Catching Up: Australia, Singapore, and Under Armour

I’ve been MIA, but not because things have not happened.

After Regionals, Mark and I took a few days to travel around Australia.  We headed up to Port Stephens where we spent a couple days kayaking around, eating good food, and relaxing.

 

Before heading over to the Blue Mountains, we stopped by Oakvale Farm and Fauna to feed some kangaroos.

We arrived at cute little AirBnB cottage in the mountains where I felt cold for the first time since my visit to the states.  We hiked the national trail the next day to see some waterfalls.  Then we popped into a CrossFit gym for a quick session of deadlifts and kettlebell swings.  One of the coaches was search and rescue and gave us a fantastic hiking itinerary for the next day.

The final day of hiking was long, but beautiful.  We looked out on valleys, hiked down, down, down into the valley, walked through a gum tree forest, walked along a creek, then hiked back up to the top.  What a perfect end to a fantastic trip.

Full day of hiking thanks to a search and rescue CrossFitter

The next weekend I had a trip to Singapore for the Under Armour South East Asia Test of Will.  I wasn’t mentally prepared for another competition, but I had won the free trip during the qualifiers in Manila, so I figured I would go see Singapore.  Then I got sick, so I was both mentally and physically unprepared, I was even on antibiotics.  I landed in Singapore, went to the athletes briefing, dinner with all the UA Athletes and Brand Athletes and quickly headed to bed hoping to feel better in the morning.  I didn’t.

The day was a struggle, antibiotics, advil, and athletics – not a great combo.  I managed to pull out a win though.  I won a bunch of goodies along with a 12 month contract with Under Armour and a feature in a magazine.  So, say hello to the newest Under Armour South East Asia Brand Athlete! Since the win, I’ve had a lot of firsts: First Glamour Photoshoot, ok first real photoshoot ever, first TV inverview (CNN Philippines Sports Desk), and first press conference.  Crazy couple weeks!  Oh, also, apparently I’m a filipina.

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One Year Away From DC

One year ago I enjoyed my last day in DC.  I had already packed out of my house and was loving life at the Fairmont Hotel in the West End. I woke up on that last day, probably a little hungover from the night before, and met a friend at Baked and Wired in Georgetown for breakfast.  We walked over to the Key Bridge Boat House and took out paddle boards to the middle of the river to watch the DC flyover.  After the flyover ended, we headed to lunch on the waterfront, I met my aunt for dinner that night, and  I finished off the evening at Sauf Haus to say bye to friends. 

Today I find myself on a plane to Sydney, Australia. I woke up, took my puppies out, and grabbed an uber to the airport.  I was lucky enough to win a free trip the Singapore for the Under Armour “Test of Will.” We had our briefing yesterday and the three others joining to compete in the test of will emphasized what a big deal it is for me to compete at Regionals, so the rep from Under Armour met me at the airport with a bag filled to the top of Under Armour Swag!

Two very different days, so what has else changed in the past year?

House

DC: 1 bedroom + office English basement apartment with patio and yard

Manila: 2 bedroom townhouse apartment

Neighborhood

DC: Up and coming neighborhood.  Walking distance to public transportation, restaurants, bars, and an awesome coffee shop. 

Manila: Secure compound in somewhat dodgy neighborhood. Walking distance to…a 7-11?

Commute 

DC:  5.5miles to American University – 35 minutes by bike up the biggest hill in DC ugh

Manila: 2.2 miles to Primal Ape CrossFit – 45-90 minutes by car

Social Life

DC: Trivia and/or happy hour during the week, out at bars or house parties on weekends

Manila: Social life revolves around gym and my workout schedule, very minimal drinking

Gym

DC: 1 hour CrossFit Class 4-5 times a week

Manila: I don’t even want to know

Household Chores

DC: Dishes daily, work together to do full clean every week or so, laundry almost daily

Manila: None, I’m a complete slob and live in a house cleaner than DC, thanks to a helper 

Vacations

DC: One major trip per year, small trips for long weekends

Manila: Busuanga, Bohol, DC, Thailand, Boracay, Baguio, and Australia, with Singapore, El Nido, Korea, Malaysia, and DC on the horizon

Free Shit

DC: No one is giving me jack shit for free, except maybe some beer and Jameson at Sauf Haus

Manila: Trip to Singapore and a bag of athletic gear from Under Armour

Under Armour Airport Delivery for Regionals


Let’s see what changes the next year brings. 

‘Murica

I am supposed to be writing about a lovely trip to Boracay, but two weeks before the trip I received an email inviting me to interview for a place in George Washington University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. So, I booked a flight to DC and headed off to America.

I got sick before the plane trip, but thankfully I flew Emirates so it wasn’t completely awful. I got extra legroom and even three seats to myself. They gave me warm towels to wash my hands, pretty good food for a plane, free red wine to help me sleep, and more than enough movies. After the 27 hour journey from 90 degrees and humid, I landed in DC in the middle of winter. I was nervous I would be freezing the entire trip and not prepared clothing wise to handle the cold. Thanks to global warming and El Niño it was a surprising 65 degrees when I landed. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G

I spent my first week working out at CrossFit Balance Georgetown and laying low because I was sick, then headed off to my interview at GW on Saturday morning.

It was so easy to be back in DC. I was able to stay shockingly busy for having nothing to do but an interview. I met up like old times for lunches, happy hours, and trivia.

 

Back with the gang for a night of Trivia.

I even got to spend time being a tourist. I visited the Renwick Gallery for the Wonder exhibit (which I highly recommend), and walked around the monuments…in a tee shirt, in December.

Renwick Gallery, Wonder Exhibit.

I got back on the plane ready for Manila, knowing that at the end of our post I would officially become a Physical Therapist.  I was accepted to GWU.

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.