Dreams of A Diplomat: The Road to Flag Day

by Juan Thomas
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“A journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step” – Lao Tzu

Earlier this morning, I submitted my bid list to my assignments officer. It was the end of quite an overwhelming week concerning my preferences for where I would like to be assigned in my first Foreign Service posting. All roads now lead to Flag Day.

So what is Flag Day? Well, it’s definitely not to be confused with June 14th, which is the day that the Second Continental Congress adopted the American flag. Basically, in a nutshell, it’s a ceremony in which all students in an Orientation class find out where they will be headed for their first overseas posting…and in the case of some specialties, their first domestic posting. It typically occurs during the back end of Orientation and it’s so aptly named because students are presented with a small flag of the country they have been assigned. In normal times, it a big deal. Families gather to find out their fates in one of the Foreign Service Institute’s biggest auditoriums and there is even an official photographer to capture the moment. However, in these extraordinary COVID-19 times, my Flag Day is going to be virtual.

This bid list process has been an eye-opening experience for me. There are so many factors involved in determining where I’ll end up. Things like language, medical stuff, family stuff, and security stuff play a role. Of course, I get to rank my preferences but the bottom line is that because I’m worldwide available, I could be assigned to any position. After all, the needs of the Department of State take precedence. If they need in a certain spot, then that’s where I’ll go. I came into this expecting to get a hardship the first time out so I’m mentally prepared to go anywhere…and there are hardships on my list.

One of the most important things in this initial assignments process is research. Once I was in possession of the bid list, I was able to gain access to a myriad of different tools the Department has to assist students in making the best choices for them regarding their individual preferences. These tools include information about each individual post such as housing, schools, and different monetary incentives. There are videos that give you an idea of life in these places and even surveys on different things like Internet quality, transportation, and the dating scene for singles. One of the most popular pieces of information we get is the R&R ramifications…how many and where. I won’t reveal for security reasons but the R&R locations on my bid list were some very interesting spots.

In addition to the research Mercedes and I did over the past week, we also got a chance to have a 1-on-1 meeting with the assignments officer so she could feel us out and get an understanding of our preferences in this process. It’s also a chance for me to get a more detailed understanding of how everything plays out. Up until last night, I was still largely undecided on the order of my list. I knew for sure what was my absolute bottom choice—remember, I didn’t get into this to stay in North America—but everything else was mostly a toss-up. I’d absolutely love to go to Africa. I’d equally love to go to South America. I love big cities and there are 2 of them on my list. I’d love to learn a new language and there are 4 postings with language requirements on my list. I am also well aware that I’ll be expected to serve in a hardship location and I wouldn’t mind getting that out of the way early since there are some on the list. It was actually pretty nerve-racking coming up with a 1 through 8 on the 9 postings on the list but I got it done. I’m happy with what I submitted. For now, it’s a waiting game but there is plenty of work still left in Orientation so I won’t be thinking about it too much.

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