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Being Part of A Family and the Foreign Commercial Service

November 25, 2014

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Bill Kutson is an Officer in the International Trade Administration’s U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service

Note: The International Trade Administration plans to hold an assessment in 2015 through which it will hire a new class of Foreign Commercial Service Officers. We’ll publish a series of articles about ITA’s Foreign Commercial Service to answer questions from people who may be interested in this career opportunity.

Kids play soccer outside a school in Athens.

Schools overseas can help your children make life-long friendships while you serve in the Foreign Service.

Raising happy, well-adjusted kids. Don’t worry – I’m not going to dole out advice on that one…

But one important consideration for anyone considering a career in the Foreign Service is how it will affect your family. My three kids have spent parts of their lives growing up overseas, and I’m here to tell you that the rewards of the experience outweighed any of the challenges we faced as a family.

So here are some observations, in no particular order, to consider about serving abroad with kids:

  • As vehemently opposed as kids may be to moving to a new location, they very well may be just as opposed to leaving when your tour is over.
  • Living abroad is fascinating. What’s more fascinating is experiencing it with your kids. Part of my sons’ Boy Scout archaeology merit badge was earned through visits to the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora in Athens. We also hiked Mt. Olympus. Yes, it is real. Zeus, however, was on “holiday” (it is Greece after all).
  • Your kids will forge life-long friendships with other kids through the Embassy, school, clubs, etc. These are often great springboards for you making new friendships with the kids’ parents.
  • On the first day in her new school after returning to the United States, my daughter casually told the teacher she’d been to about a third of the places on the alphabet chart with pictures above the chalkboard. My son’s track and field meet was in a different country. Pretty cool.
  • Give your kids time to adjust – both to going overseas and to coming back to the States. But also understand they’ll often adjust to some things more quickly than you.
  • The government doesn’t pay for nursery school and it’s usually not cheap. Factor that expense in if you have kids that age.
  • Schools are usually good to very good, but not always. Foreign nationals attending the schools can be very wealthy and not always welcoming of “Embassy kids.” Do your homework and learn about your options for schools. One source of info is Tales From a Small Planet, a website on overseas Expat life including schools.
  • Keep in mind that no matter where you’re living, there is still homework, grocery shopping (often more frequently than in the United States), taking out the trash, etc. Living overseas won’t magically make your kids want to make their beds or load the dishwasher.
  • And finally, take your own plastic bags and paper towels on airplanes. Turbulence and kids don’t’ mix.

The above is certainly not meant to be an exhaustive list on the topic of serving abroad with kids – just some things to think about as you consider a life in the Foreign Service. Everyone is different and has different experiences.

Living abroad while serving your country in the Foreign Service is an amazing experience. It can also be challenging. Kids can sometimes create new challenges, but my wife and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’ll close with this: if you’re seriously considering the Foreign Commercial Service – do it; it’s an amazing career!

It was just part of the exciting work we do as Commercial Officers, and it’s what you can be a part of if you join the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. Have any questions? Let us know in the comments below. Or you can sign up to receive email updates from our team.

3 comments

  1. I totally agree. I have lived in both the US and Colombia and valued every moment of both. It has been a great experience for my kids as well, being able to see how different cultures live has had a positive effect on them. I agree with Bill that if you have the opportunity to serve your country oversees, go for it!


    • Overseas living is totally essential to human development. I’ve lived in Sydney, Singapore and London – all very different to each other, yet life changing! People have hesitation but it can’t be regretted!


  2. “… the rewards of the experience outweighed any of the challenges we faced as a family …” Indeed, in today’s world not knowing about other people’s customs and way of life lies beneath many of our “modern” conflicts. However, when I read: “… Part of my sons’ Boy Scout archaeology merit badge was earned through visits to the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora in Athens …” I begin to have some doubts as to the all-inclusiveness of your kids’ “exterior” experiences. Was that with Greek boy-scouts? Or have your kids been in a foreign land but once again embedded in US culture because there is a vibrant US community wherever your service takes you? I ask because I see the very same happening with US soldiers stationed abroad. After a four-year stint they often don’t really know the town they lived in, let alone the country.



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