This is our fourth overseas assignment; our sixth overall (we did an extremely short stint in NYC and 3 years in DC). So you’d think we’d be pros at bidding. But truthfully, I still don’t get it, not entirely. Does anybody?
Here’s what happens, sort of. A list of all of the worldwide vacancies appears, along with their ranks to show you what level each job is. You can only bid on jobs that are at your rank or stretch one level above your current rank. So you look at the list of jobs for which you qualify. You have to include at least 6 bids on your list, and they can’t all be in the same geographic area. How do you choose which places to bid on? Well, you start with the State Dept Post Reports. These are maybe 50 pages each, with everything you could want to know about a country, from its climate to its system of government to the housing you can expect if assigned there. You read through these, discarding or starring the ones that horrify or fascinate you. Then, if you’re me, you go to talesmag.com, which has a section called “Real Post Reports.” This is because the official reports aren’t always 100% accurate: sometimes they skew information so the post seems better than it is because they need to attract bidders (so if scorpions are a real problem, for example, the report might mention that “scorpion bites occasionally happen in the outskirts of town” rather than saying “Little Johnny got his toe bitten off in his own entry hall when he stuck his foot in his shoe.”). Or, if they don’t want to lose hardship pay, they might make the problem sound worse than it is (“Be prepared to fend off wild scorpions in your house, dishes and bed on a regular basis.”). The real post reports site is written by regular folks who are currently assigned to the country, so they’ll give you a good picture of day-to-day life at post – though since you don’t know the people who are writing, you have to assume that some are sunny personalities and some are whiners – grain of salt, people.
So now you have all the info you’re going to get, unless you know someone who has served there. And it’s time to rank these places for your list, sight unseen.
This is really, really stressful. Because how do you compare, say, a small South American city where crime is rampant but the air is clean, with no direct flights but a great school, to a mid-sized European city where the tourism opportunities are abundant but the winters are dark and the language is unlearnable? How about a country where you have to find your own housing v a place where you need to rely on local medical care? A 12-room school v a place that requires high altitude medication be taken upon arrival? A place where you’re likely to be carjacked vs a place where you could get encephalitis?
See what I mean? It’s apples and elephants, and there’s just no way to compare.
So you look at each report with your list of priorities in mind (in my case: good schools, opportunity to learn a foreign language, easy travel time to States, adequate medical care, ability to save money). And you try to picture yourself there amongst the Incan ruins, or the beggars with leprosy, or the whatever you picture to yourself. And you start putting all of these places in order of kill to go there/like to go there/no way in hell I’d go there.
And then go ahead and turn that list in, in early October. It doesn’t matter anyway, because you won’t get any of the places you’ve been dreaming of. Your goal here is to fight like heck to avoid getting a “no way in hell” place. When we bid last time, Beijing wasn’t even on our initial list. We turned in our list of six, and they came back to us telling us we weren’t qualified for half of them because of one child’s medical clearance, which prevented us from going certain places. So we added more places. Some were assigned to other agents, so we had to add more places to keep the list at 6. Some of these new places we didn’t qualify for, again because of the medical clearance issue. Until one day someone called my husband and said “We really think you’d like Beijing. Why don’t you consider adding it to your list?” So we did, and lo and behold, we got it.
That’s how the bidding process works. Are we all clear on everything now? Oh, and one more caveat: Bart is up for promotion, so the list will change for us if he gets promoted, with several places being knocked off the list. We actually have to prepare two lists in case we suddenly lose eligibility for some of these places. And we also have some bid choices within the U.S. to consider, in places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, DC and New York.
So, without further ado, I present to you our list of international places from which to choose. Could you choose and rank six? Could you even find them all on a map?
Addis Ababa (Ethiopia)
UPDATE: Bart brought the actual list home last night. There are actually even more places on the list than I thought, though these additional posts mostly fall into my don't-want-'em category for various reasons: Gaborone, Frankfurt, Abidjan, Beirut, Dakar, Khartoum, Athens, Berlin, Cairo, Jeddah, Manila, New Dehli, Santo Domingo, San Salvador, Caracas, Kiev, Baku, Abuja, Antananarivo... go get your atlas, I'll wait... Conakry, Ho Chi Minh, Kampala, Kinshasa, Lusaka, Maputo... oh, you get the idea - 'nuff said!