[Bella’s intro: When I learned about Heather Steil’s writings about her experiences as a single woman in the Foreign Service, I immediately wanted to share her thoughts with Single-at-Heart readers. I was delighted when Heather agreed to write this guest post from Kabul, Afghanistan. Thank-you, Heather!]
Single in the Foreign Service
Guest post by Heather Steil
Aside from my mother, the only people who usually read my blog are other Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and future FSOs researching the career and lifestyle. One of the questions I get, particularly from young women, is, “What’s it like as a single female FSO?” The short answer is, “It’s not for everyone.”
There’s a joke in the Foreign Service that goes like this: If you want to know where a male FSO’s first overseas post was, look at his wife. If you want to know where a female FSO’s first overseas post was, look at her furniture.
I know enough female FSOs who have found husbands abroad to dispel that myth. But I think the Foreign Service lifestyle is harder for single women than for single men. And “single issues” are not just about dating. I cannot tell you how many State Department post reports I’ve read where “great post for singles” meant “great post for single guys to pick up local girls in bars.”
I’d be curious to know how many FSOs are single and compare that against the resources offered specifically for them. I took the “Single in the Foreign Service” seminar at the State Department before my first overseas tour. The only thing I remember from the seminar is the requirement to report our romantic relationships to the embassy security officer. As if the dating scene is the only concern singles have overseas.
The State Department doesn’t help single FSOs the same way it helps FSO families adjust to life overseas. It doesn’t train the embassy’s Community Liason Officers (CLOs), who organize social activities for the embassy community, on the special needs of singles; most CLOs are spouses of FSOs and therefore organize events that appeal to other spouses and families. And the Department certainly doesn’t teach singles how to handle the tough times alone. I think there are a number of single FSOs who experience some level of depression and self-medicate when they don’t have anyone to talk to.
One of the nice things about serving at the Embassy in Kabul, and previously in Baghdad, is that everyone here is temporarily single and childless, living the unaccompanied life. For a single FSO who usually has to plan social activities around her friends’ kids’ schedule, it’s great! In Kabul, the babysitter doesn’t cancel at the last minute, visiting in-laws don’t disrupt your regular girls night out, and people are always up for a drink after work.
This career is – mostly – fulfilling and has given me a lot of experiences I would not otherwise have had. I’m grateful for that. But it’s also a demanding lifestyle and doing it by myself can be tiring sometimes. There have been times when I wished I had a trailing spouse (or wished I WAS a trailing spouse) instead of being the one on whose shoulders everything falls.
About the Author:
Heather Steil joined the Foreign Service in 2005 after a successful career in the software and Internet industry. Her first overseas assignment was at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania as a Consular Officer. She has also served in Baghdad, Iraq and Kathmandu, Nepal. She is currently a Public Diplomacy Officer in Kabul, Afghanistan.
[Note: For articles on related topics, see Singles in the Military and Foreign Service: Voices and Perspectives. For essays on the experiences of single people in different countries, see What Do We Know about the Experiences of Singles Around the World?]
Map of Afghanistan image available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 1 Apr 2013