Training for EFMs and MOHs: Building Essential Skills for Navigating Foreign Service Life and Professional Growth

The Foreign Service Institute, first established in 1947, has a rich history of providing training to the United States diplomatic corps.  (Visit FSI History).  Located at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center (NFATC) in Arlington, VA, FSI serves as the U.S. government’s premier foreign affairs training provider and includes family members in training opportunities throughout the course of their foreign affairs life experience.  To explore training options, FSI’s digital course catalog is available on the internet.  Family members should carefully review the “Audience” listing for each course to determine if they are eligible.  Courses will indicate whether eligible family members (EFMs) and Members of Household (MOHs) are eligible for registration.  The course page will also note if members of non-State agencies are required to pay tuition fees.  (See FSI Digital Course Catalog)  

FSI’s Transition Center (TC)

A full array of courses and webinars are available to EFMs and MOHs.  TC’s mission and vision statements speak to their charge — to prepare our community for competence and success in U.S. foreign affairs through transition training, resources, and information, [with the vision of] a resilient foreign affairs community that successfully manages repeated career transitions.  With knowledge in hand, good preparation, and realistic expectations, employees and their family members have a better chance of navigating the ups and downs that cumulate over years of international service.   

Foreign Service Life Skills:  Over 30 webinars, many of them at no cost to the participant, cover the topics of employment for family members, orientation for newcomers, education and special needs, identity for EFMs/MOHs, financial planning, going overseas and logistics, and preparing for foreign affairs life.  Courses for children and youth during the summer months (not offered in 2021 due to the pandemic) bring kids grades 2-12 together for a highly interactive introduction into the world of diplomacy and the realities of living overseas as an American.  Children also explore safety and security threats they might face in an overseas environment and identify resources to protect themselves.  Course calendar and video recordings | Contact for more information. 

Security Awareness Training:  The Security Overseas Seminar, highly recommended for all EFMs 18 years of age and older who can take the course independent of their employee sponsor, seeks to raise the security awareness for those living and working overseas and help participants identify risks and reduce their vulnerabilities to criminal and terrorist activities and threats.  Additional courses in basic personal defense and youth basic personal defense encourage situational awareness, de-escalation tactics, and basic self-defense skills. Course listings | Contact for more information.  

EFMs may also be eligible for FACT (Foreign Affairs Counter Threat), CTAT (Counter Threat Awareness Training via distance learning), and PN113 (Introduction to Working in an Embassy via distance learning). 

Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience (CEFAR):  Looking to learn more about resilience in the foreign affairs context?  CEFAR offers five courses, spanning resilience leadership, building your resilience, encouraging resilience in children, and preparing for and returning from a high-stress assignment.  Frequent relocations impact individual, family, community, and team resilience.  Through these courses, learn practical approaches to personal resilience and the value of a resilient workforce in our rapidly changing, highly complex global environment.  If you have children, the course Encouraging Resilience in the Foreign Affairs Child (MQ-500) offers the opportunity to share with others the characteristics of your internationally mobile child and examine how frequent relocation and cross-cultural experiences may affect them and your parenting strategies.  CEFAR also offers free webinars in its popular Resilience Boosting Webinars.  Look for the upcoming fall series.  Course Listings and video recordings  

Retirement Planning Seminars and Job/Search/Transition Programs:  For EFMs working in government and/or seeking to understand government retirement practices, the Career Transition Center (CTC) offers six distinct courses which collectively cover financial planning, savings plans, annuities, social security, Medicare, federal health benefits, estate planning and tax issues, and career planning/life transitions and job search strategies.  EFMs are welcome to attend the courses with their employee spouse.  (Check catalog listings for course titles and dates)   

Highlights include:

The Retirement Planning Seminar (RV-101) ​and the Early/Mid-Career Retirement Planning Seminar (RV-105) welcome EFMs on a space-available basis.  EFMs do not officially enroll but should email for information on space availability.  For all CTC courses, family members on an FMA appointment may register under their employee status and apply directly via the FSI link, independent of their U.S. direct-hire spouse.  Non-DOS employees and their EFMs must submit a funded SF-182 Request for Training. 

