FS CLIPS: Sharing Our Stories of Foreign Service Life
A Project of the Una Chapman Cox Foundation
Copyright 2022 Una Chapman Cox Foundation and the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide
Foreign Born Spouses
- Name, ethnicity, posts and dates
JENNY KOCHER: I am originally from Bogotá Colombia. I have been following my husband for 11 years. Our first post was in Beijing, China. Our second post was Peru. Then we went back to China – Guangzhou. We were posted in DC, and we are scheduled to depart this summer to Kuwait.
KAY SOE: I am Burmese. I was born in Burma [Myanmar], but I grew up in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, and I also spent time in Malaysia, and I studied abroad. That’s where I met my husband before he joined the Foreign Service. After he joined the Foreign Service, I was working in Indonesia, and we were doing this long-distance marriage and decided to reunite, and I started to assume the life of a trailing spouse. We served in Cote d’Ivoire, India, China, and Ethiopia, and two domestic assignments in Washington DC. The last one was in Burma in Naypyidaw.
RATNA CARY: I was born in Indonesia. I met my husband in Jakarta, Indonesia, way before he joined the Foreign Service. At that time, he was working in the private sector in Jakarta while I was a financial officer for a multi-million-dollar company in Jakarta. Right after we got married, he brought me to Seattle, Washington, where he’s originally from. He joined the Foreign Service after we had been married for six years. We were posted in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from 2005 through 2007. Our next post was Muscat, Oman, in 2008. We were supposed to be there for three years, but unfortunately after only a year, I got medevacked back to Washington, DC for a life-threatening illness. We stayed in DC in 2009 and 2010 for my treatments. The children and I remained in the DC area when my husband was assigned to a yearlong tour in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from 2010 to 2011. Then we were posted in Singapore from 2011 to 2014 and Jakarta, Indonesia, from 2014 to 2018. In 2018, we moved back to Washington, DC, and we have been here since then. We are ready to be posted overseas again very soon.
LOUAY AZAR: I’m originally from Syria. My wife joined the Foreign Service in 2011, four years after we were married. Our first post was in Melbourne, Australia, from 2012 to 2014. We then moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from 2014 to 2016 and Amman, Jordan, from 2016 to 2020. We are in DC until this summer when we will move to London.
FILIPPO TATTONI-MARCOZZI: I’m an Italian citizen, and I married my husband five years ago after the Equal Marriage Act was passed, although we’ve been together for almost 20 years. We met when he was Consul in Milan. After that, we had our first stay in Washington, DC, then he was Consul General in Munich. Following that, he went to Islamabad, but Pakistan was an unaccompanied post, so I lived in London. Then we were in Costa Rica, where he was Deputy Chief of Mission and then five years in Washington DC again. When he was nominated to be Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I followed him to Sarajevo for the past three years. We just moved back to Munich, where he is the Ambassador-in-Residence at the Marshall Center for Security and Military Cooperation.
- What were your greatest challenges in marrying a U.S. Foreign Service Officer?
KOCHER: One of the biggest challenges is leaving your family and friends behind, starting a new career, and then dropping your career many times to start a new career. Nowadays, 11 years later, the challenges are making sure that the children are happy and involved in the process of moving and making sure that they are going to have a one hundred percent good experience in their new environment.
SOE: My husband joined the Foreign Service in 2009, so 13 years in service. Our tour in Cote d’Ivoire was cut short because of family reasons. I had a high-risk pregnancy, so I was medevacked, and then my husband curtailed his assignment. We were so excited to be in Burma for three years, and the coup d’état happened, and we were evacuated. In Ethiopia, too, there was a power struggle between the ruling party and the opposition, and we had a stay-at-home order for a month, and we couldn’t go out anywhere. That’s a byproduct of leading a Foreign Service life.
CARY: My husband’s becoming a Foreign Service Officer was life-changing for our family. It had been his dream job since he was very young, so when he passed the tests and was offered the job, I supported and encouraged him to accept. Coming to America itself was a very new experience for me, being a foreigner in a foreign country. And when my husband got the job as a Foreign Service Officer, that took me to even more foreign countries’ experiences. That was very challenging, yet it has been a very interesting and rewarding time.
