For the past seven weeks, the Two Crabs have been focused on one task: bidding. Bidding is the hair-pulling, ulcer-inducing process by which Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) select their next assignment. The process is different (and changes regularly) depending whether you are a first tour Entry Level Officer (ELO), second tour ELO or mid-career FSO. Generally, first and second tours are considered "directed assignments", that is, the job is selected by your Career Development Officer (CDO), whereas mid-level FSOs actually go out into the world and find their own jobs. For ELOs, the process goes something like this:
First-Tour FSO: On the second or third day of A-100 (Foreign Service Orientation Course), students are handed a list of all available jobs. Students rank each position high, medium or low. Cross your fingers. Assignments are announced -- in public -- during the Flag Day ceremony near the end of the A-100 course. Break out the champagne if you get a high or medium post. Pray that you or your family don't cry in front of the cameras when you are handed a flag to a low-ranked post.
Second-Tour FSO: ELOs are divided into summer or winter bid cycles, depending on the day you arrived at your first post. ELOs are further divided into a new, complex "Tranche" system. All ELOs submit to their CDO a ranked wish list of 30 jobs from about 200 available jobs; cry when you realize that most of the jobs are invalid due to time, language, or conal constraints. Turn in your bid list and cross your fingers. CDOs make the assignments in order of folks who have the most equity (aka "hardship"). Hence, a first-tour officer serving in, say, Nigeria, Iraq or Haiti is going to get preference over somebody who got Paris or Sydney on their first tour. ELOs near the bottom of the equity barrel like the Two Crabs will inevitable have to turn in a second bid list, because most of our top 30 jobs were assigned to higher equity folks. Bite your nails again and cross your fingers until bid day.
Mr. Crab is still under language and consular probation, meaning that on my second tour, I MUST serve in a consular job in a language-designated (non-English) post. So in reality, the bid list of 200 jobs was more like only 40-50 jobs that met my requirements. So for several weeks, the Two Crabs researched every single valid bid, poured over post reports on websites like TalesMag.com and internal State Department resources, e-mailed friends around the globe for advice, and skimmed travel guides. A newbie mistake that many ELOs make is looking solely at the place, and not focusing on the job. A consular job at a small embassy or consulate general is much different than the same job at a huge embassy, so it's important to consider the job and your career goals. So after many hours of researching, debating, bidding, rebidding and losing much sleep, we turned in our bid list on July 13 and left it in the capable hands of my CDO.
Flash forward to yesterday. Mrs. Crab was on vacation in California whilst Mr. Crab is one of thousands of Western expat "summer bachelors" in Bahrain. I was sitting home alone with Habibi the Cat, watching some dumb movie when I heard my Blackberry buzzing. An e-mail popped up with the subject line: "Your Onward Assignment". I scanned the e-mail, saw the assignment, re-read it three times to make sure, then screamed "WOO HOO!" so loud that I scared the cat off the couch. Due to the 10 hour time difference, I had to wait several hours until I could share the news with Mrs. Crab!
In case you aren't familiar with the flag at the top of this post, the Two Crabs are moving to:
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA!!
We are super psyched. For starters, it's a country I'm relatively familiar with, having visited on two occasions. Mr. Crab is also the co-author of the 2010 Lonely Planet Korea guidebook! We're looking forward to lots of bulgogi Korean BBQ, soju, K-Pop, baseball, hiking, skiing (Korea is host of the 2018 Winter Olympics) and enjoying big city life in Asia!
Incidentally, South Korea will be the third time in seven years that we've lived on an "island" after the U.K. and Bahrain. Although South Korea is technically a peninsula, you can't exactly drive across the border into North Korea!
We still have another 11 months in Bahrain before we move back to Washington, after which I will spend nearly a year tackling an intensive Korean language course. I am especially excited about spending a significant time back in my hometown with friends & family for the first time in nearly seven years!
South Korea by the numbers:
Population: 48.8 million
Area: 99,720 sq km (slightly larger than Indiana)
Coastline: 2,413 km
Median Age: 38.4
Population growth rate: 0.23% (178th lowest in the world)
Religion: Christian 26.3% (Protestant 19.7%, Roman Catholic 6.6%), Buddhist 23.2%, other or unknown 1.3%, none 49.3% (1995 census)
GDP: $1.459 trillion (13th in the world)
GDP per capita: $30,000
Exports: $466.3 billion (7th in world)
Export items: semiconductors, wireless telecommunications equipment, motor vehicles, computers, steel, ships, petrochemicals
Source: CIA World Factbook