Tuesday, March 22, 2011
I don't even know how old I was when I decided that I wanted to see the world. I just know it's something I want to make a big part of my life. I've been lucky enough to visit parts of Western Europe, the Caribbean, North America, and Japan.
I don't just want to see a place, though. The package tours where you stay a day or two in one city then move to the next, hitting the major tourist spots, definitely appeal to me. But that's not my ideal. I want immersion experiences. I want to learn the language, learn how to cook the local foods, learn how people generally live, and get to know the culture.
I had not figured out how to accomplish this. I could country hop, but the chances of finding a new job every few years in a new place (with a new language!) seems impossible. Even if I could accomplish that, I do not believe I would be able to simultaneously do things like save for a house or retirement, since visa and language issues would probably mean I would have to change professions often, and have to go back to entry level salary every couple of years. The logistics involved are a nightmare, especially since I am a pet person.
So I found the best possible compromise. The Department of State sends its employees overseas for two year long tours at it's embassies. Employees retain the same retirement accounts, get financial and logistical assistance during moves, and basically do good by their country as they seem to be an incredibly selfless and skilled group. Employees are usually required to learn the language of their assigned posts, and are provided for while they devote themselves to learning a new language (hard stuff!). Employees live in their assigned country for two years before moving on to their next post, which means that they get two years to immerse themselves in a new culture for each assignment.
Now there are some negatives that come with the lifestyle. I imagine trying to raise children under those circumstances would be difficult. The inherent logistical difficulties of owning a "home base" home may very well be financially impossible. I also imagine that you can't really have "nice" things (like furniture) for fear it will be lost, damaged, or stolen during moves. Not to mention almost always being far away from your friends and family. I have also heard that sometimes the embassy employees become a little insular, and don't really experience the culture of their host families because they stay in de facto American compounds.
But I think I want to do this. It's a chance to make real contributions internationally, and meanwhile you get all the benefits of travelling to new places. The job is hard, and State employees make many personal sacrifices, but I think it's worth it.