Blogging hiatus – foreign service life, work and love: Brazil in times of Zika

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This is not a real post, at least, not per se. But I felt like I needed to have something out there. The Lima-Miranda Family is still is Brasilia, Brazil. Enjoying live, working like crazy, traveling [for work and just not enough for leisure…], keeping friends close and ensuring the Little Miranda kiddos are being brought up in  a nurturing, enriched and compassionate environment.

Mixed languages at home. Our youngest child is now 5, and spends her days at pre-school. The two older kids still keep their dad and I on our toes. Love still surrounds us.

Work in Public Health  [better saying, Zika virus & its possible implications – oh, boy!!!] has kept me busy, and quite happy, I’d say. Meaningful work in an enjoyable work environment – the dream to any EFM/FS spouse, I dare to say! Apologies for the ‘blogging hiatus’… better [and calmer!] times will come…

More to come. For the time being, my deepest appreciation for the ones who remained for the long haul, standing strong while we move at our slow pace….

Peace to all, and see you very soon,

RM

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Wonders of life as a Foreign Service Family – Life at the New Post.

Greetings from Brasilia!

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After several weeks of ‘transitional homes’ we safely made it to our permanent housing assignment. And why is it important to mention it is a ‘permanent house’? Maybe for the curious ones, with friends cruising thru the joys of the Foreign Service life, there’ll be a long explanation out there waiting to be spelled out. 😮 For now, it’s enough saying we’re glad we don’t have to move to a difference residence. We’re comfortable and settled down. At least, as comfortable as possible – kids have enrolled into a Summer camp program, and we’re getting to know new families, learning the ropes for the city…

What and where to find our immediate needs for the house (forgot to mention that, although we like our ‘new place’, it’s pretty bare, hence the need to go out and buy not only groceries, but trash cans, cleaning products… You name it!).

The illusion of two hands together reaching up to the sky creates the Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasilia
The illusion of two hands together reaching up to the sky creates the Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasilia

Despite all the usual initial difficulties, inherent to the nature of the move, we believe we’ll have a nice time here. That’s the ultimate hope. We now have cable TV and internet – a great milestone! Kids have already made friends with some other children who would likely be attending the same school. We’re trying to build our own niche, despite the smell of fresh coat of paint that greets us every time we come back to the house… 🙂

I believe we’ll be happy here – at least we’ll try… Right now, wearing my most-hopeful-foreign service-spouse hat… The only one I was able to fit on our suitcase… Yeap, the same suitcase I’ve been living out of, for the past 8 weeks… But, who’s counting, right? 🙂

Now, let me get back to checking on my 3 little ones – just heard some clapping, so, I’m assuming the movie outside-and-popcorn event just ended – will go hug my kids with the most thankful smile to the Summer Camp supervisors and organizers: they enabled this very busy mom to enjoy some quiet time (and a coffee!), while getting back on the blogosphere horse!

Ate mais!

Wonders of life as a Foreign Service Family – Random Thoughts on Home Leave

Well, we’re back in Washington, DC – the last part of our ‘transitional’ Home Leave, surviving thru the perks of living out of our suitcases since May 19… but you know, not bad at all! 😮 No complaints on hauling our three children around, departing La Paz, Bolivia, heading to California for some family catch up… taking the kiddos to Disneyland and Legoland, surviving the long lines, the screaming, the cries for attention and for over-priced popcorn… picking up a few family members along the way, driving all of us to witness in loco the magnificent views offered by the Grand Canyon… and flying back to the East Coast… much has happened, and definitely, no time to spare… not even for blogging!

Need to do a better job trying to catch up with our lives… Haven’t had much free time, I must admit – the little ones keep me on my toes, and as any parent around here must know, Summer Break has all of us [parents] pulling our hair trying to find educational, recreational, interesting and fun activities for our lovies, during this time… it’s work, people… and we’ve been doing this for some 5 weeks already.. again… living out of suitcases, staying with family, long car rides… a few car sicknesses along the way… always fun! 😮

Now, it’s home stretch – a few days in the DC area, and we head out to our newest work and life adventure – Brasília, the capital of Brazil [yeap, the beautiful country that just put out the most unbelievable performance during the recent World Soccer Cup – don’t even get me started on that… as a Brazilian-born soccer-passionate soccer-mom-wife, I’m still recovering from the ‘bad dream’ many of us witnessed these past weeks…] Our family will be in Brasília for the next 3 years. Husband’s duty, as many wives/spouses here would relate and sympathize... 😮

Presently writing from a government-per-diem-acceptpleasant hotel room, packed with my noisy and restless adorable and very understanding little children, enjoying some quite time while I gather my blogging thoughts together [who am I kidding?? And why do we need to have both TVs on, and so loud??] But, all in all, I guess we’re ready for what’s in store for us… let’s wait and see! 😮

Classic pic, right? Gotta have your moment in the sun with Mr Mouse! A quick snapshot from our first stop during Home Leave 2014 - not-yet-tired parents at Disneyland!
Classic pic, right? Gotta have your moment in the sun with Mr Mouse! A quick snapshot from our first stop during Home Leave 2014 – not-yet-tired parents at Disneyland!

 

 

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: A ‘Trailing Spouse’ Speaks Out

Like many of us, Jennifer Seminara is another FSO spouse, who worked while her husband was serving overseas in Macedonia, Trinidad and Hungary. She’s been invited by Dave, the husband, to offer her thoughts on what it’s like to be a “trailing spouse.” Not pessimistic, and not overly optimistic. Just very honest, clear, realistic and sweet. My appreciation to Dave and his wife Jennifer for sharing this. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Good reading!

“I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to be a Foreign Service (FS) spouse. My boyfriend of five years joined the Foreign Service and asked me to marry him right before he left Chicago for his training in Washington. I didn’t know where he was headed but a life overseas as a diplomat’s wife seemed exciting and I was in.

