Eligible for Unemployment

I have to give fair warning, this post will be very dry.

I was reading blogs with Eligible Family Member (EFM) tags and stumbled across one of my favorites.  A post from a few days ago really struck home for me, and has prompted me to write this post.

While that may seem like a crazy thing to say, particularly at a spouse orientation, I was not the least surprised.  Spouse orientation was an interesting day for me, and I assume for many other spouses.  First, let me explain the backstory.

Prior to spouse orientation, most of the information EFMs receive is from the spouse, who receives the information from the State Department.  During the application process, the applicant is given packets about the FLO.  The FLO was set up because EFMs had to accept unemployment as part of the trailing spouse position and they wanted that to change.  They wanted the State Department to acknowledge that EFMs are generally well educated and have rewarding professional lives. They want to continue to have careers throughout their time abroad. Furthermore, without work, it can be a tough transition, leading the direct hire to seek other employment so his/her spouse can lead a happy, fulfilling life.

Anyway, the direct hire receives all the information about the FLO, the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) and the Expanded Professional Associate Program (EPAP).  These programs all sound fantastic! They pass this on to the EFM and accept the job as a diplomat.  This brings me to the spouse orientation.  This is the first time a spouse is invited to learn about life abroad as an EFM.  This is when dreams are shattered.  I was told that the best thing to do when moving to a new post is to either telework or pick up a hobby – like writing, photography, or guitar.  I had just quit my office job and couldn’t think of a hobby that I liked enough to give me fulfillment for the rest of my “professional” life.  They mentioned that spouses love getting coffee, or often find joy in learning new recipes.  With each new suggestion, my heart sank a little deeper.  It’s clear why I’m not entirely surprised that a C-suite executive spouse was told to try running a daily bake sale.

The most useful portion of the spouse orientation was when an EFM came in to discuss his experiences at his past couple posts.  Finally, I was given an honest and direct answer.  He said something along the lines of, it was lonely at times. I was working full time prior to our departure so I couldn’t learn the language.  I had a hard time getting around, and an even harder time meeting people.  I applied for a job at the Embassy, but I never got it.  You’ll find it’s very typical for only a single job opening to become available when you’re at post and everyone wants it.  If you do get that job, you often have to wait about 6 months for the security clearance. That being said, I’ve never regretted my decision to come along.  For every hard day, there’s something amazing I’ve learned, plus I’ve lived and traveled to some pretty cool places.

Later in the day, I was presented with the statistics regarding family member employment.  I was quite displeased, for two reasons.  First, 60% unemployment seems fairly high, and didn’t give me much hope for finding a job.  Second, this includes spouses who are employed full time, part-time, and “as needed.”  My opportunity for regular employment started seeming less and less likely.

I tried and tried to find some more honest answers online through blogs, but came up fairly dry.  Mostly because a lot of blogs are written by EFMs with children, so it didn’t seem to fit our situation.  They filled their days hanging out with toddlers, meeting other parents from school, volunteering, working at the Embassy, or enjoying early retirement. Finally, I was put in touch with a friend’s friend, who is also an EFM in her mid twenties, with no children.  She told me that the saying tends to be, assume you’ll be unemployed, finding employment is a bonus.  Don’t expect it to be in your career field, and if it’s at the embassy, it will generally be administrative in nature.  So, I learned that the GEI hasn’t been as successful as I had hoped.

The most immediate, and easiest, fix I can see for the short term is to include reliable internet as a utility.  Housing and utilities abroad are covered by the State Department, but internet has not been added to the list of utilities.  This means that internet is not set up in the house upon arrival.  This would be fine in the United States, but abroad, it can take 2-3 months for the internet to be fully installed, and in those places, it’s generally very unreliable.  These does not provide EFMs with a very good chance at teleworking.  If it were included as a utility and the fastest provider was used, EFMs would have an infinitely better chance at teleworking as a career from post to post.

With all that said, there are, of course, some very big pros to this lifestyle.  Some people do not want to work and certainly will feel no shame in deciding not to apply for a job.  Household help is affordable at many posts, money is provided for each school age child to help cover the costs of the expensive international schools, and housing is provided.  It is a great opportunity to travel, experience new cultures and find new interests or better develop old ones.  While the career may not be traditional, through part time jobs, volunteer work, some full time positions, and hobbies, it can still be a very rewarding life.

So why have I bothered writing all this, especially since I have a job?  I wished that I had found this type of information before we committed to the lifestyle.  While it probably wouldn’t have changed my decision, it would have been nice to have made the decision based on the truth.  I am very grateful that the FLO, CLO, GEI, EPAP all exist, I just think there’s a long way to go and until we get there, the truth should be made more public.

