Hello from China!
Yes, Matthew and I are back in Chengdu safe and sound, so that's good. There were some United Airlines mishaps (cancelled flights, etc.) along the way, but NOTHING like what happened to my sweet friend Heather (not once, but TWICE), so I will chalk our journey back to Chengdu up as a success. Because everything that isn't as hideous as Heather's experiences is a travel successes in my book!
Now that our first R&R is over, I am coming face to face with my unanswered email, and goodness almighty there are tons of them. Sorry!! This is probably because I seem to have freaked out the entire universe with this blog post of mine in which I basically said that our first year in Chengdu was... a challenge.
DS applicants, scared they might be making a mistake if they go forward in the hiring process, emailed me. Employees headed to China, scared of what may be ahead for them, emailed me. Great questions were asked, and you know what? I firmly believe that if one person emails me questions, that means that others would be interested in the answers, as well. So here you go, world. More blather from me. You're welcome. If it's not great, I'll refund all your money back, LOL! :)
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DS APPLICANT QUESTIONS
1.) You mentioned how different the DS bidding process is from other FS positions. What does this mean?
Well, basically, if you're the type of DS family that would love to be posted overseas, it's difficult to not be jealous of other FS positions. This is because there are many more DS folks that would like to be overseas than there are open positions for them at any given time. The upshot is that many DS folks who want to be overseas often take jobs at unaccompanied posts in order to have preference during the next bidding cycle to go overseas. If you want to be domestic, then life is great and all is well because there are domestic positions in abundance, especially in the DC area. But if you want to be overseas, it's just really hard to "get out," as we often put it.
It seems flipped for pretty much everyone else in the FS. Everyone else in the FS has jobs in abundance overseas and (comparatively) very few jobs domestically. Therefore, it seems way way easier for everyone but DS to "get out" or "stay out" overseas. It's just... life.
2.) From your perspective, was it a good move for your family to pursue a FS career?
Oh, absolutely. AB-SO-LOOT-LEE.
Look, I write what I write on this blog because I feel like it's important for applicants (and other folks) to know that everyday life in the FS isn't all unicorns and rainbows and glitter and perfection. There are some unicorns and some rainbows and for those we are grateful. But life in the FS is just like life everywhere else... there can be problems sometimes. Not every assignment is going to be phenomenally amazing and even better than the assignment before. That's just LIFE. That's just REALITY. It's reality for everyone who isn't FS, so why wouldn't it be reality for everyone who IS?
Would we do it again? Oh HELLS to the yeah. I actually wish we'd done it sooner, because my boys are so old (ages 18 and 13) that they haven't gotten to be overseas a lot (this post is their first chance), and I would love for them to have had more of it.
3.) Has this career been good for your husband?
It's what he always wanted. He always, always wanted to make it into federal law enforcement, and now he is. He worked SO hard to be able to get here, and I am proud of him. I'm allowed to be proud of him - he passed the BEX on the very first try, got through his pre-employment stuff within just a couple of months, never stepped foot on the Register (even though there was one at the time) because he scored so high during his assessment, etc.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again... there isn't a single agency that could even begin to tempt him to leave DS. NOT. ONE. You name the initials, it doesn't matter, he would laugh at the idea of leaving DS for whoever it is. I'm dead serious. Not a single one in his mind (or mine, for that matter) can hold a candle to DS.
Why is that? Because of the dizzying array of possibilities that DS has to offer. I mean, we just got our bid list (for what he will try to do after Chengdu) yesterday. Pages and pages and pages AND PAGES of different jobs. Sure, the juciest will go to folks bidding out of AIP, and we agree with that wholeheartedly. But even once those folks have their choices, there will still be so many fantastic opportunities left (of course, it will still be hard to "get out" or "stay out" overseas, as I've said before). But think of it - my husband will never have to sit behind the exact same desk in the exact same place with the exact same boss doing the exact same thing staring at the exact same coworkers every single day for the rest of his life like many folks. I can't tell you how awesome it is to have so many choices. And for the choices to be is so many places. And with such a variety of job types. Truly phenomenal.
4.) Is being overseas/being in the FS hard on a marriage?
Uh, yeah. YEAH. There are divorces in the FS. There are affairs in the FS. There is suicide, spousal abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, etc. in the FS. Why wouldn't there be? People are people wherever you go, whatever you do. Problems like divorces, etc. are part of normal life anywhere. I've heard that there are more divorces in DS than the national average, and I would surmise that that is correct. This life can be seriously stressful. EFMs can feel totally sidelined and isolated. There can be boredom, loneliness, sadness, depression... you name it. If it's part of the life outside of the FS, it's part of life inside the FS. Again, why wouldn't it be?
