The Foreign Service Journal, September 2010

H umans are social animals. We crave a connection to others. While we are overseas, far fromhome, fam- ily and close friends, the community life at an embassy takes on an even more pro- nounced significance. However, as we all know, each post is differentwhen it comes to community life. Whatmany of us have found is that—for a variety of reasons — the community seems tobe tighter at smallerU.S. embassies in less developed nations. Ankara, where my partner and I were last posted, was like that. Therewas a deep sense of connection toothers, a feeling that you belonged to something greater than yourself, that youwerewelcomed and cel- ebrated just by being there. In our current post of Brussels, on the other hand, the community feeling is not as strong. For some, especially accompa- nying spouses, not having that instant access to a vibrant embassy community life can be rather isolating. Even with everything there is to see and do, the colors can seem faded, the foodat the cafésbland, the choco- late less than scrumptious, if you are fly- ing solo most of the time. What is apersontodo? To thrive, rather than just survive, you need to put yourself out there. You need to make that extra effort to fill your lifewith friends and activ- ities. Here are some community-building suggestions. 1. Head to the Community Liaison Office. With the assistanceof theCLO, you will be able to combat your sense of dis- connection. For example, during the 2010 WorldCup, theCLOinBrussels organized anevent at a local sportsbar thatwaspacked with American expatriates watching the U.S. play Slovenia. This produced a trea- sure trove of new social connections. 2. Accept every invitationfor the first sixtoninemonthsafteryouarrive. Be like JimCarrey in “TheYesMan”: Say “yes” to everything. (Well, maybe not everything : I did decline an invitation to take part in the annual Brussels Naked Bike Ride.) 3. Check out the embassy newsletter andanyotherlocalEnglish-languageperi- odicals on a regular basis for events and activities, andpursue those that interest you. 4. Consider volunteering. One of the first things I did inAnkarawas offer toclean up the CLO library. Just by being there a couple of hours a week, I met almost the entire mission. 5. Findsomethingyouenjoydoing,or something newyouhave always wanted totry—andpursueit. You’ll get toknow other expats who also enjoy that activity. Wherever I go, I always seem to find fel- low darts players, for instance. A simple Internet search will produce all sorts of possibilities. For example, why not look into theAmericanWomen’sClub? This organization is no longer exclusively for women, despite its name — so guys need not feel shy about contacting them. Or what about joining a church or other religious organization? If you still haven’t found what you are looking for, there’s always one more option: 6. Create your own community. Say, forexample,youlovethearts,butyoudo notwant togo to the theateror sympho- nyalone. Soyoucreate your own“cultural group” by advertising in the embassy newsletter. Voilà! Instant community. Though not as easy as the instant embrace by a tight-knit embassy commu- nity one experiences in smaller posts, cre- ating a connection to others in large posts has the potential to be richer, more re- warding and loads more interesting. ❏ Douglas E. Morris has lived abroad for more than 18 years in 10 countries on three continents. He is currently the editor of the BrusselsWeekly , the tri-mission newsletter that is at the epicen- ter of expat community life in Brussels. A F S A N E W S and above their annual base pay increase of 1.5 percent, andwould have happened anyway, so it is not technicallypart of clos- ing the gap.) While this is great news, it is important to note that the fight to secure full imple- mentationofOCP is not over. Clearly, the progress in closing the gap has given us greater confidence to anticipate that the third and final adjustment will be imple- mented inAugust 2011. However,we can- not be certainof that untilCongress autho- rizes payment and appropriates the nec- essary funds. The fiscal situation is very tight and midterm elections are coming this fall. Some legislators have called for reductions in federal salaries;moreover, the proposed $4 billion cut in the administration’s FY 2011budget request came entirely fromthe international affairs budget, illustrating the perception that domestic concerns come first. AFSAwill remain focusedonwinning full implementation of OCP and getting permanent authorizing language. Wewill report developments as they happen becausewe know that this issue is of para- mount concern to our members. Finally, AFSA thanksDeputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew as he departs the State Department, for the servicehehas rendered in helping move this solution forward. AFSA appreciates his support and wishes him well as he moves to his next post as director of theOffice ofManagement and Budget. We also appreciate the leadership of Secretaryof StateHillaryRodhamClinton and Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy as they remain alert and focusedon this andothermatters. Finally, thank you to the many members of Congress who remain supportive of the Foreign Service. ❏ S E P T EMB E R 2 0 1 0 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L 55 The progress in closing the gap has given us greater confidence to anticipate that the third and final adjustment will be implemented in August 2011. FAMILY MEMBER MATTERS Thriving Overseas BY DOUGLAS E. MORRIS