Tag Archives: foreign service journal

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: The Best Foreign Service Blogs, by Dave Seminara.

Guest Post by Dave Seminara

smoking huge joint womanThe World Wide Web is saturated with amateurish blogs created by people who’d be lucky to command the devoted readership of their immediate family members, let alone the wider public. There are scores of blogs managed by Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and while many of them are worth reading, some aredownright bizarre. This post will steer you toward some Foreign Service related blogs that are well worth your time.
I started this series nine months ago to help people get a better understanding of what life in the U.S. Foreign Service is like. Many of the posts have been about my experiences but I’ve also introduced readers to an intrepid, single female diplomat fresh off of tours in Syria and Pakistan, a diplomatic courier, a USAID Foreign Service Officer currently serving in Afghanistan and others. But spend some time at the sites listed below to get a flavor of what it’s like to represent the U.S. Government in The Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Pakistan and dozens of other exotic locales.

One major caveat here is that FSOs have to be careful what they write because free speech only takes you so far in the precarious, uber-cautious world of government service. Most FSOs have disclaimers on their sites warning that the views expressed are their own, but many still tend to steer clear of tackling political issues or anything controversial.Peter Van Buren, a now retired diplomat who wrote “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” was effectively driven out of the Foreign Service partially because he posted a link to a cable on WikiLeaks and made some disparaging remarks, which he later apologized for, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on his website.There’s no doubt that his experience has had a chilling effect across the board, so visit the sites below to get the low-down on the Foreign Service lifestyle and the travel opportunities, not the dirty underbelly of how diplomacy plays out overseas.Some of the blogs below contain little, if any biographical info, and I wasn’t able to read each one in its entirety, so my apologies in advance if my impressions of these blogs below miss the mark. That said, I would invite the authors of these fine sites to tell us more about themselves, if they dare, in the comments section.DiplodunitDomani Spero has no U.S. government connection and thus has the freedom to write about the world of diplomacy without having to worry about his career. Diplodunit is as close as you’ll find to one-stop shopping for a candid look at what’s going on in the Foreign Service community.

Adventures in Good Countries- Getting Along In The Foreign Service

I love this blog. The author, apparently a single female public diplomacy officer who, “doesn’t date outside the visa waiver program,” blogs with style and passion about life in Japan, Pakistan, Jordan and elsewhere, coping with Multiple Sclerosis and whatever else pops into her head. How can you not like a writer who offers advice to protesters on how to construct a good effigy? (“Don’t just throw something together with the rationale that you’re only going to burn it anyway – take some pride in your work.”)

We Meant Well

You might not agree with Peter Van Buren but you will want to read his blog, which is sometimes offensive but never boring.

Third Culture Children

This blog, which details the lives of a family of five living in Recife, Brazil, La Paz, Bolivia and elsewhere, is one of the very best Foreign Service related sites out there. It’s a particularly good resource for parents who are wondering what the overseas experience will be like for their children.

amy gottlieb usaidAmy Gottlieb’s Photography & Blog

Gottlieb is a doctor and a USAID FSO currently serving in Vietnam. Her portraits from Jamaica, Nepal, Vietnam, South America, Africa and beyond are as good as any you’ll find anywhere.

Adventures Around the World- A Foreign Service Officer’s Tales of Life Abroad

The author of this refreshingly candid and well-written blog is currently in Kabul and has previously served in Iraq and Nepal. Here’s how she described the “honeymoon” period at a new post: “The honeymoon period is the time frame after moving to a foreign country where the excitement of being somewhere new overshadows certain harsh realities of living in a foreign country. People burning piles of trash in the street give the place ‘character’ and bargaining with a taxi driver is part of the ‘adventure.'”

Worldwide Availability

This is a stunning photo blog from an American diplomat who was born on a farm in China and is currently serving in South Korea. Visiting this site is the next best thing to booking a ticket to Seoul. Also, for those who are curious to know how long it takes to join the Foreign Service, take a look at his instructive personal timeline for some clues.

Wanderings of a Cheerful Stoic

Anyone who features a photo of themselves (I presume) with a Gambian poached rat on their homepage is all right by me. This is a blog from a FSO posted in Conakry, Guinea, a place where “you tend to find yourself without a really specific reason.”

The Slow Move East- Thoughts on Being an Expatriate

Hannah Draper, a FSO currently serving in Libya, might be a “Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East,” but her writing is compulsively readable.

Where in the World am I? Notes from the Streets of Hyderabad, India

A FSO in Hyderabad who previously served in Burundi blogs about food and life overseas with gusto.

Cross Words- A Blog About Writing and Anything Else That Comes to Mind

Ted Cross, a FSO currently living in Budapest who apparently just signed up for Facebook last week (Friend him!), tells us on his homepage that his “dream is to be a published author.” I like someone who isn’t afraid to tell the world what he wants. He’s into fantasy and science fiction, neither of which interests me, but his blog is unique and his writing is lucid.

Four Globetrotters- The (Most Likely) Incoherent Ramblings of a Sleep-Deprived Single Mother Living Overseas with her Trio of Kiddos

Anyone who can pull off being a single mom in the Foreign Service is someone I want to meet. This blog, written by a former Foreign Service brat, isn’t nearly as incoherent as advertised.

Beau Geste, Mon Ami- The Chronicle of my Journey to and through The Foreign Service

Even a quick breeze through this visually appealing blog will give you an idea of how varied and interesting life in the Foreign Service can be. If nothing else, do not miss the photos of the tribal warriors in Papua New Guinea.

Zvirdins at Large- Jamie and Andrew’s Excellent Adventures

If you want a slice of life from the Marshall Islands, this is the place to go. I love this blog but I couldn’t bring myself to click into the video entitled “Pig Shooting” in a post on “Pig Butchering.” Yikes.

Let me know in the comments section if you think I’ve missed any great FSO-related blogs and if you’re the author of ones of the sites mentioned above, tell us a bit about yourself.

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

(Photos courtesy of Amy Gottlieb)

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.


This year’s 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

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

Career options overseas (


Posted by on March 12, 2014 in expat, foreign service, TRAVEL


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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


Posted by on June 9, 2012 in expat, foreign service, TRAVEL


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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! 😮


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