Tag Archives: foreign service


As an expat spouse, it is easier to attend online training programs than brick-and-mortar ones. I’m a bit of a brick-and-mortar snob, mostly because of my past experience working in one. Some kinds of learning are just not well done in the online classroom. However, that’s not the case with the TeacherReady online teacher certification program.

Like all teacher certification programs, TeacherReady (www.teacherready.org) requires the prospective teacher to spend time in a classroom observing and then eventually teaching under the guidance of a mentor. The great part about TeacherReady is that you can do this mentorship/Student Teaching at your local international school. You don’t have to do it in person at a U.S. school. I was able to arrange a mentorship here in Seoul at one of the local international schools (which was challenging because of the high demand for student teaching slots here and the low availability, but would have been significantly easier to arrange in most cities). Here in Korea, it was even possible to perform your mentorship in alternative educational environments, like the local Hagwons (English afterschool programs).

The program is 9 months long, and I participated in their October cohort, roughly tied with the academic year. They also start cohorts in February and June each year. You can submit applications for the program up until about a month before the beginning of the cohort, depending on where you live and the mail situation. You’ll want to ensure the books can arrive in time, as some are better in paper copies than electronic ones.

The program itself was also significantly more practical and less goofy than I imagined it might be. In comparison to the State Dept’s online trainings, it’s amazingly well designed. Rather than a lot of power-point like slides and quizzes, the program asks you to do some reading about a teaching or classroom management technique, reflect on it, and then attempt it in the classroom. You observed the mentor teacher to see how they dealt with different aspects of daily classroom life and considered the effectiveness of different approaches with different subject material and different student types.

As a guided apprenticeship, then, it was excellent. I got much more out of it than I expected. I do feel, however, that one would benefit from having spent some time attempting to train others, or being a classroom teacher, prior to enrolling. If you’ve never faced a classroom full of students, you may not have the awareness of just how many things can go against your plan, and therefore what to really pay attention to in the first month of the program. Everyone eventually gets that experience by the end of the program, however, so it’s not essential.

I highly recommend TeacherReady for Foreign Service EFMs who are considering teaching in international schools but don’t yet have a credential (Increasingly a requirement, even if you’ve got teaching experience and a PhD, apparently.) The program provides everything you’ll need for a Florida credential other than the state certification exams. In my case, I was lucky enough to have access to a military testing facility and took my exams there. If you don’t, you’ll have to take them at a Pearson testing facility somewhere in the US (tests are available not only in Florida, but all around the country).

If you decide to apply to TeacherReady, I’d appreciate if you used my name as a reference on the application, Lauren Steed.

Staying Happy at Post

By marrying into the Foreign Service, I had to take a 90 degree turn on my career goals and sense of who I was as an individual. I couldn’t really be a travelling philosophy professor. While it worked for Plato and Socrates to stand out in the agora and teach the hoi polloi, my lack of language skills at our Asian posts would leave my audience laughing at best. College teaching is just not something you can pick up and start anew in a foreign country every few years.

Like many diplo spouses, taking that turn left me feeling somewhat bereft. Who was I? What was the point? Seasoned spouses have found their happiness and identity (or they’ve left the service), I’m not there yet. Instead, I seek happiness in moments and dreams, and wrestle with my sense of self on the side.

One of my favorite dreams is planning things. I love to plan things. Give me a goal and I will work on all the possible scenarios to make it happen. I’ll rearrange your furniture, consider how best to coordinate a vacation, evaluate the features of various products…

So I spend a lot of my time planning.

Sometimes you have to make use of your plans, of course, so we occasionally take trips or organize things.

I also keep myself happy by working. My job is relatively piecemeal and low-engagement (because I mostly fill in for people when they’re out, so I don’t have any projects to call my own) but it gets me out of the house, and moving. I also get to spend time with adults, some days.

I read a lot, which has always been a source of enjoyment.

I eat, because exploring new foods is always fun. Unless it’s squid.

I take online courses.

I imagine an alterative career as a trendy crafter. Then I remember that the kids are into everything, and I don’t have a craft space that I can keep them out of while still spending time with them.

Nothing terribly innovative, but I am finding myself growing slightly more content with these little things. Contentment will be a good place to find.

