129 Ways To Get a Life
129 Ways To Get a Life (The Podcast!)
15. "Get a Government Job Overseas."

15. "Get a Government Job Overseas."

A real-life love story, folks.

By definition, a diplomat is “one employed or skilled in diplomacy.” Diplomacy is “the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations, and/or “skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility.” 

In other words, one who is a “diplomat” is supposedly a foreign policy expert and a master in international relations, but the role’s reach and impact often stretches far further than a slugline on a CV could ever capture.  

The actress Shirley Temple (yes, of the delicious cranberry and soda drink) held such a position. After a successful career as the child darling of Hollywood’s Golden Age, she pivoted to politics, serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and later Czechoslovakia. She was the nation’s first female Chief of Protocol, an officer responsible for advising the President and Vice President on matters of international relations. 

Paul Cushing Child, the husband of culinary icon Julia Child, served as an exhibits officer with the United States Information Agency, a diplomatic position within the State Department. His posting in Paris is what led to Julia Child’s discovery and subsequent love of French cuisine, which led to her authorship of Mastering The Art of French Cooking, a seminal work that not only reshaped the role of gourmet dining in restaurants but also in American kitchens, including the home of one Julie Powell, a New York author who wrote her way through Child’s opus, blogging to an eventual movie adaptation – Julie & Julia – the very film that inspired this Substack. 

So what I’m saying is, without diplomacy, 129 Ways to Get a Life would not exist. And I think we can all agree the birth of this blog is the single most consequential result to ever emerge from an American working in the foreign service. 

Okay, okay, this item is not about the history of diplomats. It’s about straight-up employment. But in these modern times? In this job market? Ugh. Seems like a lot of work. And it is! Extensive research on https://www.usajobs.gov/ revealed that to apply for one of these abroad adventures, a test is required. It is the FSOT – Foreign Service Officer Test – an online exam for which I missed the June registration date by three days. The thing is, I would have taken the test. I’m dedicated to my craft. So dedicated, that had I been able to carry out the exam, there’s a high possibility I would have seen the entire process through, gotten a job in the Foreign Service, and ended this with the announcement that I am relocating to Bulgaria for a job in the U.S. Consulate. If only I hadn’t missed the deadline! Remember to check your calendars, folks. 

Alas, I moved on to Plan B: sourcing a story that is not my own. I sent out queries looking for anyone willing to share an experience working overseas. It could have been about anything: a tale of friendship, a piece of history, a harrowing saga, a boring anecdote. But I got lucky. 

This is a love story. 

For the sake of privacy - and perhaps also national security - minor details, locations, and names have been altered. Maybe in 30 years we’ll pull an Argo and declassify the whole saga, but for now, this is the best I can offer. What’s more romantic than a bit of mystery? 

“Jenny” was 25 when she boarded a plane to a faraway land for a government job overseas. Unlike the Midwestern metropolis she was leaving behind, her new country had yet to catch up with the current century. It was a world of sweeping scenery and looming skyscrapers – vast orange sand deserts, home to ancient cities carved into stone, were eclipsed by neo-futuristic towers seemingly ripped from Architectural Digest. Beautiful and foreboding, the place was extreme in heat, wealth, and ideas (though these days, that could be anywhere). Jenny had been sent there to work as a diplomat, young for her role and high in her rank. She was an outlier, but the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, high-achieving woman was used to such a status. It’s what made her special.

The assignment catapulted Jenny into a whole new world in the blink of an eye (or rather, the span of a transpacific flight). In the place of carefree 20-somethings – young professionals concerned with spreadsheets and deliverables, circling back on Monday and the Bar of the Weekend or the beau of the week – were dignitaries and royalty, aging ambassadors and foreign service officers tasked with mediating the weight of the world. In her new environs, The Bar of the Weekend was an infamous watering hole located inside the compound and outside the country’s laws on libations. It had been there since the Embassy’s construction some 50 years earlier. 

The Bar, the Embassy, and its respective residential quarters were places stuck in time. A city-within-a-city, expats lived a life akin to a Luhrmann movie; flashy, fancy, glitzy, hot. There were torrid affairs and drunken nights skinny dipping in the pool and enough partying to give even a particularly overzealous college student pause. 

Of course, there were rules and regulations — precautions to keep safe, honor the traditions of the land where they lived, and uphold the hierarchical system within the Embassy employees. Some guidelines were official, but others were mere suggestions, not enforceable or justifiable but certainly the status quo. 

One in particular was communicated to Jenny upon arrival: do not date a Marine

Tasked with guarding the compound, the U.S. Marines stationed at the Embassy were Jenny's closest thing to her life back home. The cadre of fit, exuberant 20-somethings living together in barracks in a foreign country felt familiar to the young diplomat. They reminded her of the friends in the city she left behind, except instead of protecting the brand voice of an exciting new start-up, the Marines were guarding classified information and national security. