A fundamental premise of the Foreign Service is that one should be able to function independently and perform at a high level of accomplishment with minimum outside support.
Until very recently, most families of Foreign Service officers maintained a strong relationship with a father or mother living far away. It wasn’t unusual for a father or mother to work on an assignment as part of his or her family’s routine.
Much of the routine consisted of informal discussions about family and children. Family members sought to keep each other informed about general events as well as the more specific family and individual needs. Over time, the Foreign Service families established traditions of gabbing about their jobs and country as they traveled.
Like my family, our families’ routines began with aloofness and then deepened into strong friendship. All five of us joined the Foreign Service, eventually moving our assignments around the world and becoming specialized in different categories of work.
This friendship deepened as we pursued our careers. Over time, it became more complex as our parents developed their own careers and children matured. Our American and foreign professional paths converged on more than a few occasions. As families lived and worked abroad, we had first-hand experiences of the challenges of working under modern life environments, learning what it means to have families and keeping on track with school, religious and recreational commitments.
I had been married for more than 10 years before I had a baby, and my wife had assumed responsibility for the household in exchange for my support. The Foreign Service was not all fun and games, nor was it always fun.
In addition to the changes in our families, the Foreign Service has undergone many fundamental changes, including the formation of specialized families, the evolution of higher and secondary education abroad and the increasingly complex dynamics of international networks.
Our experience living overseas affords us both the unusual opportunity to see personal stories unfold from the perspective of those who have done so many years of service and yet are still forming their careers.
Future Foreign Service family members, and we hope to see them here, should have a broad experience. The Foreign Service is the foundation of the United States’ foreign policy and diplomacy, and those who join it will have unique career choices for the rest of their lives.
This process will expose them to new experiences, and it will not be easy to disengage from the competition when a job provides a steady income, a certain status and benefits and the regularness of moments of friendship.
Life is exciting and challenging. We’ve known quite a bit about that, and we will continue to do so for our children and grandchildren who will follow in our footsteps. The challenges of our work await them.
Steven Enlow is the host of “Secrets of the Foreign Service” and a retired US Foreign Service officer who worked for the Department of State in Europe and Asia. This article was originally published by Syracuse.edu.
A version of this column was first published on the school’s website.