AZAR: We made the decision together to pursue a more adventurous lifestyle. We talked about it, and there was a bit of uncertainty at the beginning, but then we said, “Let’s pursue this and see how this goes.” The constant moving is not always stable, but we are blessed in that both my wife and I enjoy this kind of life.
TATTONI-MARCOZZI: The biggest challenge is that you have to make a plan about your relationship sooner than other people do, because American Foreign Service members have rather short posts, three years maximum. So, when you meet and fall in love with an American Foreign Service Officer and sometimes abroad, you have to evaluate your relationship rather quickly to decide: Am I going to follow or am I going to stay behind? Is this going to be a future for us? So, you get on some kind of speed dating mode, trying to reach a point where you know what you want to do when it’s time to move to the next post. And sometimes just happen at the right time in your life and in the right place. So, we were lucky enough to be in that kind of mode at the same time, and it wasn’t too difficult for me to reshape my life and my career and follow him after his Milan post was over.
- How does your background and experience impact your life as an FSO spouse?
KOCHER: We foreign-born spouses have one advantage, which is that we are already outside of our country speaking another language. So, most of us move to the U.S. and have to learn English because that’s the way we communicate with our spouses. So, we are adaptable. Being an immigrant is why I was attracted to learn more of the laws from the other side of the [consular] window, so I became a Consular Associate.
SOE: My background was not very far from the Foreign Service, except that my parents were employees of an international organization. I also grew up outside of my own country and was used to the change and moving around. But back then, it was so much harder than today, with its internet and social media, where we can maintain close connections with friends and family and the communities. I work in the international development sector, so my career is a bit portable. I’m very privileged to be able to continue my career wherever we go. A lot of my work is from home. But I can also travel to where my clients are, be it Bangkok or Indonesia or Nepal when I’m posted to Burma, for example. Being in those regions facilitated my mobility and travel for work.
CARY: When my husband started this job and we went to the new country, I had the basic training on how to adapt and how to live in a different situation. In every country, the situation was always different, but the basics were already there. I am always grateful for that and to get the opportunities to keep learning, to keep growing, and to keep experiencing new worlds.
AZAR: Being an IT engineer and native Arabic speaker allowed me to explore business options in different posts and different markets, as we mostly served in the Middle East. It’s just amazing to be in a new place and just start exploring opportunities. My background and experience were a big part of me living in different places. I never actually felt out of place. We like to live outside the bubble. It’s super easy to live inside a bubble, where you do not interact with the outside world and you are just close to your community, which is totally fine, but definitely not our lifestyle. I enjoy telling people about where to go, where to explore, especially in Amman and Saudi obviously, because I speak the language. I just enjoy finding these little hole-in-the-wall cool restaurants or cool and cheap grocery stores and stuff and just telling other EFM’s and other Americans in the community about these places. It’s really fun.
TATTONI-MARCOZZI: My background and experience impact so many levels. First, you bring to the table another set of skills from a different culture and a different background and sometimes also a different understanding of world politics or cultures. So, you feel that your point of view, which might be different from your spouse, is appreciated and sometimes beneficial to the conversation. From that point of view, you feel quite empowered because you feel that you are able to open some doors into the understanding of other peoples and cultures and languages. But at the same time, it is a bit of a challenge, because once you start living that life, following your partner in the Foreign Service, you have to rather quickly understand not only the American way of living and working but also the American bureaucracy and the American system and thousands of acronyms which you’re not used to. So that, it’s a sort of double-edged sword. Somehow you feel that you totally belong, and you actually have a very good role, but at the same time, you do feel like a fish out of water because you haven’t grown up organically in that culture.
- As a foreign-born spouse, how did you cope with / adapt to Foreign Service life, living abroad, and being associated with American embassies?
KOCHER: I believe for all of us foreign-born spouses when we are overseas, our hat is American, our blood is red and blue. We just adapt, and we are there to show how our kids grow up in America, so we show our traditions with our husband’s family. These are not our traditions, but we adopt those traditions too. And I think our job is harder for our kids and me, because we have to represent and wear the hat for the U.S. in the international school. So, we are kind of a dual ambassador.
