Sunday, October 15, 2023

Our First Date Night in Dubai

You read that post title right: we finally made it to our new home in Dubai! We're so excited to be here.

Fall is my favorite season in the United States, so I try to lean into whatever American autumnal celebrations I can get when we're overseas. I was thrilled to discover that Halloween is a thing in Dubai with tons of events, themed brunches, amusement park programs, and more. M and I decided to take advantage of one of these events for our first date night in Dubai: an Addams Family-themed Halloween special murder mystery dinner at a speakeasy!

I am so thankful for my worldwide church community that I have access to as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which allowed me to find a trustworthy babysitter so soon after arriving to our new home. We put S down to sleep, donned our thematic monochromatic attire per the "gothic chic" dress code, and headed out for a fun and unique date night.

One fun cultural thing here is that more venues have non-alcoholic drink options besides juice and soda - a welcome change from most American establishments for non-drinkers. The food was a set menu, and the drinks were bottomless. M and I quickly established our favorite mocktails: strawberry for him and passionfruit for me.

Flashback Speakeasy's intimate, moody ambiance was amazing and so fitting for the theme. Part of the murder mystery included a very thoughtfully decorated room full of clues to help us pinpoint who the culprit was. We did get nervous when we walked in and saw ashtrays on every table, though, and it turns out smoking indoors is more common in the UAE than we realized. Although folks around us smoked, it wasn't a dealbreaker for the experience.

The food was good, but the best part of the whole night was the performance. The actors hired to play members of the Addams Family were not ony excellent in character but they sang, danced, and even played the saxophone! We didn't realize that would be part of the evening, and we were blown away by their talent.

The biggest disappointment was the mystery itself, which was too easy to solve to the point where almost everyone in attendance figured it out. I like a more challenging puzzle, so I wish they had thrown more complex clues and red herrings into that room we investigated.

Even still, we had a great time and I would recommend this date night to anyone who likes great music, food, and vibes. Although the Halloween themed mystery is on for a limited time only, apparently they host a murder mystery dinner of some kind every week.

There is so much to do here and we're looking forward to experiencing as much as we can in the next few years. I'm sure this is the first of many, many memorable dates we'll have in Dubai.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Let's Talk about FSO Salaries

plant growing out of coins

Today I'm going to address a topic that is (unfortunately) still considered a bit taboo in American society: pay! (It's at the top of my mind since I've had a few recent conversations about it `with mentees joining the Foreign Service.) There are many, many reasons why people should not be ashamed to talk about their wages, though, foremost because pay transparency can lower pay inequities. When you join the Foreign Service as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), you submit your education and work history to the Registrar's Office, which uses Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 134A3 to calculate your starting grade and step. Your grade and step combination corresponds to a salary on the FSO Pay Scale, which is public. There are a lot of FSO benefits besides the salary, too, but this blog post will focus strictly on the salary.

Looking at SOP 134A3, it seems like the determination of an FSO's starting salary would be very simple and straightforward. You just start with your highest completed educational degree, add one step for each year of qualifying work experience, and see if you get an additional boost for salary matching. For example, I started with a Master's degree and some years of work experience, so I started as grade 5 and step 7 (FP05-07). By my own calculations, I had more than two years of relevant experience but State decided only two years would count toward my starting salary.

I thought I had I pushed back on their estimates, though when I went back through my old emails from six years ago I couldn't find any receipts. Regardless, I didn't receive any adjustment to my initial offered salary. I went back and re-read my offer letter, which stated in no uncertain terms: "Unlike the private sector, salaries in the federal serviceare not negotiated packages, but are set by published standards." State does have a salary review process that I highly recommend to any new hires who feel like their experience was undercounted. I've never heard of anyone having an offer rescinded or reduced because they requested a salary review, but I have heard of cases of people successfully arguing for higher starting pay.

It's also worth noting that the Department of State will try to do salary matching for new Foreign Service Officers, but they can't go higher than the Foreign Service pay scale allows. This means if you're applying for the Foreign Service and want to start at a higher salary, you should try and get the highest paid job possible before making the switch. I've heard of people transitioning from the nonprofit to the private sector before applying to the Foreign Service in part for this reason.

Your starting salary as an FSO is crucial because it sets the baseline for your entire career. Every promotion to a new grade and every step increase will be based off of that initial salary. That means those who start at a lower number will likely stay behind the average compensation of their peers for the rest of their career. Unfortunately, there is no option to adjust after you join. Even folks who later obtain a higher degree after joining won't have their salary adjusted to reflect that higher qualification. In the Foreign Service (unlike in some other careers), you can do the exact same work and get paid wildly different amounts.

I hope this post is helpful especially for folks who are applying now or who haven't accepted an offer yet. I'm strongly supportive of people coming in clear-eyed about what the compensation is for this career so they can make the best decisions for them and their unique situations. As I mentioned, there are plenty of other special benefits like moving around the world, living rent-free overseas, receiving a pension, and more, but at the end of the day none of those things are liquid, accessible cash. Best of luck!