Grace on Pace

Our Foreign Service Handshake Story

Foreign Service Handshake

Foreign Service Handshake – The Process

As a Foreign Service Construction Engineer, every couple of years or so you get to pour your eyes over a list of places where you (and your family) could potentially spend the next 2, 3 or 4 years of your lives.  The end goal is a Foreign Service handshake or assignment offer.   It’s not altogether different from a roller coaster ride at times.  Exuberance jerks as you see your dream destination. Then, immediately you reconcile yourself to going to a few of the hardship posts.  You order rank them with a brief explanation of your overall goals. 

The process is fluid as positions fill and new ones come online.  It’s very demanding. After all,  how do you compare a new embassy project in a city where crime is widespread, but has a great preschool, to a renovation project at a post with few families, but the tourism opportunities are plentiful?

Construction Engineers have a second layer of complexity. “All areas become part of the process,” a colleague describes.  Because we are not simply taking over a permanent position at post, “everything merges with project status.”  Our projects have billions of dollars and the itineraries of hundreds of people at stake.  Difficulties for us in the assignment process start when a project schedule wobbles.

Foreign Service Handshake – Our Story

Jennilou and I had some long conversations throughout our journey.  Early in the process we received an offer for our last choice of six.  We excitedly and unreservedly accepted, even though “there were issues that needed sorting out.”  With construction, one tiny pebble can trigger an avalanche. So long before we help quarterback construction efforts on-site, it’s important someone makes preparations.  Waiting line theory and congestion logic become a part of our actual lives.  We quickly found out that changes in assignments are necessary for a successful organization.

In the end, my decision was to quit my job and travel the world.  I have always wanted to say that.  I guess to be more precise, in an odd twist of fate, our second choice was the end result.  A vacant position and delay to my current assignment, has our Foreign Service Handshake sending us to Turkey.  I am officially the Construction Manager on the Ankara New Embassy Compound project!

It’s hard to think of anything comparing to what we are doing.  I love being in a role where every minute of my day is spent moving projects forward, solving problems, and helping people out. We have so much experience and expertise within our organization that there’s no problem you can’t solve if you talk to enough people.  I have made some great friends and met incredible people so far here in Washington and abroad.  I couldn’t be happier to be part of the team that delivers a facility like this to all the folks I’m lucky enough to work alongside.

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Jeff Grace

I’d like to hope that when I leave this earth, my family and friends believe something about me giving as fully as I could. To the people I love and to the areas of culture that excited me to build things. Then a lot of dancing, loud music and talking about what an idiot I made of myself during that process.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for a well written informative article, as an ex-employee of the British Foreign Office I appreciate you need to wear so many hats it’s not funny, you need to constantly switch from diplomat to project manager to skilled engineer and pretty much everything in between. It’s hard work to be sure and I feel your pain, reading between the lines. It’s extremely rewarding too though I found as I’m sure you have too. Again many thanks for your article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it

  • Hi Lee…Thanks for the kind words and your service. Your right about it being tough sometimes, but so far its all been worth it. Cheers and much appreciated for taking the time to reach out.

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