FS CLIPS: Sharing Our Stories of Foreign Service Life
A Project of the Una Chapman Cox Foundation
Interviewed by: Bonnie Miller
Initial interview date: June 8, 2022
Copyright 2022 Una Chapman Cox Foundation and the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide
Q: Hello, I’m Bonnie Miller, and today is June 8, 2022. I am joined by Louay Azar who is a foreign-born spouse, and he’s going to talk about his life as a foreign-born EFM [Eligible Family Member]. Welcome, Louay.
AZAR: Thanks for having me.
Q: Can you tell me where you’re from? And when did you and your wife join the Foreign Service?
AZAR: I’m originally from Syria. My wife joined the Foreign Service in 2011, four years after we were married.
Q: How did you make the decision together to join the Foreign Service with her being the officer and you being an accompanying partner?
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.
Q: Can you tell us where you have been posted and the years that you were there?
AZAR: Our first post was in Melbourne from 2012 to 2014. We then moved to Saudi Arabia from 2014 to 2016. Oman, Jordan, was after that from 2016 to 2020. We are in DC until this summer, and after we will be moving to London, UK.
Q: Okay, so moving around quite a bit. How does your background and experience impact your life as a Foreign Service spouse?
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.
Q: It sounds like, especially in the Middle East, you were more at home than most accompanying partners.
AZAR: Exactly. Especially since Jordan is so close to Syria, it was a very similar culture. It wasn’t foreign at all to me.
Q: Sounds like it was easy to adapt. What about being associated with American embassies as a family member?
AZAR: I never actually felt out of place. I enjoy telling people about where to go, where to explore, especially in Amman and Riyadh 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.
Q: Sounds like you were a good resource to people who may have been having more difficulty adapting to a foreign culture.
AZAR: I hope so. We like to live outside the bubble. It’s super easy, Bonnie, 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.
Q: It sounds like you really helped other people to explore life outside the bubble.
AZAR: I hope so.
Q: How was the process for you to become a U.S. citizen?
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.
Q: It totally worked out. Tell us a little bit about the work that you’ve done, and how you’ve been able to have a successful career and make the transition between all the different posts where you’ve served.
AZAR: We first moved to DC around 2008. I started working pretty much right away teaching Arabic as a part-time job in Virginia. Later on, I started my first IT job with NDU [National Defense University] as a web content administrator. It did not take me a long time to see how much I loved and enjoyed teaching. In fact, my other company called me to see if I would be interested in a part-time position teaching evening classes, which I basically did because I love teaching. I was doing both the IT job in the daytime, and I was teaching in the evening. Then I joined SOSi [SOS International LLC] as an IT Engineer and this was almost 10 months before my wife joined the State Department, and we had to leave for our first post. My manager was nice enough to let me telework as a test for three months to see how things would go just to decide whether or not this is working or not. That was from January 2012 until March 2012. And I just ended up working six years for SOSi before leaving to focus full time on Done by Native, which is the business I started in late 2012.
Q: What does Done by Native do?
AZAR: We started primarily as a translation service. I wanted to create a way to help people in Syria make some money so I just took some small translation projects and passed them to people who can do translation, and then slowly that grew to be more. I lined it up with my teaching ability. I started teaching. I started exploring more about the bidding process. I was reading more about how you get jobs for the U.S. government. In Riyadh, this is when I started teaching a few people inside the embassy as a business, not as a person. I added more people to the team later on. I started winning small projects with the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh doing translation and doing interpretation seminars for five-day seminars until 2017 when we were awarded the first sizable project with the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan teaching Arabic for diplomats and other EFM’s [Eligible Family Members]. This is when I basically made the decision to leave SOSi and start focusing full time on Done by Native. Now we do not only translation, not only teaching, but we also do media monitoring and HR services, and we’re trying to expand that branch more.
Q: You’re really growing and now you are supervising 20 employees.
AZAR: Yeah, it’s constantly changing. This line of business is constantly changing with the contracts, won contracts and lost contracts. Also, changing requirements. It’s constantly changing.
Q: With the advent of the Internet and being able to teach remotely.
AZAR: Absolutely, absolutely. Remotely and in person.
Q: Tell us about your family. How old are your children, and where were they born?
AZAR: We have three kids. Laith is 11 years old. He was born here in Virginia. That was at the beginning of 2011, before Kala joined the State Department. Later, we had Zaidan. Kala was pregnant when we were in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and we came back to New Mexico, where Kala is from to have him in 2015. He’s now seven. Iris, who is almost two, is totally a COVID baby. She was born here in Washington, DC after we moved from Jordan.
Q: After two older boys, you decided to do it again, and now you’re moving with all three! Are there any particular challenges in raising Third Culture Kids? I assume that they are bilingual too.
AZAR: 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 have made friendships. Our kids are relatively young— eleven, seven, and almost two. We are 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. I remember, especially in Jordan, my oldest said, “Why move? It’s so lovely here. We love it. The school is amazing. I’m enjoying soccer. Why can’t you just stay here and keep going to the embassy every day and work every day like you have always been doing in the last four years?” It doesn’t work that way.
Q: Yeah, and as they get older, it gets more difficult, but also, they understand. School gets to be more important as well and researching postings according to schools.
AZAR: Especially with my oldest, I kind of argue with him. I said, “Do you remember Saudi?” And he was like, “Yeah, I do remember.” And I told him, “Do you remember how sad we were when we were about to leave your friends? ” And he was like “Yeah.” I said, “Look what happened in Jordan; you ended up having more friends, more experiences and more exposure to different people and different lifestyles.” Now maybe it’s the same thing. Just allow this opportunity and see what happens. I found that helpful but challenging. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always easy.
Q: You’re trying to instill in your kids the same open-minded attitude that you have. For foreign-born partners like you, living in Washington DC is itself a foreign post. How have those two postings to Washington DC been for you?
AZAR: It’s actually a bit easier because we lived here before we joined. This is our first official post in DC. I can’t honestly say DC is a foreign post anymore. We lived in the DC area before my wife joined the Foreign Service, so it feels somewhat like home. The move back to DC at the start of COVID, however, was definitely our hardest move so far. Having all three kids at home doing online school and with a newborn baby. Both my wife and I were full time working also mostly from home; 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. I don’t know what this has been but it’s definitely expensive and difficult.
Q: What is your advice for other foreign-born spouses?
AZAR: Enjoy this amazing lifestyle, explore, build memories. There’s too much left to do and see and feel. 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.
Q: Great advice. Anything else that you want to add?
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.
Q: Well, thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m sure they will be enlightening for other Foreign Service spouses who are moving around and wanting to learn.
End of Transcript
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