One of the things I did in Dhaka to stay happy at post was blog. It gave me a project to work on, a little legacy to leave behind as a resource to future visitors to the city. Here in Seoul, there are so many expat blogs and resources in English that my blog didn’t really have that niche any more. However, I’ve joined a Foreign Service bloggers challenge this month, and plan to blog along with them as much as I can.

…the Annual Foreign Service Swap

I missed last years swap, as I was transiting between Florida and Dhaka, but I signed up for this one after my great experience meeting Becky a couple of years ago. This time I was matched with the Red Menace Abroad and she sent me a box I’ll dub “A Taste of Nicaragua.”

Panda baby will wear the little red dress because some aggressive laundering shrank it a bit, and we’ll try a punch mix tonight with our taco dinner, but I have no idea how we’ll use the cigars. Perhaps we’ll hand them out to strangers in the hospital after Panda’s birth, like a 1950’s movie dad.

Very fun again, I hope next year’s swap is just as entertaining!

( The previous swap box I got: https://adventuresin.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/swap-boxes/ )
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

…Second Impressions of Life in Seoul

Some vignettes:

Tea here is exceedingly expensive. When you sit down to a meal and look at the drink menu, nearly everything starts at around $5, and there are no free refills. There are coffee and tea shops on every corner, midway through every block, and even more often than that, however, they’re also really expensive. Even Starbucks’ cheapest option is $3, and that’s for one tea bag in the smallest cup possible. Since I go there occasionally to work on writing, I try to look at that $3 as a chair rental fee. The cost is still a bit harsh after the $1 cups of tea I used to nurse all day with free water refills at the coffee shops where I wrote my dissertation in the Berkeley/Oakland area.

Now that the winter is over (more or less), I feel a lot more optomistic about life here. Still rather lonely and having a hard time meeting people on a more than superficial cocktail party conversation level (as is a complaint of nearly every ‘trailing spouse’ at some time or another, if not always), but at least going outside isn’t a battle with death. Neko and I have been on a few walks in the neighborhood, and visted some playgrounds, all of which are way too big for her to enjoy without active participation from me. That, of course, is getting increasingly difficult as the arrival of Panda-baby comes ever closer. Luckily, Neko enjoys the novelty of just being outside in our yard and poking at the mud. The psuedo-American neighborhood is nice for that kind of thing, even if you feel very isolated from the rest of the city.

Most of our adventuring happens on the weekends, when Mr. Adventure can come along. We hit a big palace over Lunar New Years, an aquarium in an underground mall, a nearby street full of foreign foods and sock vendors, and spent an entire day wandering through Gangnam (of Gangnam-Style fame) in search of a particular camera store. Mr. Adventure’s starting a photography class this weekend, so I am guessing he’ll get some assignments that will take us out and about in new places, but we’ve been saving some of the more interesting sights for the wave of potential visitors that might come our way (and yes, there’s room for you!).

The house is coming together, but the lack of useful storage has hampered the process a bit. The closet floors are all sloped at a 45 degree angle, to keep your shoes neatly displayed, it would seem, but that just means you can’t store anything other than shoes in the closet. So, even though we have great closets, we just don’t have enough hanging items to fill them, and everything else we put in there comes tumbling out when the doors open. In the kitchen there is only one bank of three drawers, all of them are 8″ deep. So, we put our utensils in one, our cooking tools in another, and our towels in the bottom. But, for everything else that might be drawer-worthy, we haven’t found a good solution. Shelves are wasted on ziploc bag boxes or cookie cutters, for example. We’re still puzzling it out. Neko’s penchant for unloading things has also meant that the bottom drawer is perpetually in disarray, or dumped on the floor, and that all our trash bins have to be displayed on tables or other furniture. It’s not very aesthetically pleasing. Once we finish hanging the remaining artwork, however, we’ll take some photos to show it all off.

Most recently, I wrote a chapter for an upcoming book on “how tos” related to foreign service life. I think it will be out this summer, and I’ll link you to it then. It was a fun little project, and I’d enjoy doing more things like that. I’ve also been tutoring and odd-jobbing it, as I was the first year in Dhaka. I’m going to be a stuffed animal doctor this weekend, for example, gotta use those mad sewing skills. I wonder if that would be a more steady source of clients than editing is…. 🙂

…A Foreign Service Mixtape

I tried to create an online playlist, but the copyright regulators prevent me from doing that outside the US, so instead… youtube!