I was in graduate school at the time, pursuing a master’s degree in public health and had grand ideas about working on public health programs in developing countries. At the time, I didn’t realize how difficult it is for the “trailing spouse” to have a career.

Being a FS spouse can be a great opportunity to stay home and raise children or pursue hobbies. Housing is covered by the U.S. Government, which makes it much easier to get by on one income, especially when living in a country with a low cost of living. Having a career as a FS spouse, however, is not easy for most.
For those that would like to work, Eligible Family Member (EFM) positions are available at most embassies but these administrative and/or low level (and usually low paying) jobs can be difficult to secure since there aren’t enough jobs for everyone who wants one. I worked as the Community Liaison Office Coordinator at two posts; there were also EFM positions for Consular Associates (which requires CON-GEN training) and Office Management Specialists (OMS/administrative assistants) in various departments. My CLO predecessor at our first post described the position as the cruise director for the embassy. There are the more serious and important parts of the job, which include providing information to newly assigned employees and families, advocating for employees and families, advising post management on quality of life and reporting to the Family Liaison Office in Washington, D.C., on education and employment at post, but a large part of the job is to build community spirit and enhance morale. In other words, the CLO plans a lot of parties, happy hours and all kinds of events to help maintain American traditions (super bowl parties, Easter egg hunts, BBQs, trick or treating, visits by Santa, etc.) and tours to help Americans get to know the host culture. I really enjoyed being a CLO but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting to do as a career and the salary I earned was far below what I could have been making in the U.S. in my field. Spouses who would rather work outside of the embassy have limited options. Despite reciprocity agreements, which the U.S. has with a number of countries, it’s difficult for many spouses to secure gainful employment at many posts around the world. Even when spouses have the legal right to work in a country, many lack the local language skills needed to find jobs.

Spouses are entitled to take language training at the Foreign Service Institute but many can’t afford to devote months to classroom study due to financial or family issues and those who do still may not be able to achieve the fluency needed to get jobs. Also, finding a job in many foreign countries is all about networking and who you know, and if you don’t know anyone and can’t speak the local language, you’ll have an uphill climb. And even if you can find a job on the local economy, salaries in many countries can be as low as $500 or $1,000 per month. FS spouses that tend to have the most luck finding work are often in fields where they can find a U.S. job that will allow them to work remotely. Teachers are always in demand, as there are international schools everywhere and you need not know the local language to teach at most of them. Personal trainers can find work in some posts, as can nurses and development workers. For spouses that don’t find jobs, it can be difficult to adapt to life overseas. Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) have a network of Americans to interact with at the embassy, but the stay at home spouse can feel isolated and bored, especially if they don’t speak the local language well. In a way, they’re the ones who are truly living in the local culture, while their spouses are in an English-speaking, American bubble at work. Up until the 1950s, the wives of FSO’s were given formal evaluations along with their husbands, and spouses who weren’t viewed as being good hostesses – planning and hosting representational events – could negatively impact their husbands’ careers. While that’s now ancient history, some spouses do feel subtle pressure to attend all sorts of cocktail parties and events that might seem glamorous but are actually quite boring. Most trailing spouses are female and posts with large expatriate communities have plenty of groups they can join, and a lot of women manage to forge their own networks easily. But trailing men often have a harder time, because some feel awkward joining female dominated clubs or groups, and men with no jobs tend to feel a loss of identity more acutely than women do. But despite all the personal drawbacks, and career sacrifices, being a FS spouse can also be a lot of fun. Many spouses make really close friends overseas and become part of social circles that are tighter than the ones they had at home. Since all expats are by nature away from their lifelong friends and relatives, everyone has an incentive to be open to meeting new people and making friends.

Last, but definitely not least, is the fact that life overseas can be more exciting than life in the U.S. If you’re an adventurous person who is curious about the world, you’ll enjoy having the opportunity to experience a new culture, not as a tourist but as a local. And if you love to travel, living overseas will open up possibilities that would be impossible when based in the U.S. If you want to live overseas, but aren’t sure if you could do it on your own, doing it as a Foreign Service family is the way to go. You’ll have a U.S. mailing address, so you can order products online to your heart’s content, you’ll have a network of people at the embassy to help you navigate the local culture, and you’ll have free housing and education for your kids. And for those in countries with a low cost of living, you can afford the kind of household staff – cooks, cleaners, nannies, gardeners – that would be impossible in the U.S. Some get a little carried away and get so addicted to this sort of neo-Colonial lifestyle that they don’t want to return to Washington, where they have to live the kind or ordinary middle class lives they left behind before they joined the Foreign Service.” Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

The April issue of the Foreign Service Journal (FSJ, April 2012) discussed the Family Member Employment, and the search for meaningful work overseas. Reading through the whole edition, you’ll find great stories about living and working as a Foreign Service spouse. Several FS spouses shared their experiences and impressions regarding working overseas. It’s an honor to be one of the contributors to this edition. Congratulations to all who contributed to that month’s issue. Here’s the link to another FS blogger, also sharing her impressions about family member employment.

Giving expats a hand

Hot off the press!

Image from AFSA.ORG (Foreign Service Journal)

Just fresh off the press: read it all!

The latest issue of the Foreign Service Journal (FSJ, April 2012) discusses the Family Member Employment, and the search for meaningful work overseas. Reading through the whole edition, you will find great stories about living and working as a Foreign Service spouse.

Several FS spouses shared their experiences and impressions regarding working overseas. It’s an honor to be one of the contributors to this edition.

Congratulations to all who contributed to this month’s issue. Here’s the link to another FS blogger, also sharing her impressions about family member employment.

Thank you for reading! 😮