Sunday, July 16, 2023

It's PCS Planning Time!

Months before our departure, we're in the thick of planning for our PCS (permanent change of station, what we call a move when we change from one assignment/tour to another). The biggest advice I can give on PCS planning is not to procrastinate. M and I plan each PCS the way we planned our wedding: we make sure we get a few things done each week leading up to the move so we're not overwhelmed at the end. We work it into our weekly modified Family Home Evening, which already includes some scriptures, video games or board games as a family, and a review of our weekly finances and budget. That structure works well for us.

My second biggest piece of advice is to channel your inner minimalist and have the least amount of things you can that'll make you feel happy and at home abroad. It makes packing and moving so frequently much easier. However, I know that this piece of advice is controversial in the Foreign Service community, and many of my colleagues would never give up their extensive collection of exotic furniture or impressively full bookshelves or whatever it is. (And if it's worth it to you to take it all, then please feel free to ignore me! All I'm saying is I'm not interested in having a three-day packout myself.)

One skill I still need to hone is negotiating PCS transfer timing. It's a well-known trope in the Foreign Service that summer transfer season is brutal in every office and every post as transfers and Congressionally-mandated home leave in the United States leave everyone short-staffed. (Of course, there never seems to be a reduction in requests from senior leadership, official visits, or major foreign affairs developments to coincide with this annual staffing gap.) As a result, every Foreign Service supervisor wants incumbents to stay as long as possible and their replacements to arrive as soon as possible. It's unfortunate that subordinates are put in the position of pushing back on their current and future supervisors almost every time they move.

In my transfer from Seoul to Washington, DC, I only got two days of leave even though I was traveling across the country for my sister's wedding the weekend I arrived and was traveling with a newborn and had no permanent housing in DC. Yet both of my offices complained that my transfer put them in a tough spot for staffing. One supervisor still asked me if I could further reduce my leave from two days to one (!) and I said no. This time, I didn't want to repeat the same mistake of sacrificing my own family's needs for my workplace's preferences. When I faced immense pressure on my PCS from both sides this year, I insisted on and received two full weeks of leave especially since I didn't get the leave I needed last time.

I've heard some managers complain about direct reports asking for leave in their first interaction, but our current system doesn't leave employees much choice. One of my mentors, part of a Foreign Service tandem couple who would both be working at post, asked for two weeks to arrange childcare for her children upon arrival - especially since one of her children had special needs. She was denied and had to fight with her supervisor for just five days of leave. Her only option was to hire the first nanny she found; there wasn't enough time to try anyone else. I wish managers weren't so short-sighted, willing to sour someone's relationship for a whole multi-year tour to get them in the office just a few weeks or months earlier. Even more importantly, I wish the State Department helped managers better bridge the gap with temporary detailees and real prioritization - meaning that some of the workload actually decreases instead of just telling people to do more with less.

Anyway, there are an enormous amount of administrative, logistical, and personal tasks to complete with any PCS. Thankfully, Dubai is a very cosmopolitan post where we can get pretty much anything we would need locally (even if I hear the prices are quite steep). But we still need to update our vaccines and passports and I need to transfer my work accounts to Dubai and we need to book our flights and find renters for our apartment and reserve our packout and the list goes on and on. I've noticed each time we PCS that the Department is getting a bit better about digitizing and centralizing more of the process. I hope one day there will be a one-stop shop for PCS assistance instead of so many different people, offices, and systems.

They say moving is one of the most stressful things someone can experience, and we go through it every few years! Parts of it are a whirlwind or downright absurd, but we make the best plans we can and then laugh about whatever doesn't go our way. As long as we all make it to Dubai in one piece, everything else is icing on the cake (or can be figured out later). And we're all so excited about the next adventure.

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