This is us.  The one showing lots of shoulder (in her Chengdu, China Marine Ball ball gown!) is the EFM who writes this blog. The one wearing a tux (James) is the employee who moves her (and their two sons) around all over the world. The red link, below, is how you can get in touch with me...

The time in Chengdu, China

Chengdu: city of fabulous food and beautiful Buddhist monasteries!
Yes, Beijing's Forbidden City (pictured, above) is really pretty and all, but I like Chengdu much better than Beijing!

In Our Same Boat (with State)

  • Beyond the Cornfields
    Brand-new State Department family in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Love their two little girls (she just recently had a baby while being posted in Dhaka), horticulture, traveling and adventure!
  • Email From The Embassy
    State Department family formerly in Beijing, China, and recently posted to Amman, Jordan. A trailing spouse, she's also a writer, and frequently publishes articles with major news sources. A very experienced State family, this new post is something like overseas post number six or seven for them.
  • Just US
    A beautiful family of seven - they have arrived at their new post: Jerusalem! They just finished off an unaccompanied tour to Iraq and are very much looking forward to sightseeing around the middle east.
  • Our Life
    State Department family on their second post...Tijuana, Mexico. It's their first overseas assignment and they have two little boys. They love Tijuana so far and post pictures frequently! They also get to enjoy the best of both worlds for they can sneak over the border into San Diego when they want to!
  • The Dinoia Family
    State Department family formerly in California, now in DC for a DC tour. Next, the husband will do a one year unaccompanied tour. A very experienced State family (formerly in Iceland and Caracas) with a blog that has been around quite a while and has great archives. Jen has a sweet heart and a lot to give!
  • The Perlman Update
    State Department family formerly in Chennai, India, who then did a year-long unaccompanied tour in Iraq. They are now on a DC tour and after that will do another unaccompanied tour (Afghanistan). She totally tells it like it is and doesn't sugar-coat what life is really like. Witty, snarky, funny and down-to-earth. Look elsewhere if you want fake. Read if you want REAL.
  • Where in the World Am I?
    State Department family formerly in Bujumbura, Burundi and now in Hyderabad, India. They just had their first baby this summer - a beautiful little girl- (there's a separate blog about this) and she also eats gluten-free (with a separate blog, also).
One of the most intriguing things about Chengdu is that it is a seamless blend of ancient and modern... all together, side by side.

Can't Live Without (non-State)

  • Crass-Pollination: An ER blog
    The best ER nurse blog EVER!
  • Doctor Grumpy in the House
    The best doctor blog EVER!
  • In Which...
    My IRL friend, a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mama of seven. Her darling daughters are, goshdarnit, probably too young to be hoped for as my future daughters-in-law.
  • The Crib Chick
    My IRL friend, a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mama of five. Hopefully two (Any two! I'm not picky!) of which are my future daughters-in-law.
  • the underwear drawer
    An anesthesiologist who is possibly the most talented & entertaining writer ever. I've read her blog ever since she started medical school. No, don't know her in real life. Wish I did.
  • The Bloggess
    This blog is both hysterically funny and hilariously irreverent. I actually let my 17 year old son read it (who loves it as much as I do!), but wouldn't even CONSIDER letting my 12 year old son read it. Which is about all the description it needs!
The grounds of Chengdu monasteries can be very, very peaceful...even though they are smack dab in the heart of a city of millions of people.


Yes, there are Starbucks in Chengdu! All over the place, in fact. So much so, Starbucks even crafted mugs for Chengdu stores!
Texan bluebonnets. Because I learned during our very first posting (Houston) that there's nothing prettier in the spring than the meadows of Texas.
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Ok a few things - I speak English very well and know you do too. Welcome to the Foreign Service. And I think there is also glitter involved when the tandem thing works out.


The dark side of the Foreign Service. Hang in there, it will all work out. Just when I thought I had problems...It will get better.


Rolling my eyes in frustration with you... and sending you a personal note later today!

As a side note - never apologize for what you can or can't give to everyone out there in the blogsosphere... you can't be everything to everyone one. Just be who YOU need to be for your family - they're the important ones!



Don't take no for an answer about the ConGen registration stuff. My ConGen class had I think five or six EFMs in a class of less than 30 people. So... it's just baloney that there's no room for EFMs. There is. Yes, you have to take a test to apply, but as long as English is your primary language it's basically a formality. My new theory as I fight my own logistical battles is that everyone's first response to everything is "no" simply because they hope you'll go away and their job will be easier, even if "no" isn't actually the true or right answer. Be your own advocate, and keep asking, as frustrating as it is that that's necessary.


It took me almost 2 years just to find a job in Beijing. But you speak Chinese (better than I did after 3 years there, go you!), so they will find a place to use you. Maybe not consular, and in which case - their loss! But someone there at post will be smart enough to realize they can hire you (for a pittance) to relieve their work load. Write to the HR director if you haven't yet and tell them you're coming and planning to work. Write to the PD person too - they might need someone with your computer skills. When you get to post, introduce yourself to everyone as "hi I'm Daring Adventure and I have 2/1 Chinese and I can't wait to get a job here at the Consulate!" Something will turn up. Meanwhile, the bright side: you can spend the first few months making friends, taking pictures and exploring your new home town - something you won't be able to do once you are gainfully employed. Heck, you might even find time to update your blog more than once every 90 days (hint, hint...).