SOE: I’m open to all these new exposures and new challenges as well as the learning opportunity. I find myself always adapting to new situations, pivoting myself, or remaking. And it’s not always easy, but because I know that the Foreign Service is very important for my spouse and he loves experiencing new cultures and new posts serving his country every two to three years, I want to be supportive. I also like connecting with people from different parts of the world. The good thing is that in the Foreign Service, you have a very closely-knit community and other EFMs [Eligible Family Members] who are very supportive. You are not exactly on your own. While you’re navigating the limits of this newness, you still have some anchor. That’s the beauty of the Foreign Service. Like most trailing spouses, I also experienced how, in a new country, you have to navigate the new health system, language and culture, and new labor market. My career is around public policy and political science or international relations. There are some things that might be issues of your choice and close to your heart, but being a Foreign Service wife, you are also censoring yourself not to exhibit your opinion out in public because you don’t want to be misinterpreted because of the opinions of the posts. So, sometimes there are times you have to bite your tongue.
CARY: Being associated with the U.S. Embassy overseas is a very great opportunity. Especially in the places where we were posted, people still consider America as a superpower country. So, doing a project together with somebody who is associated with the American embassy, they feel honored, and they will do the project seriously together, and that will open so many doors and so many other opportunities. So, I really take the opportunity to be associated with the U.S. Embassy, because that way it is easier for me to meet with the local government, and it’s easier for me to reach my goals, especially in charity projects. So, I’m very grateful for that. I found my calling in doing volunteer jobs, especially to make other people’s lives better. The grant from AAFSW [Association of the American Foreign Service Worldwide], the Simon Kirby Fund, enabled me to build a library and a learning center for refugees in Indonesia. Having a library and learning center, it was easier to encourage people to donate books and study materials. That’s the other benefit of being associated with the U.S. Embassy too, especially in this case with AAFSW.
TATTONI-MARCOZZI: Well, it was actually quite special. I was fortunate enough to follow Eric as the U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the love and gratitude and the special, heartfelt relationship between the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and America is astounding. Sadly, less and less in the world, you still have that incredible bond and welcoming. And so for me, it was a wonderful experience to be able to be associated with an American by being able to see what those American values can still bring to the heart and mind of a lot of people. I felt that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that was quite a unique experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. In other places, the relationship between Americans and the local government or the local culture might be a little bit more difficult. And being a foreign national spouse allows you to also be perceived as a kind of in-between: Somebody who is married to the American FSO, but in Costa Rica, I was also very much seen as a sort of Latin, somebody who would understand them and their culture possibly more than an American from Texas. So, you learn to use the best in both ways. It’s great to have the double vision but also to be seen differently because you can appeal differently to the people you meet. Being a same-sex spouse of an ambassador was more complicated. When we were in Costa Rica, my husband and I were still not legally married. There was no same sex marriage law in the U.S., and although I was on in his orders as his partner, when we arrived in Costa Rica, that country had a very conservative Christian government that opposed giving me a full diplomatic immunity. And of course, for family members and spouses, not having full diplomatic immunity could be an issue in case there is an evacuation, and in that case without diplomatic immunity and status, you drop to the end of the list. So, we were fortunate that the Secretary Clinton fought very hard for every family in the State Department. And even before the Equal Marriage Act was passed within the Department, Secretary Clinton changed the rules where everyone was able to put their partners on their orders, regardless of the sex or being married or not. That made a huge difference. And Secretary Clinton pressured the President of Costa Rica for me to be recognized as a diplomatic spouse. And in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we were the first same sex couple arriving as the American Ambassador. This time, we were married but we were posted in a very conservative country, where not only there is no gay marriage but where the LGBTQ community still suffers great discrimination. But when we were there, we were able to enjoy the first Gay Pride parade ever held in in Sarajevo, the only European capital that still hadn’t had one.
- Besides your native language, what other languages do you speak, and how did you learn them?
KOCHER: Besides English, I speak Spanish. Chinese and Hindi were languages I learned at FSI and at post.
SOE: Even before I met my husband, I learned French when I studied in France. I speak conversational Thai, and I studied Chinese at FSI [Foreign Service Institute]. And I am really happy and grateful that I took that because without Mandarin, living in Guangzhou would have been quite a challenge, even day-to-day things like shopping and interacting with domestic help.
CARY: I speak Bahasa Indonesia and English, two Indonesian dialects (Javanese and Sundanese), Arabic (fluent in reading, then took a short course at FSI mostly for conversation), and Bangla that I took at FSI.