I was listening to “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros the other day, and thought it was a pretty awesome song to describe family life in the Foreign Service. Looking through my music directory, there are lots of songs that seem to speak to me as an expat. I thought I’d share them with you, but asked the FS blogger community if they had any input first. Strangely, they picked many of my favorites too. I’ll give each of them credit below. 

I’ll totally add in your suggestions if you have some that aren’t yet on the list. Leave them in the comments.

Overcoming the challenges of expat life, both expected and unexpected


Melissa at Just US

Lydia at Here, There and Everywhere


Lydia at Here, There and Everywhere

Lydia at Here, There and Everywhere (thinking specifically of being judged by the folks back home for employing domestic staff, and all the times life in the host country just gets to you)


Songs about family, when you’re far from family, or you’re family is living in 2 or more places, like on an unaccompanied tour.


K. at There is Fun to be Done

Sara at Our Yuppie Life


Songs about travel, experiencing new places and leaving others behind.


Shannon at Cyberbones

Stephanie at Where in the World Am I?

Stephanie at Where in the World Am I?

The Supreme Globetrotter at Four Globetrotters

Chelsea at A Fisher Out of Water

Memories of America


Digger at Life After Jerusalem

Stephanie at Where in the World Am I?

Z. at Something Edited This Way Comes

Nicole at Where in the World at Luca and Juliana?

Erica at Navigating Wonderland

The troupe of young ladies at Our Yuppie Life

Memories of Particular Posts


The mom at Moms2Nomads

TulipGirl at Tulip Girl (So many posts make us feel like we’re back in the USSR!)


Adventures in dehydration? No, I’m not referring to heat exhaustion or IV drips, though my last few posts may make you think I’m fascinated with such things, but to dehydrated foods, aka items you can easily have sent through the diplomatic mail or pouch and which make you the hippest homemaker on the block.

My first adventure in dehydration was not, to my youthful chagrin, with astronaut ice cream (too expensive for stingy younger me), but with dehydrated retried beans from the coop in C-ville. They came in cool flavors, even black bean and lime. I used them in all sorts of recipes, bean loafs, brownies, etc.

When my doctor advised trying a GF diet, I craved Mac n Cheese, but thought buying a box and tossing out the noodles was a bit extravagant, not that I didn’t do that a few times. And, it was then that I discovered Barry Farms, home of everything dehydrated, and then some.

They have dehydrated cheddar by the pound for use in Mac-n-cheese, soup, on popcorn, etc. They have some freeze dried fruits so you can rehydrate and make re-fresh smoothies, mix-ins for yogurt, pie filling…. Freeze dried veggie powder, which has become a baby food option for us (even powdered asparagus, or beet!), beans, potato…. Spices. You name it, they’ve dried it. And it’s cheap, and light to ship.

Currently, veggie powder is making up a large portion of Neko’s diet, along with frozen veggies cooked and blended in our Beaba. For a more portable option, we have NurturMe packages which are good for on the go, and have some flavors which BarryFarm doesn’t.

On the fruit front, there’s an even better option. If I’d known about it before, I’d have ordered something i’ve been drooling over on Costco.com, but which is probably too big for the DPO, a set of freeze dried berries in 1 gallon cans, perfect for pies.

One interesting thing about all these dehydrated things is that you can add interesting flavors to foods without weird textures. You’re all familiar with onion and garlic powder, but carrot powder is cool too!

Oh, goodness, I see that the freeze dried fruit company sells individual cans too, those would totally make it through the DPO or pouch. Yum… freeze-dried cherry pie.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

…Solidarity and Honesty

The theme of the upcoming FS Blog Round-up is honesty. This is written in response to the theme.

My readers, predominantly my friends and family who know me in real life (as well as a strangely large number of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), sometimes ask me why I haven’t written on X, Y, or Z. There are a couple of reasons.

