Friday, August 3, 2012

From Exhaustion to Acceptance to Giddiness: The Three Stages of Life in the Foreign Service

To be honest, there are many days that I think I can no longer do this, this nomadic Foreign Service life.  Life is hard enough without adding more complications to it, like flying for days to reach home, moving every few years, packing up your stuff, changing your house, your kids' school, your time zone, losing your mind.  And it's not just moving, but moving to different countries with different languages and different customs and different everything.  Not just moving, but moving far, far away from family and friends.  Far enough away that many feel they cannot visit you, that you have abandoned them, that you no longer fit into their lives since yours is so different, they just can't relate.  Who can relate unless you've lived it too?  And those who have lived it too flit in and out of your life because, well, they're moving too.

This feeling comes most often after an exhausting "vacation" back to my home country.  Living in someone else's home, eating meals with countless numbers of people, having no space to call your own for weeks on end, the days of packing and preparation, the sleep deprivation of transatlantic flying, the hours of stressful travel in and out of airports and airplanes, the dragging of exhausted children from gate to gate, the waiting in lines, for check-in, security, food, boarding, for seat exchanges, for take-off, for weather delays, for gates, for baggage.  The jet-lag.  The culture shock.  The exhaustion.  

That's when I break.  

You know, I say about life in the Foreign Service, "Everyday is an adventure."  It's an exciting, motivating prospect.  The reality, though, is that adventuring is tiring.  I just think of my 12 years being  part of Foreign Service life, that's about 4380 days of adventure.  That's a long time.  That's exhausting.  I'm just plum tired so much of the time.  A compatriot of ours, Kathy Heinrich, who has moved 13 times in more than 16 years, hit the nail on the head when she said during her most recent move, "I'm a transient who feels like an itinerant. . . . just when I think I'm veteran status, I find out once again, that each move is unique and challenging in ways that test my confidence!"  I hear you, Kathy! 

It's now been long enough that my native country is foreign.  I have trouble navigating the technological advances that have taken place in America over the last few years.  For example, I distinctly remember the first time I signed a computer screen at check-out in Target in 2006.  I had no idea what I was supposed to do.  The cashier looked at me as though I was from outer space.  Most days I feel that way.  Most days that's okay.

It's just when I'm tired that it's not okay.

So, what do I do?  I don't have a successful antidote yet.  I've tried several different tactics over my years living the Foreign Service life, from immediately trying to return to my normal routine, to walking around in my pjs all day.  The key seems to be sleep.  At least it is for me.  Like 9-10 hours a night upon return.  Try doing that when  you have babies.  Boy, were those arrivals a mess for me.  Now that my kids are older and they can get up and occupy themselves in the morning, if by chance, they wake up before I do, the transition time of exhausted-sobbing, "I can't do this anymore," to matter-of-fact, "Okay, Steph, this is your life, now get back to it," to giddy, "OOO, where are we going next?" takes less and less time.  I reached the matter-of-fact stage after I was back home for 6 days this time.  I haven't reached the "giddy" stage yet.  It'll come.  I like to believe that life for most folks in the world is in the "matter-of-fact" stage.  I feel fortunate to be here.  This is my life, my Foreign Service life.  I can't imagine it any other way.


  1. Thank you! Hope you're not feeling too exhausted. All the best to you and your family! Take care!

  2. So true Steph! I couldn't wait to get "home" even though I had never seen our new home yet, I knew it would be mine. My funky orange kitchen, my "new" bed, my everything. I wanted all my stuff and my pets under MY roof! When we got delayed in Kosovo en route to Tirana and sat still in our car for two hours, I bawled :( I didn't want to wait any longer to get there~! Now that we are here and the HHE has arrived and my house is an absolute mess, I wish I was somewhere else! Looking forward to finally feeling settled :)

  3. It is quite a roller coaster ride! So glad you made it to Tirana! How cool! We visited Albania with Mustafa, one of Ry's Albanian employees at the time. We went down the coast and up to the mountains and saw the "Blue Eye." Oh, it was magnificent! But I have to say, it was a good thing I was taking pain medication for my back at the time and was a little out of it, or I don't think I would have been able to make the drive through those mountains without a perpetual barf bag over my mouth! To be near the coast again! I'm so jealous! Have a wonderful tour! The giddiness will sneak up on you before you know it! Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  5. We must be related on some level...friends or even "family" in foreign service terms. You've said it all so well. Sleep really is the only answer to getting your feet back under you in these transitional times. I'm still calling the local money in Bucharest (where we've been for 6 weeks now) by the name of our former currency (shillings). I can't recall what city, much less which country I'm in. I can't remember the exchange rate or even that I have a converter on my phone. I'm sure it will all come soon enough, but thanks for putting words to this transition time.

  6. Hey! I didn't know you were in "town!" Or as close as we've been in a decade! I think in some sense that all of us, foreigners living abroad, are related in some way. A-100, though, puts us in the same generation, parallel lives, for sure! I hope the exhaustion ends soon. Sleep whenever you can. We'll be in Belgrade three more years. Maybe when you are settled (when you've entered giddygrad), we can meet somewhere. There are only 8 hours between us! Take care and give those kids and your husband a hug from us!

    1. Wait, is this the Trimble I'm thinking of? Your first post was Jamaica? If not, please forgive me for the strange familiarity! But FS friends we are!

    2. Yes...we are the one you are thinking of...I just asked Virginia to confirm that you are who I think YOU are! hahaha. Notice I'm not a good blogger b/c I commented twice. Thought I'd lost the first posting. But, we should definitely get together. It's been a long time. Transition stinks, but like you, we muddle through and in the end, look longingly for the moving truck at the end of each tour, right? This part is the hardest...packing, transiting, unpacking, and then it's glory land for a few years again. My little one who is 4 is still asking me what toys I put in storage (which I actually threw away or donated). I feel awful for ripping her kitchen and ironing board from her, but in truth, we came here only 4 lbs under weight...something had to go! Poor girl. Hope all is well for you guys, too. Tell the hubbie we said hello from Bucharest! (or wherever the heck we are!)

  7. Shew! I feel better now! Aw, man, about your little one! They are supposed to forget! Maybe with the onslaught of her other toys she will. Take care and good luck with the unpacking! I'm thinking of doing a post on that. Hmmmm. Got any tips?
    Enjoy Bucharest! My husband says it's a pretty cool city!


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