Ahhh, but welcome to the world of the EFM. It doesn't matter if you have more education than your potential bosses - you'll still be doing the grunt work in many cases.


Donna is right.. oh, I don't have her experience looking for work at post as an EFM, I just meant the part where she says "THEIR LOSS"! Emphasis, mine.

Shannon Mullins

Oh Kolbi! State just makes it so hard on EFMs sometimes. I agree go for it and if it doesn't work out then it is a sigh that it wasn't meant to be and there is something else out there waiting for you, at least that is the way I would have to look at it to keep from driving myself nuts. The not being able to have a long term career unless you want to go tandem (and I soooo don't!) is one of the most prevalent complaints among spouses.

On a different note did you get the email about vehicles I sent last time you posted? I couldn't post a comment (stupid Malawi internet) so I finally just e-mailed you, but my e-mail seems to be as wonky as anything else internet connected here so I just wanted to make sure you got it, if not I will send again. There is absolutely nothing to forgive! I have no idea how you are doing it all. I am sadly sinking here with just one homeschool kid and no language lessons and a maid. You are a better woman than me!


Thanks for the mention.

The timing, and the unhelpfulness of that un-named contract employee, just sucks (if you'll excuse my lapsing into technical jargon).

I quite appreciate your reasoned reluctance to become a tandem couple. That sort of life presents precisely the challenges you recognize. It's not for everyone. I'm fortunate in having as my FS spouse someone who grew up as a FS brat and remembered enough about her mother's experiences to help me make an informed decision about whether to accept my FS appointment in the first place.

It doesn't seem like the Consular adjudicator/associate option is going to work for China this time around, but I (as a consular manager) beseech you please to not give up on the idea for future posts. As a young(er) J.O., I worked side-by-side with EFM Consular Associates who did great work, and I was pleased to see them resurrect this career field a few years ago.


The contractor who laughed at you was a dick of the highest order, first of all. Secondly, even if the ConGen thing doesn't work out, a 2/1 in Chinese isn't going to be useless. You're still going to be living in China, whether you're doing Consular interviews or not, and believe me when I say that you're going to be very, very glad indeed to have some Mandarin under your belt when you get here. Seriously. My post is in a relatively cosmopolitan city, and I'm hugely relieved to have even my half-assed Mandarin. It makes traveling easier, it makes shopping easier, it makes everything easier. I suspect that that will only be more the case in Chengdu, which is more remote and less likely to have hundreds of fluent English speakers wandering around. So no, learning Chinese, job prospects or no, will not have been useless, IMHO.

And I'm with those who are saying that whether the consular thing works out or not, you'll find a job at post. As far as I can tell here, most (all?) of the EFMs who want to work have found something. So I wouldn't despair yet of ever finding work at post. Sure, some of the ConGen people are being douchebags (has post contacted them an emphasized that they want you, BTW?), but screw those guys. Consular work isn't necessarily the only gig at post, at least not at mine, and I'd be surprised if it was at yours. We have EFMs working in PD, Pol/Econ, all over the place. Something else could come up, and even if it's not what you originally planned on doing, it might actually be better.


Wow. I'm glad you picked up on this subject. That indeed is not cool. But I agree with others on here who say to keep the faith. You will end up with a job in China, I am quite sure. And you are learning a very valuable lesson about how freaking frustrating -- and counter-intuitive --life in the Foreign Service can be....


You poor thing, that sounds soooo frustrating. I don't know if this will make you feel any better but...
1. When you say Post wants you, they really do. Some contractor might have been a huge jerk and insulted your intelligence just because your an EFM but I know the Consular section would be so happy to have ou if they could.
2.Like other people are saying, having 2-1 Chinese will be an IMMENSE help here in Chengdu. You will feel much more comfortable right out the gate exploring, getting things done, finding your way around.
3. Working at Post, while a great opportunity to pull down a salary and interact with grown-ups all day (err well in Consular section grown ups, school kids and grandmas) is not the be all, end all. I feel like I learned much more Chinese and had a much deeper experience of China while I was not working here. That might not be what you want, but there is a silver lining.
4. There are other jobs at post, mine actually! :) Shoot me an email and I can give you the full scoop. It might be worth applying for while you wait to see if ConGen works out. Best part? no security clearance needed!

11 years on

If post wants you, then they need to be your advocate to get into CONGEN. Make them send a front channel cable to FSI saying you are slotted for a consular assistant/associate position and it is imperative that you receive the training. It works. My wife got in that way. While they can be bad about listening to an EFM, they will rarely ignore a Consul General or a section at a HTF post asking for help.

