We were given copies of the “bid list” today in class. This is the list of embassies and consulates that have openings for which we are qualified. Not surprisingly, the postings that entry-level officers are qualified do not include London, Berlin, or Tokyo.
The list is confidential, so I can’t write the exact places on the list, but a simple though experiment will give you an idea. Imagine a list of all the countries in the world. Now cross off every country that you have ever dreamed of visiting, especially for a honeymoon or dream vacation. Next cross off the countries that you think are interesting because of significant historical events or have been on the news because significant political or economic events happened there recently. Now cross off the countries that you think would be nice places to live. Now circle the names of countries that you have not heard of, or that you aren’t quite sure where they are. These are the choices that are usually left over for the lowest-ranking people, after the more senior people had their pick. The countries that you circled in your imagination are probably on the bid list.
The kinds of job that are available are very limited, too. We were told ahead of time that our first tour would be in consular services. That includes things like helping Americans who get in trouble while overseas, but most of the time it means processing visa applications.
This is not meant as disrespect for consular services. In fact, we are told, there are several advantages to doing consular work. For one, you get to meet the “real” people of the country. Ambassadors and other high-ranking officers interact with the leaders of the country, which of course is very glamorous and exciting, but if they never have a chance to interact with the man on the street, they may miss out on some of the finer nuances of the local culture.
Another advantage is that we will get to practice our language skills to a greater degree. By interviewing people who are applying for a visa, we will get exposed to how the local language is commonly used. For those of us for whom language learning was a big draw to the Foreign Service, this is a great opportunity.
Most of the postings on the bid list have a language requirement, which means that many of us will be in language training for several months after our initial training is complete. This is another perk for many. One of my classmates speaks a language which was not required for any of the open posts, which means that she will have to bid on a post that does not require a foreign language, or learn another language.
I am not complaining, I’m not surprised, and I’m not disappointed by the bid list. It is pretty much what I expected, and in some cases, it’s better than I thought. I would rank about half of the postings “high” on my wish list. There’s also a lot of variety. I think every world region is represented.
Not surprisingly, there are several postings that require my foreign language, so even though I would love the chance to learn another language (the idea of getting paid to learn a language is amazing), I will probably get sent abroad without language training. It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the government will only pay for language training as it is required for a posting. If you already have the language skills for your posting, even if you want to learn more, and even though having higher proficiency will benefit the service and the US government, it makes sense, under today’s budget situation, to put the existing skills to use as quickly as possible.
What this means is, I don’t know for sure, of course, but it would be safe to plan to leave for my first post at the end of April.