Home Leave (me alone)

Like most individuals headed towards their first Home Leave, dreams of tacos, cheeses, and shoes that fit danced in my naive head for weeks.  I imagined Home Leave to be a 6 week vacation during which I would spend my days shopping in familiar environments and being worshipped by my friends and family while I regaled them with tales of Taiwan and my misadventures.  I ignored the warnings about finances, time spent with relatives, how crazy busy we would be, and exhaustion. Perhaps I should have listened. We did some of it to ourselves.  We planned a trip to Las Vegas on our way to Pennsylvania.  Do you know the worst plan?  I’ll tell you – getting off a plane in LAX after a 13 hour flight and DRIVING 4 hours to Las Vegas at night…on a Friday…during a huge electronic music festival.  We had fun, but it did not serve it’s intended purpose.  There was this thought that it would “reset” us in terms of jet lag and give us a chance to blow off some steam.  It did not. I was so jet lagged that I ordered a hotdog at a taco restaurant. The whole trip was a crazy whirl-wind escapade. We’re both excited to travel around Europe, but I can certainly wait another two years for the excitement of Home Leave. Farewell Taiwan! HellO Vegas! Road Tripping – our first in – n – out burger, not bad. Ah, experiencing the joys of America – one extremely useful product after another. Jet lag juice. Fires at the ranch. A trip to Boston to visit family led to this touristy decision… …and this one as well. POPCORN! A large bowl was usually awaiting me at my sister’s house. HellO Frankfurt! Things that were NOT awesome about Home Leave: Over planning. Jet lag. Spending twice as much while making half as much. Things that were awesome about Home Leave: Seeing people. Tacos. Sparklers. Lessons learned for next time: Don’t eat too many tacos. Get an Air BnB. Say ‘no’ twice as much. Plan some down time.  ...

EFM Employment

EFM* employment.  The words strike discomfort and fear in even the most prepared of State Department spouses. During our six months in Falls Church, one of our biggest fears was my being unemployed abroad. My hope was that, even before arriving at post, I would have a steady 40 hour per week job.  I assumed that most spouses probably wouldn’t want work and that I would suck up those great jobs in a heartbeat.  After reading the FAMER* and researching jobs in Taipei, I brought myself down to the reality that I probably wouldn’t have a job before arriving at post, that many spouses DO want to work, and that I’d have to change my standards a bit.  Even with these realizations, nothing could have prepared me for this job market. First, we had a sequester.  A few months later, after arriving in Taiwan – a government shutdown. Needless to say, the market for government jobs in Taipei became slimmer and slimmer.  In a mostly successful effort to keep myself busy when we first arrived here, I took classes, lots of Chinese classes.  I shopped.  I took naps. I interviewed, sometimes horrendously.  Finally, I got a job – sort of. My first job here in Taipei was that of Cleared Roving Support.  I basically do whatever they call me in to do in the building. It pays the AMAZING salary of “when actually employed.”  I’m not kidding.  That is my pay grade. The greatest part of this job is that I got my highly coveted top secret clearance. In December 2013 I was informed that I got the position of AITEA* store manager. This job pays very little, by the hour, for 24 hours per week.  I’m very grateful to have a job, but one of the greatest challenges for an EFM is finding meaningful employment, not just a job.  Since my goal is to work in human rights, Taipei, with all of it’s pesky safety and annoying safeguarding of its people, isn’t exactly the place to find the kind of meaningful employment that I’m after. Now, nine months after our arrival, jobs are practically being thrown at EFM’s.  There have been 5 job announcements in the last 3 months that can be filled by EFM’s.  I applied to the two for which I am qualified.  However, the summer turnover season is coming.  The jobs I’ve applied for may be immediately taken by someone with more experience coming between June and August. The State Department is very good about hiring the person that is most qualified for the job at hand.  They ensure that each successful candidate has the experience that they need.  But what if you don’t have experience for DOS jobs because you’re on your first tour?  I feel like when I was in high school and couldn’t get a job at the local frozen yogurt stand in the summer because they wanted experience.  How am I supposed to get the experience if you won’t hire me so I can get some experience? I am very grateful to have my jobs. I continue to ‘rove’ when they need me, and my work at the AITEA store certainly keeps me busy.  It is not the deluge of meaningful employment that I had hoped for early on, but also not the drought we experienced our first 6 months here.  Perhaps our next post will provide me with that meaningful employment that so many EFM’s strive to acquire. *****   *EFM – Eligible Family Member *FAMER – basically a list of all the possible job positions at a given post and who can fill them (i.e., EFM, AEFM, local employee, etc.) *AITEA – American Institute in Taiwan Employee Association.  I run the small commissary store under the watchful eye of a volunteer board....