The Job Search Program (RV-102) also welcomes spouses.  EFMs ​are not enrolled but are invited to sit in on selected large group sessions.  Employees officially enrolled in RV102 receive information from the Career Transition Center regarding spouse/partner attendance at large group sessions.  A special session for spouses and partners, led by experienced former family members, gives an opportunity to discuss issues surrounding transition, retirement expectations, concerns, plans, and action steps.

Overseas Briefing Center (OBC):  The OBC offers one-on-one consultations and group briefings for those interested in learning about OBC resources and services.  While not officially tagged as FSI courses, EFMs and MOHs can request individual or group assistance with post-specific research through their Post Info to Go program, relocation strategies, re-entry to the U.S., and other transition needs.  Contact for more information.  

Additional TC Online Resources:        

FSI’s School of Language Studies (SLS) Language Training

Foreign language competency is uniquely tied to one’s ability to maneuver in a foreign land and feel confident in the cultural, practical, and security aspects of the international experience. 

Full-time language classes (classroom and virtual classroom) are available to eligible family members who are 18 years of age or older (on official travel orders of the employee/accompanying to post) on a space-available basis.  Classes are held Monday through Friday during normal business hours.  EFMs must commit to full participation through the length of the course.  EFM enrollments will be waitlisted until all FSOs requiring training have been accommodated.  Currently, all EFM enrollments are renewed at 8-week increments.  EFMs from other agencies are also admitted on a reimbursable, space-available basis.  For non-State agencies, visit FSI’s Language Study Tuition webpage for details on cost and deadlines for registration.  (Note: Tuitions are assessed annually and are subject to change.)    

For EFMs seeking language training in French, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, SLS is piloting a new 8-week full-time FAST course, which is designed to meet specific needs that arise in situations and events that students will encounter in their onward post in the first few weeks.  The new FAST course is scenario-based and engages students in experiential learning.  Upon completion of the FAST course, EFMs may continue training in the full-time basic course, space permitting.

FSI’s mentored Distance Language Learning program offers over 89 instructor-guided online courses in 21 languages covering a range of skill levels.  Students enroll to begin, refresh, and maintain language proficiency when full-time classroom training options are not available or preferable.  Designed for flexibility, there are a variety of course types, including: beginner level for learning basic language skills; introductory courses for basic language structure, grammar, and high-frequency vocabulary; intermediate for listening, speaking, and reading skills; and specialized Consular Tradecraft to assist consular officers with a higher proficiency speaking, listening, and reading skills specific to consular work. Specialized offerings are also available for Diplomatic Security agents.  Other Distance Language Learning courses include:  “Contemporary” to assist intermediate and advanced level students in improving their speaking, listening, and reading skills while exploring contemporary themes; “Conversion” courses help those with level 3 proficiency in one language make a rapid switch to competency in another closely related language; and “Just in Time” courses that offer short-term, on-demand, individualized language training to learn job-specific vocabulary or prepare for a specific event directly related to work. 

Students are expected to spend approximately six to eight hours each week conducting independent study and completing assignments.  In addition, they conduct a weekly 45-minute one-on-one review session with their mentor.  Mentoring involves regular communication between the mentor and learners by video-conferencing applications, email, and/or telephone.  Review session times are generally flexible, and, depending on the availability of the mentor, may be held outside of normal business hours. 

Department of State employees with a job-related need for language training and their accompanying EFMs and MOHs are eligible to enroll for the Distance Language Learning program.  Employees and EFMs from other federal agencies may enroll on a space available basis by submitting an agency-funded SF-182.  Email for more information. 

Prefer to go it alone?  DOS employees and family members can register for two courses:  FSI’s Online Language Resources (SR041) which offer language materials used previously in selected FSI language classes and repurposed for self-guided use, and Mango Languages (SR043) which uses a variety of integrated cultural lessons and content for common interactions.

