Life at a crossroads. We've all been there. You know those times in life when you have a big choice to make, and you hope that the choice you go with is the right one? Do you go to Stanford or to Princeton? (Ha, we should all be so lucky as to have a choice like that!)
In the Foreign Service we get these big choices every few years. A posting can be anywhere from two to four years long (actually three years is the max, but in certain positions one can extend for a fourth year). This means that we are continuously having to push for a new position, and often we end up having to choose between offerings. The choices are sometimes not hard to make, as one will be clearly nicer than another. Other times you get more than one offer that you like, so you have to pick one.
The State Department rates posts by level of hardship based upon lots of different criteria. I have had five hardship-level postings in a row, ranging from the harder posts like Baku, Moscow, and Beijing, to the mild hardships like Zagreb and Reykjavik. My family wanted a break from this; we wanted a non-hardship posting this time around.
So, I bid on nothing but nice posts this time. This can backfire on you, because these types of posts tend to have a large number of bidders for each position, so there is nothing to say you will actually be offered any of these nice positions. If you end up with no offers, you can end up with the truly unsavory posts because that may be all that is left. There is a huge difference between competing for a job in, say, Bamako, with a mere three bidders versus trying to get a nice job in London or Prague with more than thirty bidders.
I ended up being very lucky this cycle. I got to choose from among several really nice positions, because I was selected as the top choice for each of them. There is a drawback, however (even if it is a nice one to have, so I am not complaining!), and that is that we can only choose one. How sad to have to turn down Paris, Vancouver, and Brussels. My family would have loved all of those places. My wife and I honeymooned in Paris, so we knew we would love it there, and I have always wanted to check out Vancouver and Brussels.
We simply could not turn down Budapest, though. My wife and I both love Budapest. I have been there twice before, including this past July. It is a lovely city with tons to do. One of my favorite hobbies is chess, and Budapest is perhaps the best city in the world in which to pursue this hobby. One can participate in high-level professional chess tournaments each and every month of the year there!
There is also a good school for our children, which is another of the most important criteria for us. Also, it is very easy to travel to many amazing places close to Budapest, such as Vienna, Prague, Bratislava, Zagreb, and so many others. It isn't hard to take the train or drive into Italy, Austria, Germany and so forth.
Lastly, I am so starved for my favorite American foods. In many of my postings I have had to survive on local foods and a smattering of what I can order through the mail, which isn't enough. In Budapest we have the ability to order food from our bases in Germany. Yay, I will finally be able to have a broader range of dinners!
I have been dreaming of being posted to Budapest for years, but an appropriate position has never been available in my previous bidding cycles. When I saw it open this time, I held out little hope of getting such a highly sought after job. I feel so fortune right now, and my family is excited. We should finish up here in Baku by next June and arrive in Hungary in either July or August.
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