By Patricia Linderman (archived from “Personal and Confidential,” an advice column that ran on this website for two years.)
Dear Personal and Confidential,
I’m about to start the A-100 training class and will then be posted to who-knows-where. While I am eager to take on this rare and adventurous opportunity, I do have some concerns… A major one of which is that I am in my early 20’s, single and female. What can you recommend to me and people in my position in terms of meeting young people abroad, getting involved in post life, and whether or not the possibility of meeting “Mr. Right” is a dream or a real option? What is post life like for a young Singleton’ a la Bridget Jones’ Diary?
Single Young Female
Dear Single Young Female:
Congratulations on joining the Foreign Service! Your life, including your love life, will of course be very different overseas, but I think you won’t have anything to worry about, as long as you are proactive about meeting people — and you definitely sound as if you will be.
First, getting involved in post life is absolutely no problem. You’ll be assigned a sponsor before you arrive, and you’ll immediately have all sorts of groups and activities to join. Although the exact mix varies from post to post, expect to find things like a weekly happy hour at the Marine House for Embassy staff and families; trips, tours and social events organized by the Community Liaison Office, some aimed at singles; a Hash House Harriers international running group; regular social gatherings for English-speaking diplomats (including the British and Canadian communities, for instance); and formal or informal gatherings for the international community at your post.
I encourage you to attend as many of these events as you can, especially when you first arrive (although it’s exhausting to adjust to a new post and a new job, I know, and you might be tempted just to stay home). The payoff will be a network of new friends to support you through your adjustment, share the enjoyment of discovering your new country, and introduce you to even more new friends.
Your single colleagues at the Embassy will likely gravitate to each other in their free time, for dinners, weekend trips, beach outings or whatever is available at your post, since they will be in the same situation you are — far away from their previous worlds and actively looking for people to hang out with.
For meeting local people, the Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs) working at your Embassy or Consulate are a great place to start. Because these English-speaking local employees are familiar with both the American and host cultures, they can be a very valuable “bridge” to new local friends and contacts. They also tend to be bright, interesting people with positive attitudes toward Americans, and many deep friendships, romances and marriages have developed between them and the American officers they work with.
Another excellent way to meet local people is to sign up for classes, interest groups and so forth (an art class, exercise group, hiking club, etc.) in the local community, if such things exist. In some countries, you may find that your Embassy connection easily propels you into host-country social circles, even very high-level ones. (In others, local people may be a bit too eager to meet you, since they may be hoping you will help them get visas to the United States … )
At any rate, there will be quite a few categories of people at post among which you may find friendship and romance, including:
- Your single colleagues, including employees of other agencies and the Marine detachment;
- The local employees at your Embassy or Consulate and their friends and contacts;
- Americans living in your host country (such as young, single teachers at an international school);
- Other foreigners living in your host country (the international community tends to network quickly and hang out together);
- Single diplomats from other countries (yes, marriage to one of them could be problematical, but it does happen); and
- Local people you meet through interest groups or your Embassy work.
One very favorable aspect of this list for you is that most of the people on it already share your interest in living and working internationally. Another is, as I mentioned earlier, that most of these people will be actively looking for new friends and contacts, just like you, and groups and activities will exist to help bring you together. (No need for singles bars or Internet dating services!)
A negative note I should bring up here is that Bridget Jones would surely be annoyed by the extent to which people at an overseas post know each other’s business. Embassies are something like small towns, where everyone knows who’s sleeping with whom; essentially, every romance is an office romance. This only really becomes a problem if your affair is with a married man, terrorist or similar unsuitable object, but it’s annoying just the same. One bright spot is that a large proportion of both the meddling busybodies and unpleasant former dates will transfer out of the country each year, giving you the opportunity for a fresh start.
Now, all of what I’ve said so far applies pretty much equally to males and females. But what about the particular challenges for a young single woman hoping to find Mr. Right during a Foreign Service career?
I don’t have any scientific data on this, but I think it’s still more difficult to find a man willing to accompany his wife around the world than to find a woman who will follow her husband from country to country. However, you only need one, of course — and they are out there!
Marrying a colleague and becoming a tandem couple is one obvious solution, and it happens all the time. Many other female diplomats I’ve known have married local guys, like the French chef and the Ecuadorian at-home dad I knew in Havana.
As I advised a single male officer in a previous column, be sure to check your attitude as you look for a mate to share your life abroad. If you are worried, in the back of your mind, that no man would be willing to accept the career-interrupting, nomadic and not-so-prestigious life of a Foreign Service spouse, you’ll discourage potential partners before you even begin.
The truth is that life as a Foreign Service spouse can be very frustrating, but for a bold, unconventional few, it can also be fascinating and satisfying. Not everyone craves a high-powered government career. What you’re offering a potential partner is the chance to live in interesting places around the world, explore new countries, pursue his own interests, enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and perhaps raise children, without necessarily being tied down by the stress and boredom of a traditional full-time job.
The male accompanying spouses I’ve known abroad (in both diplomatic and corporate families) have included at-home dads, community volunteers, massage therapists, novelists (including one with titles on the NY Times best-seller list), consultants, language teachers, sports instructors, university professors and computer specialists, among many others. You might also find one of these flexible and creative guys back in the U.S. during a Washington assignment.
And speaking of assignments, if getting involved in the local culture and meeting host-country guys is important to you, remember that in some countries with serious political and security issues, you may find yourself having to report on your dates to the Regional Security Officer. Entrapment by foreign spies is very rare, but it does happen, as a third-country female diplomat in Havana found to her dismay when her Cuban lover turned out to be more interested in her classified documents than her undying affection.
To maximize your chances for friendship and romance, you may want to concentrate your bids on medium to large-sized Embassies, at posts with large international communities, in countries that are friendly to the United States and have a substantial, educated middle class. However, as I said, you only need one true love — and you may very well find him at a tiny hardship post, as you canoe together down an unexplored river in a deep rain forest.
Please contact me again later and tell us how things are going for you!
Warm Valentine’s Day greetings to all,
Personal and Confidential
Longtime AAFSW member Patricia Linderman is co-author of The Expert Expatriate: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad, with Melissa Hess, and co-editor of the AAFSW book Realities of Foreign Service Life, likewise with Ms. Hess. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Tales from a Small Planet.