My dear friend Jill told James and me many moons ago (before we left for Chengdu) that the prevailing wisdom regarding marriage overseas is that, and I quote, "If there are cracks in the foundation of your marriage, then those cracks will be magnified overseas." This is super duper true. I'll go even further and say this about marriages overseas:
**Any issues you've struggled with in your marriage will be magnified times at least ten and thrown in your faces more often than you can imagine, just for good measure.**
So yes, there can be challenges to your marriage while overseas. But rest assured - James and I have been married since basically birth, and we will be married for many, many more decades to come. So you can be happy overseas, as well.
5.) Is FS life hard on your kids?
It can be. My kids have been sick more often than I can even describe this past year. They are lonely for their friends and neighborhoods and family back in the U.S., especially at holidays, and not just the big ones. Absolutely - Christmas and Thanksgiving is hard. But Halloween was also hard last year, because they missed their old neighborhood and friends. They hate the food here (James and I think that's crazy, but my children are entitled to their opinions). They hate not having a real, solid, steady home.
FS life can also be FANTASTIC for kids. Mine love their school, and their friends at the school. It's great that they're getting a chance to be exposed to so much more than they would in the U.S., and that they get to travel around to so many different places. I'm confident that being overseas is giving their lives a depth and richness that they would not have otherwise had. So, you know: tradeoffs. Just like real life anywhere. Right?
6.) Do you wish your husband had a career in the States?
Well, if I did, he can have it with DS. We could park our little selves in the Washington DC area and never leave if we wanted to. People do it all the time. I mean, sure, every however many years he would end up going on a year-long unaccompanied tour, but trust me when I say that if we ever decided to park it in the U.S., we could park it in DC (and/or hop around to other states, actually, if we wanted) and never leave. That's one difference I think between DS and the rest of the FS - I don't know if the rest of the FS would be able to pull that one off (don't think so?), but DS folks do it all the time for various reasons.
7.) What is life like for tandem couples when one spouse is DS?
Um? James and I aren't tandem, so since I've never done it, I don't really know first hand what it's like. I would imagine (and have heard) that staying together (you know - the whole bidding thing) is hard. This is because, again, it's really difficult for DS to get/stay overseas. I mean, when you link a person whose jobs are mainly domestic (DS) with a person whose jobs are mainly overseas (everyone else in the FS), and you bear in mind that each overseas post has, whatever, a tiny tiny amount of DS people at it, comparatively, then I think you can see that there may be challenges there, especially as the DS person climbs the career ladder (the higher you go in DS, the less jobs there are overseas).
I would imagine that it's far easier for both of you to end up in DC a lot. But, really now - what do I know? I've never done it. But I've heard stories of the difficulty of bidding and how the person who isn't DS can feel like their career is being held back by the person who *is* DS, etc. But honestly, what is your alternative? For one of you to be a career EFM? That ultimately may suck bigger than trying to navigate the tandem thing.
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PEOPLE ASSIGNED TO CHINA QUESTIONS
1.) I've been assigned to (insert anywhere in China) and I'm in (insert any kind of pre-going-to-China training at FSI) and HOLY COW, you're scaring me! Culture issues/pollution/illness?! The heck?!?! HELP!!!
Okay, look. In my desire to be a well-rounded (humorous?) writer, I seem to have given the impression that we all hate being here or something, and that is NOT what I've been trying to say! I am actually very fond of China... I like China quite a lot. There are many, many things that are better here than in the U.S.! I guess I need to do a blog post about that sometime, because I seem to have come across very negatively lop-sided and that's not been my intention.
Your tour in (insert Chinese post here) will NOT be exactly like ours. How could it be? You are completely different people than we are! You will be in a different city. Or, if not, you will have a totally different job, and/or you will have different experiences, and/or you will react to them differently. And - take heart! - I don't think there's any family at post that's been anywhere as sick as mine as often. Nor are you, not to put too fine a point on it, MARRIED TO ME. Lucky you! Nor are you doing the exact same things we are, nor do you have a blog, nor are my children your children, nor...nor...nor, etc. So please, don't worry, it will be fine, don't be upset! Forgive me for freaking you out, it was not my intention. There are a ton of great things about China, I'm sure your tour will be wonderful!