Bidding in the Foreign Service; or, Girl Scout Cookies Can't Come Fast Enough

From the many . . .
New officers in the Foreign Service start bidding on their next post a couple of years before they actually arrive there. The bid list is like a menu of Girl Scout cookies that you've never tasted but have only heard of. And because you want to spend your calories and money wisely, you are determined to choose only the best. You spend two weeks poring over your options; asking friends if they’ve ever been to X, Y, or Z; emailing strangers who have actually been to X, Y, or Z; and researching the smithereens out of your options.

From a bid list of 50 to 100 viable options, you are required to bid on 30 posts, listed in order of preference. Your first glance over the list is like grocery shopping while pregnant: some options are thrillingly tantalizing, and some options make you dry heave.

You start circling the really awesome-sounding posts and crossing off the lame ones. Once you make your first pass through the list, you realize that beyond coolness versus lameness, you must consider other factors, such as
  • Do you have time to learn a new language between the end of your current job and the start of the advertised job?
  • Do you want to take it easy at a posh post where you get no R&Rs, you’ll spend more than you can earn, and you won’t be able to find a vehicle large enough for your family?
  • Are the high-danger (but cool) posts really as dangerous as they say, and if so, are you prepared to deal with that?
  • Will schools be adequate for your children, and if they are, are their classmates more likely to accept them or to bully them?

After these considerations, you must also ask a host of questions about the job responsibilities, the size of the embassy or consulate, the special challenges and advantages of living in this foreign culture, whether you’ll have access to necessities (eggs, milk, safe meat, etc.) and wants (the internet, a pouch system that ships your orders from the U.S., comfort foods, a church group), and so on.

The decision is extremely complex, so in addition to considerable prayer, you have to start to develop a strategy by deciding what’s most important to you: learning a certain language, living in a place that’s safe for a family, choosing a country with great schools, freedom of religion, climate and environment, being in the same time zone as your extended family, yummy ethnic food. You know—the essentials.

Finally you construct a list of 30 options. You think about it for a day, and then you take options off, put new ones on, and rearrange the order. After another day, you do the same thing. Then you reread the bidding rules, you realize you messed up, and you start again from scratch.

. . . to the one
The day before the final bid list is due, you’re having serious conversations with your spouse. You’re tweaking the order of your bids and making sure they all align with your strategy. You’re a little dizzy at the realization that one of the posts that made you dry-heave two weeks ago is now at the tippy-top of your list.
You simultaneously fear and hope that you’ll be awarded this post. And if not, you fear and hope that you’ll be awarded number two on your list. All the while, you remind yourself that you could very well be assigned to number 9 or number 16 or any other number on your list (but hopefully not, even though each could be awesome in its own way).

Finally, you submit your bid list. And you wait and wait and wait until you forget that you’re waiting. After that, I don’t really know what happens, but I’ll keep you posted.