Advertisements

5 Pros and Cons of Living in Manila

Pros

  1. Hospitality and friendliness
  2. Mangos
  3. Warm weather 
  4. Massages
  5. Sofitel brunch

Cons

  1. Traffic 
  2. Pollution
  3. Digestion issues
  4. Humidity
  5. Lack of green space 

First Trip: Busuanga

We took advantage of the long weekend and headed off on our first trip.  We wanted a chill weekend so we chose to go to Palawan. After some trip advisor hunting, we decided to head to the Busuanga Bay Lodge. We were able to get a really good deal from Expedia (half off I believe!) and two weeks later we headed off.

We arrived at the airport and they weighed our bags, ok normal.  Then they were like, ma’am, your weight please.  What? Please step on the scale ma’am. So, I weighed myself at the airport.  We arrived at a tiny airport in Coron with two terminals and easily found our ride from the airport to BBL.  We were greeting with music and singing, which was a bit over the top in my opinion, but I guess some people like that kind of thing.  All I cared about was the amazing view from the Pavillion.

View from the BBL entrance

We had a quick, delicious lunch, then headed over to check out our Deluxe Casita.  We were not disappointed by the view, huge room, and oversized bathroom.

Deluxe Casita at BBL

Day 1

Relax.

We headed down to the waterfront for some kayaking and stand up paddle boarding (SUP).  After about an hour of that we got to relax in the infinity pool with some cocktails and enjoy the view.  We finished up the day with an excellent meal.  They offer a free hike, so we opted to do that on day 2.  Our activities planner warned us that it may be too hot to go at 9am, but I assured her that my time doing Bikram CrossFit had prepared me well for a hot hike.

Day 2

Hike.

Two people from staff met us with a book about birds in Southeast Asia and we headed off to Conception Falls. To our surprise, one of our guides grew up in Conception. We had assumed the staff had gone to school for hospitality and jumped around from resort to resort, but that was not the case.  We asked where he had learned English so well, and he said, “In school, interacting with guests at the hotel, and reading lots and lots of books.”  The path to the falls was not built for a tall person, poor Mark had to spend half of it bending over, until the trail covered in arching branches opened up to a vast field with hip high grass.

Trail to Conception Falls

I was tempted to ask who maintained the trail, then I saw the guides removing branches as we went, everyone did their part.  It took about two hours to get to the falls.  We arrived hot and ready to jump into the cold water.  We even got to climb up and jump off from the top.


We walked back through the town of Conception where the nicest house was owned by the elementary school teacher, checked out the pier, and then took a nap.

Day 3

Coron.

We joined two other groups from BBL on a full day tour around Coron.  We started by heading out to the Twin Lagoons for a little dip.  Some of the water is warm from the ocean, and then there is a layer of cold “fresh water” on top.  The lagoons are surrounded by breathtaking limestone cliffs and are filled with unbelievably beautiful water.

Twin Lagoons

Next stop was the famous Kayangan Lake.  When you google image search Philippines, this undoubtably shows up.  The water is a shade of blue I have never seen before, and everyone takes a picture on the same rock.  It’s 150 steps up, then 150 steps down to the iconic lake.

Kayangan Lake

We stopped for lunch on the beach and finished the day snorkeling around Siete Pecados.  It was low tide though, which made swimming over the reefs a bit challenging and I believe was the cause of fewer fish to see.

Lunch on rhe Beach

Day 4

Illness.

Something didn’t sit right in my stomach.  I was up sick all night, thankfully we brought antibiotics, so by mid morning I was feeling better, but extremely exhausted.  I only got up to get a massage at 4pm and some plain rice for dinner, then back to bed.

This was a bit upsetting given the cost of excursions from the resort and the fact that we only ate at the resort or on resort trips.  I know it’s the developing world, but for that amount of money, I did not expect to get the worst food sickness I have ever had. I was also very thankful to one of my closest friends starting her 4th year of medschool who gave me some advice on an issue with the antibiotics, everyone should make friends with a Dr., they’re useful.

Day 5

Pass Island.

We finally got a day at a white sand beach! We were greeted by a cute 6-month old lab named Homer.  The snorkeling was pretty good, though I didn’t get great pictures on the go pro, and the beach was beautiful.

Pass Island

We left Pass Island in hopes of viewing a WWII Japanese shipwreck, but were greeted by a swarm of jellyfish, so that was a no-go. Then we headed back to the resort to catch our ride to the airport.

There were, of course hiccups in the trip. Most notably, getting sick. The resort also couldn’t get our credit cards to work, which was surprising since we both have Visas, so technically we still haven’t paid for the excursions and food. It was suggested that since we live here we should get a Philippine bank account because international credit cards often don’t work. To that I respond, this is the first time our cards have not worked, we have guaranteed fraud prevention and repayment from fraudulent transactions, our cards come with rewards, there are no international transaction fees, we will be moving every couple years, and do you suggest this to all guests? Because, I’m certain you have plenty of international visitors. All those things aside, the trip was, overall, very nice. Excursions were a bit overpriced if you didn’t have a large group, but they’re certainly worth doing. The room was fantastic, especially for the rate we paid, the food was good, the views were amazing, and every place we went was astonishing.