The Foreign Service Journal, May 2011
M A Y 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 33 F OCUS ON F ORE IGN S ERV ICE W ORK -L I FE B ALANCE G OING S OLO : S INGLE IN THE F OREIGN S ERVICE uch ink is spill- ed over Foreign Service family issues: not so much when it comes to issues facing single employees. Yet singles comprise approximately one-third of the Foreign Service and have their own unique challenges. The lifestyle overseas for singles can be exciting. Sin- gle Foreign Service employees tend to have greater flexi- bility and freedom than their married colleagues to pursue the career and opportunities they desire. They do not need to factor into their bidding decisions things like fam- ily member employment possibilities and international schools, or a spouse’s preference for, say, Paris over Dushanbe, when the perfect job is in Dushanbe. But at the same time, life overseas can be lonely. FS singles do not have the built-in support system of a family traveling with them on the sometimes bumpy roads around the world, and must work to create new networks and friendships at each post. One particular challenge for many singles is the assumption that the bureaucracy and many colleagues seem to have — namely, that singles are more “available” and should there- fore shoulder more of the burden of dangerous as- signments and extra work. Finding Family in the Fishbowl Many embassy commu- nities can feel like fish- bowls, making it difficult to maintain privacy in one’s personal life. When embassy staff members live on a com- pound, the effect can be magnified, and it can feel like everyone knows your business. Sometimes everyone does know your business! Close-knit embassy communities usually welcome sin- gles and include them as part of an embassy “family,” inviting them to holiday dinners and other gatherings. The author, a single FSO in Bishkek, arrived there the week of Thanksgiving, and joined the entire American FS staff — numbering about eight, including the ambassa- dor — for a turkey dinner in the dark, mirrored basement of a local restaurant, where she immediately became part of a very small, rather quirky, embassy family. (Butter- balls had been shipped in on a support flight from Eu- rope.) By the next holiday, the embassy singles hosted S INGLES COMPRISE ABOUT ONE - THIRD OF THE F OREIGN S ERVICE AND HAVE THEIR OWN UNIQUE CHALLENGES . B Y S HAWN D ORMAN M Shawn Dorman is associate editor of the Foreign Service Journal and the director of AFSA’s Foreign Service Books division. A former FSO, she served in Moscow, Bishkek, Jakarta and the Operations Center in Washington, D.C.
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