs about pets, schools, housing, etc and she had to email me each one. Oh and then I got the newsletter for the selling and buying stuff and job postings. The CLO office needs someone just to email folks.

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    • Seriously, what a waste of time! We always hear that CLOs are so busy and overwhelmed–well, having to do everything by email is certainly one reason for that, duh!

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  2. It’s not much better for those of us in the UN diplomatic corps. In fact, I would say it’s worse. We’re on our own for housing; there’s no orientation material; no welcome packet prepared by the UN or our home country; nothing. Job listings for spouses? School information? Ha. It’s sink or swim. Even the UN Women’s Guild has no idea who the new families are. We all just piece it together via tin cans and strings from friends of friends of friends.

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    • I feel for you, Victoria, but I have not found it to be useful to compare State’s services to other organizations. Usually, we are compared to the military, but it has never done any good as far as I can tell. I prefer to look at things in terms how can we help spouses AND help State be more efficient and effective? So often these two goals overlap.

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      • It was not meant to be a comparison. Rather, I wanted to point out that whether, in our case, we are Americans with State or the UN or landed here on a corporate move, the various groups do not communicate effectively. Your situation is not unique.

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  3. Agree! I’ve been saying this for years, that post reports and newsletters should be accessible to families, not just the officer. Because if you are the one arranging the shipping for the dog, you should be able to find out how to do it without waiting for someone nice to respond to your e-mail which gets ignored because it doesn’t have a state.gov suffix.

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    • Jennifer, you make a great point. I can’t tell you how many times I have emailed someone at State and gotten no reply, then my husband emails from his state.gov address and boom! Instant reply. It’s pretty clear there are some people who filter that way. Not everyone, but definitely some.

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  4. I’m a CLO at a post which made a very forward thinking move a couple years ago and started an online newsletter/blog. We store all of our welcome, orientation, tourism, and education info on the site and I think our newcomers find it very handy. There are only a few items which we aren’t allowed to put on there due to security concerns. This is a trend which is catching on quickly, but I think it will be a while before some of the posts in less secure places do this. Despite having the blog, CLO still must send all the emails with the documents attached because not everyone is willing or able to access the information themselves and we need to be sure that they have received the information. And we must keep the info at OBC for those who wish to access it that way. Plus some things are on our Facebook page. It is sometimes maddening to try to keep it all updated, frankly, but people today want to be able to access the information in many different ways.

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    • Good for you! I would really like to know what kind of person isn’t willing to look up information on a web site though. How do they live overseas without being willing to use the Internet??

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      • Believe me, our community is very diverse as far as their tech skills and the way they like to access info. Many are Facebook averse, some just don’t like reading things on the computer or aren’t good typists so replying by email might be time-consuming , sometimes internet access truly is difficult (on home leave when living in your Mom’s house which doesn’t have wifi – ugh). Some newcomers telephone from the USA or the other country and verbally ask all of the questions that are fully answered in emails or online. It’s just human nature, and I’m not judging – I just go with it and do the best I can to help them :).

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  5. What kills me is that many, many years ago when I was an actual computer geek for a living, and e-mail was more rare, we would tell people that e-mail is about as secure as a postcard but it goes through more hands. To this day, no one uses encrypted e-mail regularly. How is this better or safer?

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  6. I am a CLO as well and we still have people coming to our office asking for a physical copy of the newsletter because they don’t check e-mail and are not on any media where we usually post information… we have no choice but keeping up with everyone’s preferences (as much as this is humanly possible) as this is the only way to ensure the information gets delivered.
    As about the lack of response to non-state e-mail, keep in mind all sorts of filtering, I doubt anyone deliberately ignores non-state accounts. As least I prefer to think that way :).

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    • Well, I have to say, it is news to me that there is any expat left on the face of the planet who “doesn’t check email.” That is just bizarre. I don’t know how they could get anything done without it.

      BTW, I should say, this is not really about CLOs. I am sure if State made the information available online WHERE SPOUSES CAN SEE IT that CLOs would be delighted to send the link to anyone who asks. The problem is that it has not been made available!

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