FSI also suggests the following free online resources: 

  • LangMedia – LangMedia offers examples of authentic language spoken in its natural cultural environments so that students of all ages can better understand the interplay between a language and its culture.  No password is required.  Click here to explore.
  • GLOSS – Is a searchable collection of listening and reading lessons.  No password is required.  Click here to explore.
  • Joint Language University – JLU offers searchable collection of listening and reading lessons.  All DOS employees with a valid .mil or .gov email address are eligible to use JLU free of charge.  To access JLU, create your own account. Email if you have any questions.  Click here to explore.
  • Annenberg Media – This is an instructional video series that serves as an introduction to French, German, and Spanish. These series are available on the internet in the United States and Canada.  Registration is required. Click here to explore.
  • Defense Language Institute’s Foreign Language Center Resources – DLIFLC has made many of its online materials available to the public.  For resources including an online diagnostic assessment and an accents library, please click here.
  • Field Support Modules – These modules provide area studies material in English for specific geographic regions.  They also provide survival-level materials for the language of these regions.  No password required.  Click here to explore.

The School of Professional and Area Studies (SPAS)

SPAS is known for its tradecraft courses in political, public diplomacy, consular, economic and commercial studies, office management, orientation, and management training, which EFMs may be able to take depending on the course and the EFM’s job in an overseas mission.  In addition to tradecraft, SPAS also offers Area Studies training.  Area Studies provides students with a background and depth of perspective for critical thinking related to regional politics and culture, problem solving, and supporting U.S. policy objectives.  

EFMs who are 18 years of age or older are eligible for Area Studies courses on a space-available basis.  Other agency EFMs who meet the stated enrollment requirements may attend on a reimbursable basis.  (Check catalog listings)

Job Related Training for EFMs 

EFMs who have been hired into positions at embassies and consulates overseas may be required to take mandatory (on an annual basis) distance learning courses, including the Annual Counterintelligence and Insider Threat Awareness Training for Cleared Americans (EX250), Records Management for Everyone (PK217), Mandatory Training for Classifiers and Users of National Security Information (PK400), Cybersecurity Awareness (PS800), Protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PA318), and Preventing Harassment at State (PK405) – all offered through FSI.  These courses are required to retain access to DOS OpenNet.  

Depending on their employment, EFMs may also be eligible for position-related training.  Examples include Regional Professional Development for Community Liaison Officers (PD-545), training required for the CA-EFM program, or selected tradecraft training for positions in other embassy and consulate sections like GSO, HR, POL, ECON, PD, etc. 

Leadership and Management School (LMS)

The Crisis Management Training (CMT) division within LMS visits most posts on a two-year cycle and offers training that is open to and encouraged for EFMs to attend.   The Crisis Management Overview course (PD534) is held at post and focuses on personal and professional preparation for a wide range of disasters.  Due to the pandemic, CMT now offers a distance-learning version of this class — Emergency Action Committee (PD534-DL) which EFMs can register for and take anytime with access to FSiLearn.  When CMT returns to travel in-person, trainers may work with the post’s Community Liaison Office (CLO) to offer sessions to families outside of normal working hours as needed.

FSI Commercial Distance Learning (Skillsoft)

FSI has purchased commercial, off-the-shelf content from highly regarded online training providers, greatly expanding FSI’s reach and training landscape.  The Skillsoft General Library is a government-wide distance learning program comprised of thousands of courses in business, information technology, leadership and management, among others. Funded through FSI, the program is available on the Internet via FSiLearn, allowing access at anytime, anywhere — from home, work or wherever is convenient.  A single password provides access to the entire course library on an annual basis, and is renewable, provided the user completes a minimum of one course per year.  Courses are self-paced and usually take between two and eight hours to complete.  Course completion is conditional on passing each Skillsoft course with a score of 75% or higher.  

Department of State EFMs of Foreign Service employees are eligible to enroll.  Email FSI for more information.  USAID also has the Skillsoft General Library available through its online learning management system.  EFMs from other agencies should check to see if their agency also offers a similar library of distance learning options.  

Whether looking to learn a language, the latest in technology, crisis management, life skills for international living, or security overseas awareness, FSI is a good place to land.  One’s need for and access to information and learning has not ceased with COVID restrictions; on the contrary, opportunities have increased in our new virtual training world.  Reach out to FSI and explore all the possibilities. 

Sarah Genton

Division Director, Overseas Briefing Center

Sarah Genton, a Civil Service employee responsible for the Transition Center’s Overseas Briefing Center at FSI, joined the foreign affairs community in 1987 as an EFM.  Her experience spans 8 countries in 4 different bureaus, working both inside the Mission and on the local economy.  She is a former recipient of “CLO of the Year” and a writer of AAFSW’s SOSA Project.