AZAR: English and Arabic
TATTONI-MARCOZZI: Italian, English, Spanish, and a bit of Bosnian
- How was the process for you to become a U.S. citizen?
SOE: I am naturalized. The process was actually kind of complicated and confusing even though at that time, my husband was a consular officer in India. There is so much paperwork that you have to fill out—wait times and so many policies and guidelines that you have to learn and adjust. An advantage is that travel to the region is a lot easier now. Because of the coup d’état, a lot of countries were starting to implement a stringent immigration policy against citizens of Myanmar, which would have been very difficult for me. It’s also important for me to be of the same citizenship as my children so that in case something happened to my spouse, my family had these legal rights.
CARY: As a green card holder so far, I don’t have any problems going places with my husband because I’m on his orders. Being on his orders, I also don’t have any problems with the amount of time I can spend in America where you should stay in the USA for minimum of 180 days a year. Right now, with the kids becoming older, they have decided to stay in America, and they are, of course, American. So, I’m starting to think more heavily about taking my U.S. citizenship. And with my husband ready to go overseas again, there’s a big opportunity for me to do so because the Global Community Liaison Office will expedite the process.
AZAR: I became a U.S. citizen right before we left for our first post. The process started before my wife joined the State Department. It wasn’t anything special, just the normal straightforward process, and it took a little over three years. The timing was amazing. Everything just worked together perfectly. Even when I was called for the interview for the final process, it was amazing timing right before we needed to leave for Melbourne, and this was when I got my diplomatic passport and everything else.
- Did you encounter any difficulties with security clearances?
KOCHER: For us, it takes forever to get a clearance. I’m from Colombia, so you can imagine how it goes. I mean, Russia too, it’s tough. Unfortunately, some people will never get a clearance because of their country of origin— not their skills, not who they are, not who they become.
SOE: I tried once to get a security clearance before I had my own consulting business, and I applied for EPAP [Expanded Professional Associates Program] positions. I was in the process of applying for it, but I never secured it. I withdrew my application because I was pregnant, so I decided to put it on hold and have babies. Some of my fellow EFMs say that the security clearance process is pretty cumbersome. Unless you have a job offer, you cannot get a security clearance. And if you don’t have a security clearance, it is very difficult to get jobs at post because they prefer people with security clearances. It’s a vicious cycle for EFMs.
CARY: As a green card holder, I don’t have my security clearance from the Department of State, and so far, I have never had any problem in going to countries that we were posted in because the countries that we went to and lived in were not countries that have restrictions on Indonesian citizenship.
TATTONI-MARCOZZI: My first security clearance was almost 20 years ago, when I started dating my husband. Back then, diplomats were required to disclose any foreigner they were having a relationship with. And so my first security clearance and first series of interviews were required then. Then you need to update that every number of years or just before going to post. So, I was interviewed several times in Washington and elsewhere to update my security clearance. I never particularly felt that it was complicated. Sometimes I found those questions a little obsolete. You, as Americans, never have to go through the process of asking for a visa, and some of those questions must have been in that form since the Cold War. And so sometimes doing your security clearance as a foreign national, you are asked very similar questions about your family and about possible political connections of any of your family members and about your military service, any particular allegiance you might have to a foreign government, past or present, or possibly future. So, you have to take that process with a pinch of salt and understand that it’s also a very bureaucratic legal procedure. Try not to take anything personally and just answer the questions and go with the flow. And there’s no need to elaborate too much on these questions, but just accept them for what they are. Otherwise, you feel they can be a bit intrusive. And they can be slightly demeaning in a way, because you think they should know better about my country and my culture before asking that question. But then you understand that it’s pretty standard. And so if you just breathe in and let the process go, it’s usually the best.
- Have you worked at an embassy/consulate or on the local economy since becoming an EFM?
