After 29 years experience as a expatriate spouse, 17 of them overseas, I bring a unique perspective to any crazy venture. With 10 international moves under my belt to date, my vocabulary of profanity is impressive, while my organizational skills have been refined to the level of obsession. I am particularly fond of making lists on napkins and sticking post-it notes to household items, pets, and children. Unfazed by incomprehensible languages, Euroglyphic appliances, and funky plumbing, I make a house into a home wherever I land.
I am an expert in this field, having volunteered a significant portion of my life to researching cities and countries overseas. I make extensive use of online resources and social networks to acquire quick answers to questions unanswered by State Department materials and offices. International schools are a particular specialty: I can find a post with a school to accept my square peg kids with little to no assistance from my husband’s employer.
Though, I have only attended the Foreign Service Institute for a few weeks, I’ve voluntarily and independently studied four languages: Spanish, Czech, German, and Polish. I speak fluent Spanish, and can say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you, in the other four languages, as well as shop for groceries, order in restaurants, and communicate with plumbers, electricians and taxi drivers. I’m especially proud of my ability to creatively combine languages: very few individuals can employ three different languages in one sentence, but I often manage this while perfectly sober.
I navigated five foreign cities before GPS was even a thing. My extensive experience with geographic disorientation has bestowed a certain Zen philosophy. If one simply keeps turning right, one will find oneself again. (But GPS does make things much easier!)
With four weeks’ home leave between each post, plus R&Rs, a 90-day maternity medevac, and one year’s temporary assignment for language, I carry my house on my back. I can organize suitcases for an entire family or an air freight shipment on short notice. I can sleep on futons, couches, or air mattresses, in attics or walk-in closets. And I nearly always remember to pack a corkscrew.
There is no impersonal white box that I cannot turn into a home. Even when said box is furnished with shabby Drexel, shiny gold curtains, and pineapple massacre lamps. My extensive collection of serapes, huipiles, and general ethnoplunder can cover a multitude of sins. I got this!
I have supervised about a dozen household staff members in multiple languages and with varying degrees of associated drama including theft and a death on the property. (OK, never mind. That’s not a skill. That’s something I never want to deal with again!)
Trailing Spouse, Warsaw, Poland, 2015-present
Studied Polish language for several months, promptly forgetting everything but the food words, please, and thank you. Regularly mangled Polish pronunciation, providing free entertainment to the local population. Established international personal network outside of the mission community. Managed one Foreign Service community website, edited content for another. Designed website for local women’s group. Blogged extensively. Took painting classes and spoke a lot more Spanish than one might expect to in Poland. Due to air pollution, derived the health benefits of smoking 1,000 cigarettes per year without ever lighting up. Established beyond all possible doubt that I am not a Winter Person.
Trailing Spouse, Vienna, Austria, 2011-2014
Learned basic German. Annoyed post administration by setting up a mission community website and Facebook group and blogging about WTF hiring procedures. Managed mid-tour move from a shabby, uninsulated, un-air conditioned, weird attic space to a nice, modern apartment. Regularly negotiated with local British international school re: difficult teenaged son in a city with one of the lowest drinking ages and highest smoking rates in the world. Telecommuted as part-time content manager for a non-profit. Volunteered as managing editor and producer of a Foreign Service guidebook (print and ebook versions.) Co-wrote and published guide to post websites and Facebook groups.
Normal Person, Reston, Virginia, USA, 2004-2011
Renovated money pit fixer-upper house purchased sight unseen. Acquired electrical, plumbing, carpentry, landscaping skills. Served as single parent for one year (2007-2008) during husband’s unaccompanied tour. Ran successful home business: website design and desktop publishing services. Published several articles in Foreign Service newsletters and magazines. Renovated second house to serve as rental/empty nester home. Had as little to do with the State Department as possible.
Trailing Spouse, Prague, Czech Republic, 2000-2004
Learned basic Czech. Lived on expatriate compound for the first (and only) time. Finally learned how to dress self and children for real winter. Interacted with grumpy recovering Communists on a daily basis. Managed ongoing family mental and physical health issues. Dealt with profit-oriented international school and square peg kids. Edited embassy newsletter. Telecommuted as website designer and writer. Took painting classes in an artist’s garret. Lived and traveled in continental Europe for the first time.
Normal Person, Springfield, Virginia, 1997-2000
Stay-at-home Mom to toddler and elementary schooler. Successfully managed very tight household budget. Founded and coordinated DC-area Foreign Service playgroup. Taught self website design, started home business. Published several articles in expatriate-oriented magazines.
Trailing Spouse, San Salvador, El Salvador, 1994-1997
Completed family with birth of last child on medical evacuation. Edited embassy newsletter. Coordinated twice-weekly post playgroup, attended local Spanish-speaking playgroup. Managed household staff. Achieved fluency in Spanish, enjoyed post very much despite high-threat crime status. (Only got mugged once.)
Trailing Spouse, Lusaka, Zambia, 1992-1994
Raised toddler/preschooler in unsanitary, unsafe environment with daily power outages. Kept toddler away from poisonous snakes and unfenced swimming pool on compound; did not successfully evade bitey wildcat. Tried the Giardia Weight Loss Plan along with toddler. Managed ongoing family mental and physical health issues. Managed household staff: housekeeper, her husband, and 8 children resident in backyard. Was very active in international women’s group, helped coordinate weekly playgroups and craft groups. Got out of the country as quickly as possible.
Trailing Spouse, Guatemala City, Guatemala, 1990-1992
Survived serious medical emergency. Gave birth to daughter in local hospital. Traveled extensively despite high crime rate and simmering guerrilla war. Acquired impressive collection of ethnoplunder. Experienced multiple minor earthquakes. Watched volcanoes erupt from bedroom window. Made memories to last a lifetime.
Trailing Spouse, La Paz, Bolivia, 1991-1992
Lived at 12,500 feet above sea level in a 15th floor apartment with an iffy elevator. Admired snow-capped Andes out the window. Visited Lake Titicaca and the Island of the Sun. Lived and traveled in an exotic, developing country for the first time. First immersion language experience. Successfully negotiated terrifying third world traffic. Less successfully negotiated first diplomatic receptions, tea parties, and “old-school” embassy culture.
M.R.S., Georgetown University, 1988.
(Of course, I have another resumé that I’m preparing for employers. But I like this one better!)
Love the ironic humor!
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Hi Kelly, I cherish the hope that you’ll keep the blog going long enough to let us internet fans know what you have settled into post-FS. I started reading your blog (and a terrifying 70+ others) as part of my what-to-do-with-myself exploration in my last two years of college. While not in my immediate future, the FS remains high on my list and I’ve always appreciated your sometimes brutal honesty about the pitfalls.
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Thank you Emma. I really appreciate that 🙂
I always pictured you just like your actual photo, just so you know.
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All underrated and very valuable skills! It’s an impressive resume of experiences.
[…] Foreign Service spouse should have one! Well, That Was Different shares her real-life”resumé” of […]
This was an amazing read! You’ve had quite the life
Great post! 29 years on the road, I’d hire you in a heart beat! I’ve made a link to it in my post on 50 Ideas to Create a New Career Abroad (under more info). See http://www.copatcoaching.com/blog/50-ideas-create-new-career-abroad/
Can so relate (six countries and counting), trying to write my summary on Linked in is proving difficult!