Congratulations, you are starting the life of an EFM (Eligible Family Member). You have agreed to move every 2-3 years and will soon learn the weight of all of your clothes. You will become an expert at planning the unplannable and trying to manage foreign languages, different cultures and unrealistic expectations from your family back in America.
It can be scary to start over every three years. You don’t know what you don’t know yet. Your head is full of questions and the answers you get are never enough information to satisfy the thirst for knowledge.
“What will your housing be like?” “Where will your kids go to school?” “How will you find new friends and adjust?”
These are just a few of the many, many questions that you will be asking yourself while you try to answer everyone else's questions. For me, the scariest question was “what am I going to do to fill my time and keep any semblance of a career?”
Before I jumped on the Foreign Service train, I had a full time job. I left my house to do big, important things. Well, not that important. But I got to leave my house and wear “work clothes.” I had adult conversations with my coworkers and had somewhat interesting things to contribute to the dinner time conversation with my husband.
When I learned that we were moving to Congo, D.R.C, I decided to start my own company. I built my client base up and we got ready for PCS. My clients agreed to stay with me while I was in Africa but then the realization of the time change plus unstable internet meant I was not able to respond to their messages as quickly as I needed to.
So here I was. In a new country, on a new continent and without a job or plan. My great plan for myself had fallen apart and I felt lost. I wallowed in self pity and then I learned the most important lesson you will experience during your foreign service tenure - “Things work out best for those who make the best out of how things work out.” - John Wooden
I got out of my pit of despair and found a new opportunity in Congo. I’ve now served at four posts, on three different continents and at each one I have had to start over. What I’ve learned is that every country has different challenges and possibilities for working or just staying busy. However, there are always five avenues that you can try to explore as an EFM.
#1 Start Your Own Company - In three of my four postings, I started my own company doing consulting work. I registered my company in America, worked with the right legal and tax people, and started building a business that I could run on my own schedule. This worked out well for me and allowed flexibility plus ingenuity. If you have a background in a field or interest in a job that could be done through your own company, then this is a great time to try it out.
#2 Turn Your Passion Into A Job - Do you love photography? Are you an excellent baker? Did you always want to write a book? Here is your chance to turn those dreams into reality. As cliche as that sounds, it is true. For me, I love fitness. I taught fitness classes in college and had missed it ever since. When my career imploded in Congo, I got recertified and started building my own personal training and fitness venture.
You have the opportunity to reinvent yourself at every post and learn what you want to be when you grow up. The best part is that there are numerous government resources to help you along the way from fellowship to career counselors. Take a chance.
#3 Work For The Embassy - If working in an office is what you want, then check out jobs at the Embassy. The embassy fills many vital roles in the foreign service with EFMs. Working at the embassy is a great way to meet new people and actually learn what role diplomacy plays in your new home country.
#4 Work For A Company That Needs Remote Workers - One of the only benefits of COVID-19 is that many companies learned the benefit of having a remote workforce. Your dream job may now allow you to work from home (in another country). This is also a great chance for you to look at new companies that have interest in where you are living. You can position yourself as an “on the ground” expert since you are living there and can report back on what is really happening.
#5 Volunteer - Being an EFM has many difficult moments, but one of the benefits is that you get to see things that your neighbors back in America may never see. You see the good and the bad in your new home country but you can make a difference. Instead of sending money to a cause that you care about, you now have the option to go and play with the kids at the orphanage, help feed the endangered animals or volunteer at the local school teaching English. Volunteering at post makes your new home seem less foreign.
People that love EFM life are the ones that can find light in the darkness. One way to do this is by making sure that you have an outlet for your energy and skills. Many of the things I’ve done to stay busy while living abroad, weren’t about improving my resume. They were once in a lifetime opportunities that made me happy that I abandoned the plans I had for myself when I graduated college and embarked on this amazing foreign service journey.