KOCHER: I have a Bachelor’s in Hospitality with an emphasis on hotel business. When I met my husband, I was working in a nonprofit. In the Foreign Service life, I have to adapt. Being an immigrant was why I was attracted to learn more of the laws from the other side of the window, so I took the ConGen [Consular General] class and became a Consular Associate in 2011. In Beijing, I was fingerprinting, working with American Citizen Services, providing guidance, answering calls, managing prison visits, visiting our American citizens in jail. Later in Peru, I was able to work more with passports and adjudicating reports of birth abroad for our American kids who are born overseas. In Guangzhou, I was also working with the fraud prevention unit, trying to find areas where there could be fraud and working with American citizens and visiting them in jail. I was also doing full interviews at the [consular] windows because I speak Chinese. I have also been a volunteer with some organizations, and I continue to do my hospitality work on the side as a volunteer. At post and also in DC, I look for organizations that I can volunteer with. And with that volunteering experience and with the GWIC (Guangzhou Women International Club) by organizing nonprofit events and fundraising etc., it allowed me to interview for a few positions in Kuwait. Now I’m going to be back working with the State Department, this time as a EPAP GSO (Expanded Professional Associates Program) at Embassy Kuwait.
SOE: I work in the international development sector, so my career is portable. I’m very privileged to be able to continue my career wherever we go. I don’t work in the local labor market, per se. A lot of my work is from home. And I can travel to where my clients are, be it Bangkok or Indonesia or Nepal when I’m posted to Burma, for example. Being in those regions facilitated my mobility and travel for work.
TATTONI-MARCOZZI: I’m a contemporary art expert, curator and dealer. When we were in Washington, I started working for a gallery and a foundation in Texas. I was going between Washington and Dallas every other week, so I was able to keep a day job. And then throughout his career, I realized that it was going to be more and more difficult to actually keep a physical job in any one place. So, I was able to turn my career into a self-employed version of what I was doing for other companies and started being an advisor to people and corporations that buy or sell contemporary art. And by doing that, I made this job movable because it was just me, myself and I, and my computer, and I was the one going to the client wherever the client was. It’s a commitment in terms of time and energy but also a financial commitment because your commute becomes the most expensive daily commute, if you need to take a plane from Costa Rica to Texas every time you need to go to work. So, it wasn’t easy. Throughout the years, I was able to add a set of skills and knowledge that I acquired in every post. And there are very strict rules that forbid any conflict of interest, especially when you’re the spouse of the DCM or the ambassador, and any appearance of you taking advantage of your position for your personal business is very much scrutinized. So, that was also very complicated, because if you go by the book, it’s incredibly restrictive. And the [Ambassador’s] Residence is also your home and your home office, so it’s a very complicated set of circumstances to navigate. I was lucky enough to be able to keep my career and keep myself busy. Especially when my husband was DCM, and then when he was Ambassador, I made the conscious decision to not work in the embassy because I always thought it might be slightly weird to have a boss whose boss is your husband.
- Did you have any particular challenges in raising a Third Culture kid (TCK)?
KOCHER: My first language is Spanish, but when my kid was able to speak, he was in China. So, before Spanish, my kids were speaking Chinese. Adapting to not only the language, but also the traditions of the host country, the food, meeting new people etc. is very, very important in their life. Being able to experience things that a typical two- three- or four-year-old usually won’t experience, they have been exposed to a different color of skin, or a different culture, language and religion. Also, they learned the different ways that people touch you or not touch you in other countries. The kids at a young age have learned to adapt and to accept. I think that my kids are chameleons. So, in that sense, it’s been an enriching experience. But at the same time, they have to grow faster emotionally, because we are taking everything apart every two or three years when we tell them, “Pack your suitcases and go.” So, for them, it’s a process, and I always say that I brainwash my kids before we go abroad to a new place. Now we’re going to Kuwait, so they are thinking Kuwait is the best place. They have been participating with us in the process of bidding as they get older. They give us feedback. “I prefer this school. I don’t like the weather in this place. I don’t think I want to learn French.” We become a whole unit. Now that they’re older and we are trying to keep them motivated for that break that is happening every two or three years, it is a big challenge.
CARY: For my children with parents who come from different cultures, it is already very different for them. At home, we try to create our own traditions that are mostly the combinations of my family traditions and their father’s traditions. My husband and I convince them that our own tradition is different but very unique and rich because we try to take the best from both worlds. We also speak my language at home. When they were younger, they often asked, “Who are we? Where are we from? Can we say that we are American? Or do we say we are Indonesian?” It was a confusing situation for them. So, we would say to them, “Let’s make us not as somebody who identifies from where we come from but instead as someone who can bring values to others.” Especially because we are given the opportunity to learn and experience so much with living in so many places and cultures, we have a lot to offer. Learn how we can give back to the place and people where we live, since they give us so much. It has been successful. I see how the children are having wider views and tolerance too. They realize that being Third Culture Kids is a privilege, and they have to be grateful.
