Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Want To Be An EFM When I Grow Up

 I knew the first or second time that I was referred to as an E.F.M. (Eligible Family Member) that I would end up wrestling feelings of resentment and that I would have to contend with my own desire to make a contribution while living here or abroad.  Please don't picture me as an executive or even a full-time employee prior to this move. I was not. I home schooled my youngest child (in order to teach him English) and taught art to kids and did a lot of volunteer work. But I have learned that no matter where I am or why I'm there I must find my own stride, or it can find me, either way works as long as I'm doing something I love to do that lines up with my skill set or calling in life. I care about people and love being at the right place/right time to make a difference in someone's life. I've found my calling is usually centered around advocating for people or by giving someone an opportunity to express themselves through art.

Kitties in an Old Town gift shop window- I couldn't resist taking this picture! 

I'm not a domestic goddess by any stretch, I'm not a seaweed spa kind of lady- but I'm open to giving it a try- oh, yeah!  I am a creative, artsy sort of person. I could learn all day, listen all day and/or engage in a cause that I feel compelled to be a part of until I'm so tired I can barely function. That's why I simply can't imagine living the next 20 years in Sean's shadow or waiting for him to get home before my day really starts. Thankfully, he would never want or expect that of me either. Hopefully these descriptions help explain why the last few months have been oh so dreary and dull for me. I AM SO BORED AND SO OVER THIS PART OF THE F.S. EXPERIENCE THAT I COULD JUST PUKE!

So, instead of going mad or shopping all day (just to get myself out of the apartment) I had to come up with a plan for my sanity. Sadly, I've not found my social outlet to be heavily centered around relationships made here at the apartments where we live. I've met a lot really amazing, interesting people that I truly enjoy talking to but it's rare to get together- fun when it happens but really rare.

Here's my personal recipe for not having a nervous breakdown at this point in our FSI training/waiting phase here:

Totally by accident that this photo ended up under that last sentence! Ha!
This is the cemetery behind Oakwood, Falls Church, VA.

1. Taking an art class! I signed up for an awesome photography class through the Art League/Torpedo Factory. It's been great and has forced me to get outside more than I really wanted this winter. I've been COLD but I've gotten out and am quite glad for it.

This picture was taken for an assignment based on manual white balance settings. 

2. Language classes! A few other Indonesia bound FS spouses and I have joined up and hired a man to teach us Bahasa Indonesia. Pak Alex has been a great teacher and has been a kind encouraging "guru" (Indonesian word for teacher).

Also- This coming Monday I start the B.I. fast course at FSI. I'm excited and can't wait to see what this new adventure holds. Learning Bahasa Indonesia is important for me because I plan on having lots of Indonesian friends one day soon.

Pachamama dancer in the President's Day Parade, Feb. 2013

3. Visit the doctor: Here's something people just coming into the FS will hear over and over by their Northern Virginia or DC area medical professionals- "Let's make sure we take care of that before you go overseas." 

Oh yes... if you bring up even the slightest health concern the doctors here will order a number of tests and if you want you can be running to the doctor for this or that several times a week for your entire nine months, or whatever, length of time that you are here:

Patient: Hey, doc- I think I have a wart on my ring finger. Can you take a look at this for me?

Dr: Yes. Hmmm. Well, by golly... that looks like a wart but actually it could just be the tip of an iceberg. We better remove that before you go overseas. Let's order an MRI just to rule out a tumor. And, let's do a stress test. And an ultrasound. I know a guy with a great clinic for warts, I'm happy to write a referral for you.

Plus, the obligatory follow-up visit one month later.

And there you go- one wart = five days of not being bored or in the house all day. It's amazing what your life can become if you let it.  Now, if I can just make these doctors' visits stop while I'm in language training.

 President's Day Parade, Old Town, Alexandria, VA- February 18, 2013

4. Volunteer. I have also discovered it can hard to find places to volunteer here in the NOVA area. You won't be alone if you hear "but you'll be moving in nine months, right?" at some point during your stay in this area of Virginia. Do not give up, keep looking! People do need volunteers around here but YOU have to look for them. I also recommend being a hearty participant in the school's PTA if you have kids in the schools here. Please, comment below if you know of anyplace that needs local volunteers, or if you want to learn about some of the volunteer opportunities that I've found here. 

E.F.M. questions I'm dying to know the answers to:

Will it be this boring once I get to post?

How do other EFM's manage to do what they love doing?

If you're out there, please leave me some sort of idea of what daily life is like at post... or how others have kept busy, contributing and growing personally?