Re: X

I don’t like to take pictures of strangers. I especially don’t like to include pictures of people on my blog who I have not obtained permission, particularly of people who don’t know they’re being illustrated here. Thus, I don’t have many photos of local clothes, local people doing daily things, etc. Sometimes when I pass a particularly colorful, or particularly odd, or particularly pathetic (using pathos in its strictest sense) person or event, I think… mmm… this would be interesting on the blog. But, to me, it would just be a kind of surrogate voyeurism, so I don’t.  Other bloggers are braver, and willing to approach people to request a photo, but not me.

Re: Y

Stephen King criticizes writing workshops for teaching that there are two kinds of writers: those who write for and from themselves, and those who write to create an audience. However, there is some merit to the distinction, even if it creates really horrid literature. Bloggers are stereotypically thought of as the first, navel gazers who publish their narcissist musings. (Ok, maybe this describes the MySpace teen blogger best). There are also those bloggers out there who have a giant following, and make a living off of their crowd-appeal. And then there are those, like me, who write something rather bland, neither self-absorbed ramblings nor really gripping literature.

Why? It’s a combination of fearfulness and pride, I suppose. There’s always the fear of sounding like an idiot, of course. I don’t want my friends and family to worry about me, so I don’t blog about how often I get giardia or other debilitating diseases. I don’t want to expose too much of ourselves to those readers who are not of our friends and family, because “you never know…” (And, boy does the State Dept. drill the fear of internet security into us, paranoia of who might be reading) And, speaking of paranoia, I don’t want to talk too much about Mr. Adventure’s job and life in the embassy, because I don’t want to kibosh his career. In a job where security clearances and corridor reputations matter, the internet persona you portray can have real effects on both advancement and even retaining your job.

Re: Z

I’m not sure why I don’t write more about Z. I am thinking of taking my current job free-lance/self-employed when we move later this year, so I may start a whole ‘nuther blog and website when I do. I think I don’t write about Z because it is truly quite dull, unless you’re in the market for it, and then you’s want to know how much I charge, what my background is, and whether I’m any good at what I do. I am. But you wouldn’t know it from this blog.

But what does all this alphabetic nonsense have to do with the subject of this post?

Essentially, as a blogger, I got all verklempt this morning. A bit of a crisis/amusing-if-it-weren’t-real censorship issue arose in relation to a fellow Foreign Service Blogger, and I was one of the pieces behind the scenes that enabled a quick response. A solidaristic response, for wont of a better adjective. About a year ago, I started a Facebook group for Foreign Service bloggers (send me your FB account name if you want to join), I’m the admin now, but I’m kind of a behind the scenes type, compared to some of the big names out there in blog-dom. The group has been the most active FB group I’ve ever been in, and people are constantly in contact with each other, coordinating themed posts, suggesting topics, giving each other support both blog-related and life-related. It’s a great experience. There are members who write family blogs, craft and work blogs, and members who write blogs that challenge the status quo, both IRL and pseudonymously.

The group is, in fact, a tool of virtual solidarity, a way in which we who are so far-flung can actually live in community. FS bloggers share a social identification which unites us, a shared work, a shared lifestyle. We have different jobs, different statuses, different roles in our families and posts, but in our on-line community we’ve found an interconnectedness and a support network that was unexpected to me when I began blogging. We are free to be bold, edgy or bland, and we are free to speak those things which we can’t share with others outside the community. Which brings me back to Z. Before I became what was once known as a “trailing spouse,” I was a community theorist, an occasional consultant on community, a PhD in democracy, religion and especially virtual communities. Which you wouldn’t necessarily know about me from here, or from what I do on a day to day basis.

But, in all honesty, I am really proud of myself this week, even though I didn’t take a stand, or even a leap, and don’t really deserve to be prideful in anyway. I’m proud that online communities are legitimately communities (Yeah for Dissertation affirmation!), and that I was the impetus in starting one. Hopefully karma won’t hunt me down and throw lightning bolts at me for my hubris (to mix metanarratives on you).


…Finding and making food

(I’m not an Amazon affiliate, and get no kickbacks from them, but the links below connect you to Amazon.)

