I recently lived in the northern Virginia suburbs of D.C. for seven years (including an unaccompanied year while my husband was in Kosovo). I was more comfortable than many are in the D.C. area, having lived there for several years previously. Still, I was surprised to find that I really needed to stay connected to the Foreign Service community during our stay. It’s a common discovery. There are several reasons.
First, no one else will understand some of your experiences. While it is true that many people have studied abroad, or been posted to military bases overseas, only in the Foreign Service will you find a community of people who really know what it’s like to spend two or three years in a tiny country that most Americans have never heard of. Ever been at a dinner party where the guests discussed various types of tropical diseases and intestinal parasites in detail? Yep, you must be in the Foreign Service.
Second, no one else will understand how truly, insanely stressful it is to pack up and move a family overseas. (Well, actually, many people will simply think you are insane.) Or to get a family settled in D.C. after serving several tours abroad. You will need shoulders to cry on during these periods. Or possibly drinking buddies. Or both.
Third, during an era when nearly all officers are being asked to serve an unaccompanied tour in one of several very dangerous places, it is more than likely that, as a family member, you will find yourself putting your officer on a plane by himself or herself eventually. One by one, I have seen most of my friends face up to this eventuality, and they needed support, from within the Foreign Service community, as I did. A separated tour is not the end of the world, but it helps a great deal to be in regular contact with others in the same situation who can offer advice and encouragement.
And finally, there are many tips and tricks to living in the D.C. area, just as there are in any other post. When you get together with other FS family members, the chances are excellent that you will pick up great information, particularly regarding the biggest challenge: ways to live affordably in the area.
So, how can you meet up with other people in the community while you are in D.C.? Of course, you will probably know a few people in the area, and just as at any other post, you should let them know you are there and “do lunch.” But, if you wish to make a point of meeting more people who share your experience, here are a few ways to go about it.
Join AAFSW (of course!) We offer not only regular programs (see previous page) but many opportunities to volunteer for worthy causes benefiting the FS community. For more information about AAFSW activities and services, please visit our website, www.aafsw.org.
If you have small children, check out the AAFSW Playgroup. This group, which has been in existence for many years, offers preschoolers and their parents a great opportunity to socialize and experience the many free and affordable activities for children in the D.C. area. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you are a foreign-born spouse, you will enjoy the regular meetings and programs offered by AAFSW’s very active Foreign-Born Spouses Group. Email email@example.com for more information.
Want to keep your French up to speed? AAFSW’s French Conversation Group has been meeting for many years. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. AAFSW will be happy to help facilitate the formation of other language conversation groups within its membership. If you would like to form a group with AAFSW support, contact email@example.com.
The Foreign Service Youth Foundation offers opportunities for FS kids and their parents to get together. Every September AAFSW co-sponsors a Welcome Back Picnic with FSYF for all FS families in the D.C. area. Other activities include regular social groups for different age groups, “Away Days” for teens and preteens, and the quarterly publication of a newsletter written and edited by FS kids and teens. For more information about FSYF activities, visit www.fsyf.org.
If you are in D.C. on an unaccompanied tour, the Unaccompanied Tours Support Officer at the Family Liaison Office coordinates some activities and events specifically for unaccompanied family members. Visit the UT Blog at http://foggybottomrambles.blogspot.com for more information, or email FLOaskUT@state.gov.
Kelly Bembry Midura is AAFSW ‘s Content Manager. She blogs at wellthatwasdifferent.com.
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