  1. Question 1: yes and no and yes
    Yes it will be boring. The kids head off to school. Spouse goes to work. You have no car. Most of the time you have no language skills to just wander effectively. You don't even know quite what you need, or where to get it, or how long you will wait for it to arrive in your packed boxes. But Day 1 is great in that finally you arrived. Finally you get to start with those baby steps. Finally your life is not in a holding pattern. I love day 1, despite how boring it can be.

    Gradually you will meet other, find your way around, get a routine, discover options. Best advice: be gentle to yourself and keep an open mind. Each post I have been involved in some amazing things and gotten to know some great people. Both opportunities have given me a chance to grow.

    2. Some EFM professionals struggle because they can't do exactly what they were doing previously due to bilateral work agreement issues with the country they are in. The key is to reinvent yourself, be flexible, keep up training, volunteer. Some can get jobs within the embassy. Some decide to try to go tandem for a steady career. The good news, you are not just stuck with one answer!

    Love your photos results!

    1. Nomads! Thank you for such an honest and in depth answer. I have a plan to get there and get settled, get my kids in school and all of that and then get busy finding my own deal. I really hope to find people and places that are fun and encouraging, and maybe a couple of other EFM/ex-pats who are willing to go on daytime adventures around the city with me as I get out and about and explore Jakarta. :) Thank you for replying to my post.

  2. Depending on where you go it can be a lot less boring. Some places just have a ton of interesting stuff to do. Other places have a really tight community and people DO get together. (That part is easier just about anywhere but DC.)

    Agree with Nomads that the key is be flexible and try new things. It sounds like you are already doing that.

    I am pretty happy right now in Vienna (my sixth post) with 1.) a part-time telecommuting job 2.) online courses I am taking for a certificate an 3.) lots of artsy-crafty stuff including a weekly meeting with other crafters (who are cool people, too) 4.) a once a week German conversation group and 5.) getting out of the house to do stuff on the weekends, like hiking, museums, or day trips.

    It always takes a little while to get into a groove at post, and some are certainly harder than others, but everything seems to work out in the end if you just have an open mind about it. The spouses who really have a hard time are the ones who can't do that: who just can't be happy unless they are working 9-5 in their chosen profession. And, really, unless you land an awesome telecommuting gig (and are happy working on your own), that just isn't going to happen.

    Good luck! Kelly

  3. Kelly, Sixth post? Wow, I bet you can tell some awesome stories about life abroad and all that goes with it. I've been reading your blog for a while, before we started this one in fact! So, I know you do share your adventures and day to day life with your readers- actually!

    Anyway, thank you for replying and reminding me to be flexible- That is a good message for a first timer! Flexibility is that essential component to being resilient that I've spent so much time reflecting on since I've been here. I hope I am flexible enough to recognize those moments when an extra measure of "whatever" is needed. :)

    I would love to know how you came across other crafty/artsy people! Did you all just sort of find one another or did someone set up a meeting place/time and/or offer classes? This is something I might try to do one day- I would really like some insider knowledge on what has worked and what has been a struggle within the group. Artsy/crafty stuff can really cover a lot of ground or it can be specifically geared toward a certain medium/genre of art. Please, tell me more.

    Thank you again for sharing!

  4. It's not boring, Lainie! It's a ball of fun and excitement! That and a nightmare all wrapped up with a bow.

    EFM life is awesome and terrible, all at once. It's which side of that dichotomy you choose to focus on that makes all the difference.

    See you in kelas.

    1. Well, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot... hearing that it can be a ball of fun and excitement while'st you're in the midst of considering an 18 hour lay-over hanging with the dogs is saying a LOT! Betul, ya!

  5. Lainie, I do think you have to be patient while you find your stride. It will be tough going at first, I'm pretty sure. I'm definitely still working on that here. I've met really great people and we do get together fairly often, but I am left to my own devices much of the time. I, like you, am working on that perfect recipe for keeping myself from going stir-crazy:) It actually helps that I'm an introvert by nature. So, while I adore friendly companionship, I'm also pretty okay being on my own a lot. I also think the perfect recipe will also change according to post dynamics.

    Beijing is a really big post so we tend to socialize more in neighborhoods than according to Embassy status. I will say that most of the friends I've made here and also at Oakwood were due to my youngest kiddo. I'm a bit concerned as to what will happen when I no longer have a reason to go to the bus stop every day. It is harder to meet parents of older kids. Anyways, most days it is pretty exciting to be somewhere where everything is new though and the day is filled with new challenges/adventures. Even if that is just successfully filling your cart with groceries and getting them back to your house. Or surviving a bike ride to the childrens' school LOL.