Trying to cook familiar (or, lets face it, even edible) food when you are unfamiliar with the local produce or unable to communicate what item you want in a dauntingly large produce market can be a tough challenge for those of us serving abroad. It’s such a challenge that some foreign service folks have a blog called Hardship Homemaking that features recipes and substitutions for American foods that can be made with decidedly un-american ingredients. The title comes from the pay differential earned by those serving at posts where food is scarce or terrifically expensive. (On the other side, places, like Paris, where food is abundant, but terrifically expensive, qualify you for a COLA-cost of living adjustment-so the financial bonus for being in a hardship country isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.)

In the spirit of that blog, I wanted to share some of my favorite book resources for ‘marketing’ and ‘cooking.’

As I’ve said before, we couldn’t deal with the gastronomic trauma of having a ful time cook here in Dhaka. The food was just SOOOO oily, and so much the same every day. However, I don’t want to be completely confined to a life of frozen foods from the commissary, so I do have to get fresh produce somehow. If we plan it right, we can find many of the items ourselves, by venturing into the market. If time is short, or our luck is short, we have to send someone out to help us find what we need. Of course, I don’t know the names of all the vegetables in Bangla, and my household staff certainly doesn’t know all their names in English. So… enter the first two books:

The Field Guide to Produce, by Aliza Green. This book has great photographs of tons of vegetables and fruits. I point to them and my housekeeper/shopper can let me know if she’ll be able to find such an exotic item as romaine lettuce in the market. It also has useful information on how to prepare various veggies. When something unusual comes home because it’s in season and looks interesting, you can find it here and learn to peel it before you steam it, or to be sure to season it with salt so that it doesn’t get bitter, etc. They offer field guides to meat, herbs & spices and seafood too.

The Visual Food Lovers Guide, by QA International has even more varieties of fruits and veggies, as well as nuts, meats and other edibles. Instead of photos, however, it has drawings. I worried that might not be useful for the point and send method of shopping, but it’s worked well. It’s helped me find things like cilantro, rather than parsley. (Of course, my housekeeper brought home a KILO of cilantro, but beggars can’t be choosers!). This book also includes preparation advice, even on how to skin and fillet your particular fish, should you be so inclined.

There are some similar books to these which might suit your needs better.
Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit also includes growing and harvesting advice, but we never braved a rooftop farm, though many other families did it successfully.
Edible is more of a coffee table book, but looks lovely.
Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini seems most helpful for the “what the heck is this?” moments.

I also found that having a cookbook or two around is quite helpful to both me and my staff (I do occasionally have someone else cook, but am still gun shy). That’s why I invested in some “visual cookbooks.” Intended for novice cooks, they have photographs of recipes step by step. They’re great for people who are unfamiliar with the particular food and common techniques of cooking it, because it goes step by step.
What to Cook and How to Cook It includes a section at the back showing the different kinds of cutting that you can do with veggies (mince, chop, dice, etc.). This book is great for a limited English reader with a basic knowledge of cooking, or as a reminder trick for a recipe that you teach the first time to a non-English reader.

This is a sample page, illustrating the first three steps of a penne with tomato-olive sauce recipe. You can see that it includes pictures of the measured ingredients as well as the steps you use to make the recipe. The recipes are broad, including modern American favorites and adaptable versions of world cuisines like Pad Thai or Fajitas. I would be happy eating everything from the book, well… except the mushroom thing. I hate mushrooms!

Rachel Ray also has a visual cookbook, Look and Cook, but I thought the ingredients were a little harder to find outside the US. Fabulous pictures though!

There are also some great children’s cookbooks full of illustrations, especially for baking, but I prefer to do my own baking, and so I have no advice here.

Voila, my little library for my household staff.

…Next Posts

As I mentioned before, we bid on our future post this summer, even though we were more than 1 year from transferring. Our transfer date is right at the tail end of the summer bid group, and many of those who bid simultaneously with us will transfer as early as May of next year. So, it’s a weird situation to be in, we already know where we’re going… but we’re not going for 14 months!

But, of course, the big question is… (for those who don’t follow us on FB too), where will the Adventures be in for Christmas 2012?

Seoul, South Korea!

Mr. Adventure finally gets to do some work in his chosen career path (Economics), and I (hopefully) will get a chance to teach some ethics or philosophy at one of the several American universities that have branch campuses in Seoul. Plus, the wee little adventurer will be living in a pleasantly shady complex with grass and playgrounds. We’ll be able to drink the water, and even go see a movie if we want to! We’re excited.