Well folks, today marks the culmination of quite possibly the most stressful six weeks of my life, give or take. I had no idea bidding for our third tour was going to be such a nightmare. Give me the sheer terror of Flag Day over third tour bidding any time! Fortunately, our tale has a happy ending, but I'd like to share with you a little of what the process is like.
First comes the bid list. Unlike first and second tour bidding, when you get a massive list of jobs and pick your top 30, then pray the decision makers are feeling generous that day, third tour bidding is much more focused. It's also much more based on who you know - connections are everything. John was looking at 03 political jobs, which narrowed things down significantly. My preference was for something that didn't require language training, just to save ourselves the extra move, but we really wanted to go back overseas, so we only bid on two DC jobs. Everything else was EUR (except for Tokyo). And let me tell you, those jobs were in high demand. When you've got 30 people bidding for a single spot, coming in second or third might as well be 30th, because not many people are going to turn down London or Brussels. And unfortunately, that happened to John for multiple jobs.
Most FSOs end up in DC for their third tour, which gives them a leg-up in their chosen bureau (ie the part of the world you want to work). We could have done the standard thing and gone to DC, then immediately started to lobby for the next job. And this might have worked out, but it also might have meant getting stuck in DC, or getting an overseas job with a language requirement, which could add another year in DC. And for financial reasons, as well as just wanting to live overseas because it's way more interesting, that wasn't our preference.
John got *this close* to Tokyo and London, and Brussels seemed like another strong possibility. But in the end, he wasn't the first choice, and he wasn't offered those jobs. Keep in mind he was bidding against people on their fourth or even fifth tours, so he was at a disadvantage from the get-go. In the process, John had multiple interviews with several different posts (about 12 interviews altogether) and that was super stressful in itself. And then there's the fact that posts can ask you to commit to a job before the official deadline, in which case you might have to gamble if you're in second place at another job (if #1 turns it down, the job is offered to #2, and so on). There was a lot of strategizing and arguing over what should be our first choice (telling a post you'll definitely accept a "handshake" if it's offered can help), a lot of me nagging John to make sure he was on top of things (it's not that I don't have faith in him, it's just that I was terrified), a lot of worrying about schools and housing and language and finances. It really was incredibly stressful for a few weeks, and I am dreading the next bidding cycle.
Fortunately, that won't be for another three years. In June of 2017, the Rutherfords will be returning to DC for a year of language training, and then we head out for three years in...
John will be the political military affairs officer, a job he is super excited about. Not only is the work meaningful and relevant, but it should help him build his career in the direction he wants to go. For me and the kids, Belgrade sounds like a great place to live. It's Europe on the cheap, with affordable food, entertainment, and household help. The schools are supposed to be great, it doesn't take long to get anywhere in the city, and we will be in an awesome jumping-off point for the rest of Europe. In case you don't know exactly where Belgrade is (because I didn't before we started bidding):
Greece, Hungary, Turkey, and Italy are all within an hour or two by plane! We can drive to Croatia for a three-day weekend. It may not be London or Prague, but for our family and taking the job into account, I don't think we could have asked for better (and believe me, we are VERY lucky to have gotten anything at all! A lot of people will walk away from this process without anything locked in, and will have to continue to fight for what's left). A year in DC means we'll get to spend more time with Sarah, and language training is relatively laid-back, which means John will have more time to spend with the kids. It seems that we are destined to live in places I would never have imagined, and I'm good with that. We chose this life for the adventure, and I think Serbia will have plenty of it. And if you don't feel like visiting us there, we'll meet you somewhere else in Europe. Chances are it's only a short flight away.
Click this link for a recent NY Times article about 36 hours in Belgrade.