Child’s Play

The first few months as an EFM are incredibly exciting.  I thought non-stop about the places Tex and I might go, the challenges we might face, and even the possibility of raising a family abroad.  We started sending each other links to FS blogs almost daily.  We bought books on embassy life and security clearances.  We even read them and compared perspectives. I felt prepared when we got to Falls Church for our short tour.  I knew that I would meet a lot of new friends (which I did), that I probably wouldn’t find a job (which I didn’t), and that I’d probably start learning a new language (which I did).  I took a lot of FLO (Family Liaison Office) classes about finding jobs, moving our stuff, and finding our stuff after our movers lose it. The one thing we knew we would struggle with is my employment.  I heard the following suggestions mostly from strangers because they envied that I ‘didn’t have to work.’ –          “You should start a new hobby.” I ruled this out because collecting is expensive and I’m not what you might call “crafty.” –          “You should learn a new language.” (duh) –          “You should buy a camera and just start taking pictures.” What does that even mean? –          “You should get telework.” Yup, please point me in the direction of the international telework for previous event planners with advanced degrees in American history. I’m ready. –          “You should teach English” ok. –          “You should have kids.”  I’m not kidding.  More than one person told me I should procreate after meeting me for the first time. This was my favorite suggestion. I’m not satisfied with hobbies and sitting at home.  Some cities (not Taipei, but let’s say Khartoum) you aren’t allowed to stroll around taking photos.  We don’t have kids and we’re certainly not going to have them because mommy is bored.  So, I want a job.  I want to work.  I’m not a super career-minded person.  I don’t want a high stress position and therefore I know that it won’t be a high-paying position.  However, I want to work. Due to the recent Congressional sequester, among other problems, EFM work is difficult to find to say the least.  In the short time I’ve been here I’ve had three full interviews.  The first two were at AIT (American Institute in Taiwan).  I didn’t get the first and am still waiting to hear back on the second.  The third was on the market.* *Many posts don’t have a relationship with the local government that allows for Americans to work on the local market.  In Taiwan I’m lucky enough to try to find work outside of AIT.   ********** After submitting several applications to local Taiwan schools I got an interview for a full time position to teach 4-5 year old students English. Part of the interview was a demo teach for 30 minutes.  This is the story of how I ruined the day of 15 young children and how they ruined mine. The first part of the interview went well.  We talked about the age groups I like, my serious lack of experience, and how the school operates.  There was also a conversation about legality, work permits, etc.  Heavy stuff.  I spent some time explaining that I’ve never stood in front of a group of children and tried to get them to do what I say.  I explained that several times in fact.  I asked for clear advice on how to keep the students’ attention.  They still insisted that I “demo teach” or “herd cats.” The children spoke MUCH better English than I expected.  “Hello Teacher, nice to meet you!” “My name is…”  Most of them shouted.  Being obnoxious is a cross-cultural trait as it turns out.  One girl perpetually had her finger so deep in her nose I worried what she was going to bring out of it. My plan was to play “picnic at the park” and we would look at fruits and snacks and explain what they are.  This quickly turned into “dump the bucket and hope for the best” which quickly degraded into absolute f’ing pandemonium.  They just grabbed and crawled all over each other to get a piece of fruit.  I desperately looked at the people judging my stellar “teaching” skills while I attempted to keep fingers out of my eyes and plastic durian fruit from hitting my face. I frantically asked my interviewer “what do I do now?” He responded “you need to get their attention.” I got their attention…for 4 seconds.  I explained to my interviewer that I don’t think a game would be...