AZAR: Our kids are relatively young— eleven, seven, and almost two. Our oldest son was born here in Virginia at the beginning of 2011, before my wife joined the State Department. My wife was pregnant when we were in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and we came back to New Mexico, where my wife is from, to have our son in 2015. Our daughter is totally a COVID baby. She was born here in Washington DC after we moved from Jordan. The main challenge for us is to keep using Arabic at home so that our kids can not only speak fluently but also read it and understand it as well. The other challenge is uprooting the kids and going to a different country after they become comfortable and made friendships. We were able to focus on the positive side of it, but it certainly isn’t always easy. I’m sure it will only get harder as they get older. For the most part, the challenge is explaining to them why we cannot stay in a place they love because the system just doesn’t work that way.
- For foreign-born partners, living in Washington DC is a foreign post.
How was that experience for you?
KOCHER: Yes, unfortunately for us foreign-born spouses, Washington DC is a hardship post, because there is an expectation that you know it all and that you are in your home. But for us, it’s harder than being overseas. We don’t know the school system; we don’t have family support because our husband’s family is miles away. Some of us have never worked in the U.S. or they’re not even a U.S. citizen yet. So, finding a job and getting the experience is hard because potential employers and others need to understand that you’re only going to be here for two years. So, we tend to attach ourselves to other EFM [Eligible Family Member] and foreign-born spouses to make this experience better. I have been doing that with AAFSW [Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide]. So, finding other foreign-born spouses and sharing our culture, our food, and our experiences overseas helps us to be here. Unfortunately, in DC, we don’t have the status of diplomats, and we don’t have events that we can attend as a community. So, we have to find these little areas where we can be more comfortable, find a new hobby, reinvent ourselves again. And it is another post; it’s a hardship post.
SOE: My experience may be a little different than other foreign-born EFMs because I love being in DC because I can find a lot of people with similar interests. I also joined the National Endowment for Democracy’s and other think tanks’ webinars. They have their own similar small, close group of policy people, and we exchange views and get briefings and updates. And many other research institutes like the United States Institute for Peace, which is very much in the realm of women, peace and security, which is my field. So, I get to reconnect with a lot more people around this policy field here in DC. It’s a different experience for me, but I totally understand some of my friends who find it a very hard experience living here. It is true that the cost of living is way higher, we don’t have housing coverage, etc. The childcare is very expensive here. Back in other posts we can have caregivers who are very affordable. Also, the EFMs are very closely knit. So, at post, we can always rely on each other. Here, we are all scattered all over the Beltway. There are some hardship aspects, but professionally it’s a networking opportunity. I love being here in DC.
CARY: When I first came to America, I was a foreigner in a foreign country, and that was the first time for me to be far away from my family, from the place where I belonged, and from my comfort zone. It was a very hard time, especially because for a long period of time since we moved to the USA, I didn’t meet anyone who spoke my language, ate my own food, or understood me. So, I had to learn to adapt until I felt comfortable to be in America.
AZAR: This is our first official post in DC. I can’t honestly say DC is a foreign post anymore. We lived here in the DC area before my wife joined the Foreign Service. It feels somewhat like home. The move back to DC at the start of COVID was definitely our hardest move so far, having all three kids at home, two doing online school and with a baby. Both my wife and I were working full time; it was definitely the ultimate hardship assignment. We didn’t get to live the normal DC experience because we moved right in the midst of COVID in June 2020. It has definitely expensive and difficult.
TATTONI-MARCOZZI: I have to be honest; I was not a fan of Washington. Also, my husband was on the seventh floor [of the State Department] during those five years being Special Assistant to three Secretaries of State. He was flying with each of them constantly on every single trip, so I really didn’t have a lot of personal support since he was so busy. And I found Washington a very difficult city to integrate into. People come and go in Washington at such a fast pace. And in Washington, it seems that the first question is: “What do you do?” And once you answer that you are an art advisor, I found that very seldom was there a follow up question! People seem so focused on meeting you and talking to you because of what you do and what you could do for them. It’s not a very welcoming environment if you don’t work in politics or in finance or in foreign government. And so I found it very difficult. I also found that, unconsciously, there is a bit of a patronizing attitude towards foreign spouses of Foreign Service Officers. And sometimes, you feel like people look at you like you’ve just been picked up at the duty free of the last country where the FSO served!!! I felt that throughout my 20 years in Washington, sometimes you do feel a little bit looked down upon, while when you are outside of Washington, you feel more of an asset.
