Social Networking at Post

A Great Idea We’d Like to Share
Foreign Service family member Liz Amen has written up her experience of starting an Embassy community Facebook page in Brasilia for our newsletter, Global Link. We think it is such a good idea that we decided to share her article online as well, in hopes that it will inspire more projects like hers in Foreign Service communities worldwide. 

I landed in Brasilia almost two years ago as a first tour “Eligible Family Member.” The transition from familiar America to exotic Brazil felt like hurtling into the terrestrial atmosphere from space!

I didn’t speak Portuguese since I had been too busy parenting a toddler to take classes. I didn’t have my car, I couldn’t read the street signs, and my husband was busy acclimating to his new career. I began to realize that if I was going to make it in Brasilia, I had to make this place my own.

I began by begging for wisdom from established EFMs and seeking out the little gems that would make this city into MY city. As my list of “favorites” grew, I wanted to reach out to other EFMs, share what I was learning and benefit from their wisdom as well. So with little fanfare and just a few minutes time, I started a private Facebook group called “The Sisterhood of Trailing Spouses. ”

The guiding idea of the group was that all U.S. Embassy Brasilia EFMs could immediately connect within the safety of a “by invitation only” Facebook group and would then find themselves part of an online community within which they could give and receive insight and support. Male EFMs began asking about joining and of course, they were welcomed, thus the name was changed to “Diplomatic Baggage in Brasilia.”

I created a mission statement of sorts, clarifying that this group was meant to be inclusive, enriching, resilient, and fun. Fortunately, the Embassy Brasilia community is rich with motivated and interesting people.

As the DBB grew, it began to take on a much more significant role as a springboard for volunteer opportunities, social get-togethers, and exercise groups. It even provided a way to reach out to some of our community members who were going through difficult times.

Our community has enthusiastically embraced DBB and as their involvement has increased, the group has grown to offer information on many topics, including birthing abroad, navigating medical emergencies in Portuguese, and a recommended physicians lists.

Every member of DBB has brought something new to the group. Whether it’s a passion for helping orphaned children, championing literacy, teaching yoga, photography, or home decorating; each member has brought their own reasons for loving this nomadic life, which has in turn, enriched the experiences of the other DBB members. We even have a few members affiliated with other Embassies whose valuable experience has enriched our own.

Since its inception, Diplomatic Baggage in Brasilia has grown to over 100 members and is suggested by the Community Liaison Office Coordinator (CLO) to incoming EFMs, offering them an opportunity to encounter familiar faces who can help ease their transition even before they arrive at post.

Along with the creation of this group has come a responsibility to maintain the safety of the Embassy and our Embassy community. While DBB does not officially represent the Department of State, we are still required to be respectful of the rules and regulations that DOS puts forward to protect us all. This meant brushing up on FAM rules and asking for assistance from our CLO, Regional Security Office (RSO), and Information Resource Specialists. (IRMs). We do not include information or images on the group that are specific to the Embassy or its employees, or anything that is derogatory in nature.

The members of the group have always understood it to be a community and have always been very careful to respect each other’s views. I’m relieved to say that it has been easy to monitor the DBB because our members are kind to one another and have maintained a level of courtesy that is far higher than is found on many public forums.

Social media is an excellent tool when utilized with the correct amount of safety, respect and good will. A Facebook group is a simple idea that costs nothing but a small amount of time and the interest of motivated people, and in return it provides invaluable friendship, opportunity, and community.

Every post should have an inclusive EFM community, one that utilizes the experience and wisdom each EFM brings to their new home and recognizes our shared struggles and triumphs. We’re pretty amazing people. After all, we fly internationally with children.

Liz Amen
EFM, Brasilia, Brazil

[box]This article originally appeared in the November 2012 edition of Global Link[/box]