My jobs in the Foreign Service – Part III – Mexico

About family employment, this link http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c1959.htm will lead you to information far more complete than anything I can say. I just want to bring some personal touches beyond the statistics. See Part I and II for a full picture.

When I left my demanding private sector job in IT in France (marketing director for Europe) I told my colleagues I was retiring. They laughed – I was still a bit young for retirement – but I truly believed what I told them. After all isn’t it the perfect cliché ‘the wife of a diplomat drinking tea and chatting by the pool’?

I spent a school year (e.g. ten months) in Arlington, Virginia educating myself about the Foreign Service. Online, in class, one-hour presentation, full day seminar, three-month course… I attended everything I physically could that the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) had to offer. You can learn everything at FSI, they offer more than 600 courses: languages, cultures, finance, human resources, protocol, retirement planning, leadership, pet shipping, resilience, how to raise bilingual kids…

After this, instead of retiring, I found a job before arriving at the Embassy in Senegal (see previous post) and worked from the first day to the last. I was thus ready for a big long holiday.

We arrived in Mexico City in September; I had decided to enjoy this beautiful city first and not look for a job before the New Year. I found a job immediately thereafter in the Consular section but it seemed that my clearance could take a while so I accepted an interim job in the procurement service of the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS). When it can easily take State three months to hire you, it took them less than three days – they needed me so they speeded up! They knew I could leave anytime for my job at State.

I enjoyed working for another section than State because, despite being all under the same roof, different agencies have different characteristics and usages. For a curious person like me it is fascinating. At State, all we could hear was how to save money, spend less, cuts expenses. At NAS, we were being criticized for not spending enough and not fast enough! What a change of paradigm.

Eventually my clearance came through and I became Staff Aide for the Minister Counselor of Consular Affairs (MCCA) for the country of Mexico (one Embassy, 10 consulates) and the General Consul of Mexico City. This job was usually performed by an officer but for budgetary constraints had been transformed into an EFM position – just my luck. Among many other tasks, I was the editor of the mission-wide monthly consular newsletter and in charge of VIP referrals for the deliverance of visas. The process to obtain a visa is much faster if you are considered a VIP by an American employee – it has to further the interest of the United States – you can’t just pretend your hairdresser is a VIP. We received the visit of the top three Mexican film directors, many government or military high ranking employees and the most known of all was the singer Seal. A British national, he was touring in Latin America and had lost his passport therefore his visa. He had painted his nails (toes and hands) brown.

Then I went to work for a less known service of the Consular Affairs and became a Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) investigator. They needed a cleared American with a good level in Spanish since the interviews had to take place in Spanish. FPU is a very busy service in Mexico! Besides interviewing people in Spanish I also had to read the press (paper and online) to register all the ‘bad guys’ in our database. We are talking Mexico where heads are chopped left and right. Sometimes colleagues would send gory reports mentioning – be careful, terrible photos inside. I would then keep these reports for the afternoon – didn’t want to spoil my breakfast. As a side note, despite all the violence reported in the press, we never felt threatened during our two years in Mexico because violence was highly targeted and occurring in very specific places.

More about jobs in Pakistan and Hungary later.

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