- What is your advice for other Foreign-Born Spouses?
KOCHER: Try to get the language training because that will make your life easier at post. You’ll be more competitive to find a job; you will be more comfortable. And any volunteer job that you can do overseas is always helpful to keep your resume updated.
SOE: I would recommend continuing the friendships that we make along the way in this Foreign Service journey. It is so special and a privilege. I still keep in touch with some of the EFM friends that I made over the course of different posts, and really genuine friendships and a caring community can be made along the way. So, through the internet, Facebook, and Instagram, we can maintain these friendships. Maybe you will be in the same post again or maybe you will end up seeing each other either at the FSI or somewhere around Foggy Bottom. That is something I find that is truly unique about the Foreign Service community.
CARY: I would encourage everyone to be brave, to experience as much as they can, to absorb everything they can, and to explore everywhere they are. Make friends, especially with the local people, because that’s where you can get to know the culture, the people, and the cuisines, and they will make sure that you’re safe and protected. They will be the ones to introduce you to wisdom and real life of the country. It’s always beautiful and meaningful. Enjoy, explore, be brave. And if it’s possible, give back to the community everywhere you are.
AZAR: Enjoy this amazing lifestyle, explore, build memories. Just go in with an open mind and explore. Life is too short to spend it in one place. Go and make as many memories as you can and enjoy what this amazing universe has to offer.
TATTONI-MARCOZZI: Never be afraid of making sure that who you are, your culture and your language are seen as assets. There is nothing better than to support your husband or your wife by making your home even more welcoming to other foreigners you come across. The food that you can bring and the stories that you can tell and the accent that you have can make so many other people even more comfortable at the home of an American diplomat. So always look at it as an asset and embrace it and have fun with it.
- Anything I haven’t asked? Other pertinent questions?
SOE: I know they have some webinars bringing groups together, meet and greet, and happy hours. I want them to scale up on these initiatives and help bring different EFMs together for like-minded groups or to exchange tips and tricks. On career development or even your own hobby, or interest groups. That is one thing I would like to propose.
AZAR: I’m just grateful for this opportunity. It’s really amazing to be able to live in all these different places and serve the country and do all these amazing things, meet all these amazing people. So, I’m really thankful. And thank you, Bonnie, for allowing me this opportunity to share.
TATTONI-MARCOZZI: When you’re the spouse of the ambassador, being part of the embassy is also quite different than when you are just the spouse of any diplomat. We are usually tasked with a lot of work that is not necessarily recognized, because it’s a sort of gray area where there are expectations but at the same time, there are no rules and no real assignments. So, you have to come up with your own agenda and what you would like to do. But the freedom is very limited, and you constantly have to make sure that you don’t step on someone else’s feet at the embassy and that you have the support of the people at the embassy. And at the same time, you have to make sure that there’s no conflict of interest, both personal and workwise, for your spouse or for the policy that the American Government is pursuing. So, it’s a very complex and at times a little uncomfortable position, because in a way, you’re very much required to be seen and to be involved, not only from the host country, but also from the U.S. Government and the people who work at the embassy. They really want you to participate and to take the lead sometimes, but at the same time, you have to constantly make sure that you do not say or do what you are not allowed to, and that is, at times, a little complicated. If I would give any advice to any spouse of an ambassador, it would be to remember that you need to make sure to have a special, frank, honest and direct connection with the DCM. The DCM is tasked with approving anything that you ask to do, any meeting that you are invited or any conference, or anything that you’ve been asked to do from outside of the embassy; you have to clear it with the DCM who checks on conflict of interest and with the lawyers in Washington. So, it’s a very bureaucratic, complex situation for them. If you have some allies in the DCM and in PAO [Public Affairs Officer], they will make your life much easier and more enjoyable, and you will be able to actually feel more useful. Being a same-sex spouse of an ambassador was, of course, more complicated.
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