On the consular adjudicator job, why not apply for it? There are plenty of tandem couples in the FS (and they are not all officer-officer tandems), and if they know you are going to Chengdu they will certainly have an incentive to send you as well to save on housing and shipping costs. Plus, we're talking about 10 positions in China, all that require a 2/1 Mandarin score. That's a high number, especially considering the salary, benefits, and uncertain length involved with the jobs. Of course they have to train, pay, and fly these people to post, to do anything else would not be fair to them at all as State does that with every other direct hire. As EFM positions are hired from post, it is up to post to take care of travel and expenses. So you're comparing apples and oranges.

We've been doing this FS thing for 11 years now, and we've put up with our fair share of EFM bs. I sympathize, especially as my wife has experienced as bad and worse. But that being said the biggest lesson we've learned is to be your own advocate, find and exploit allies, and never take the first (or second or third) no as an answer.

Finally (and I know that this post is getting really long), if you are hired by post to the consular position, they will pay to fly you back to ConGen, and cover hotel and M&IE. I suppose if you are going back at your own initiative in hopes of getting a future position, that might be the case, but I would say that's a foolish thing to do. If you are at post, then get them to hire you and eat the cost.


so sorry Kolbi that you are struggling. I do believe it will work out. I will be sending good thoughts your way.
And I had no idea that those positions involve moving families abroad and all. What on earth? I thought they were just hiring people who live in country...very odd.
But regardless, you are awesome and you will figure this out. And your Chinese will definitely be useful, no matter what, but you just don't know how yet.

Carla @ I Run, You Run

If you do go through ConGen, remember you only have to go through it once. So the process doesn't really restart at next post. Just the bureaucracy does...

Heck, here in Manila there are plenty of jobs for EFMs, but then I see a HR benefits specialist job posted -- something I have years of experience on -- with a "nursing degree required" There's nothing about nursing that makes you experienced in HR (and vice-versa). Was this job written for someone in particular or what? I'm still not an US Citizen, so not eligible anyway, but why even bother?


I am sorry you are having such a hard time getting both ConGen and Chinese down before you guys leave. I am trying to do the same thing with ConGen and Hindi and it's not looking very promising so far but I haven't given up. I will keep trying and hope you will too. If we are lucky, one day, we'll laugh about this over a glass of whine...

Lisa Mishkin

"Finally (and I know that this post is getting really long), if you are hired by post to the consular position, they will pay to fly you back to ConGen, and cover hotel and M&IE."

That depends on the post; I know that my former post definitely would not have (I asked our Management Officer).

And I have run into the same brick wall as far as taking ConGen this time around (despite the suggestion that I might want to drop out of language to take it at a less over-subscribed time). Remember that Consular Assistant jobs don't require ConGen, only Consular Associate/Professional Adjudicator.

Good luck, I'm so sorry that you have to deal with this.


I just came from Guangzhou and none of the 6 EFMs I worked with had taken Congen (I worked in the Consular Section). It won't be a dealbreaker to getting an EFM job.

Daniel Hirsch


Sorry I came to this late.

The two programs are completely unrelated, and AFSA has been asured that EFM jobs will not be affected. EFMs who are qualified should still be hired into Consular Associate and other jobs. The problem is that some countries (the so called BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China) now need much more help than EFMs can provide, and the employees involved have to be fully language qualified. There are EFMs who have Chinese, Russian, portuguese and Hindi, but not enough. I will get out a cablke on this soon, explaining more.

Best regards,
Daniel Hirsch

Spectrummy Mummy

Wow. And :(
I hope this resolves for you, and well, for all of us.


Beyond frustrating! Like everyone has said though, something will work out. Also, re: China to Fla. to D.C.: Your R&R trip doesn't have to be to your home of record and then cost-constructed; it can be to anywhere in the U.S. or its territories (!), or cost-constructed abroad from your R&R Point. You probably know that but just mentioning it so you don't think you have to cost-construct in the U.S. from Florida when the time comes to take your first, well deserved, va-cay!! :)


OH NO! Leave it to State to do something that makes absolutely no sense and screws over those of us who are incredibly supportive of our spouses. The politics of this business never cease to amaze me! Good luck and hang in there!


I'm a PAS in China... There are 5 or 6 of us in Mission China right now, I believe. Don't stress about ConGen! After Chinese, it was a walk in the park. Although there were a few people who didn't make it through, at least 2 of them were non-native English speakers. You'll need to study for ConGen, of course, but it'll be manageable. Good Luck! Just keep your head up, keep moving forward and don't take no for answer.

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James loves me. And our sons. And his job. But not having his picture taken. In 2011 he finished up over a year and half of training, and in the fall of 2011 we got to our first overseas post - Chengdu, China!
Mao says hi! Because Chengdu is one of the only cities in China with a Mao statue.
Flowers are like friends. Each one is unique. Each one is beautiful. They brighten up everything around them. And you can never have too many. 

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2012 is the Year of the Dragon, y'all! Talk about the ultimate in good luck! This kinda party only comes around once every twelve years!
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Colorful! (Inside a Chengdu ancient Buddhist monastery.)
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