The only constant…

Every new hire in the Foreign Service has to serve at least 1 year of their first two tours in a consular position, typically doing visas. Usually one of the first two (sometime both) 2-year tours is a consular assignment. Beyond the stereotypical (non-immigrant) visa (NIV) work, there is also work to be done in Immigrant Visas (think green card lottery winners, fiances, family members of US citizens) and American Citizen Services (ACS). ACS covers a range of services from passport renewal to registration of births/deaths abroad and emergency services for citizens who’ve gotten themselves in trouble. The Embassy doesn’t advocate on behalf of people who get themselves arrested but does ensure that they’re treated well and have access to legal counsel and family and friends back home.

Some tours are rotational, meaning that officers serve one year in a consular section and another in a different section, perhaps in a reporting role in the Econ or Political section or maybe even as a staff aide to the Ambassador. I was assigned a two year consular tour here in Abuja. When I arrived, we mapped out my two years with a rough expectation that I’d spend my first year focusing on visas (we don’t do Immigrant Visas here) and then working the ACS portfolio for the last half of my tour. Historically, ACS officers in Abuja also do NIV interviews but then focus on the ACS side the rest of the time. I was looking forward to learning a new skill set and getting the experiences of helping people out in times of trouble.

But then a few weeks ago, I got a call from the Econ section offering me a chance to change my two year consular tour into a Consular/Econ rotational tour. I’m “technically” a Political officer but Political and Economics officers do essentially the same thing, just from a different angle. Both are reporting positions where officers spend their time keeping abreast of the political or economic situation, delivering démarches on issues important to the US administration and policy, and writing cables back to Washington reporting on the prevailing winds. I was pretty stoked at this opportunity to work a reporting assignment and accepted, so now I’ll only be doing visa work until July. I’ll take an R&R this summer so probably won’t physically be present in the new section until late August or September though.

I consider myself pretty lucky. I’ve seen what change can bring in the Foreign Service and it isn’t always an improvement. It’s essential to stay flexible and take advantage of the good opportunities that happen to be within your reach but remain prepared for something you depend on to vanish into thin air. This element of this career is one of the main reasons the State Department seeks a certain type of person for this work. It can be pretty demoralizing at times when the system decides that it isn’t going work like you’d expect it to. The whole “make lemonade when life gives you lemons” approach goes a long way here.

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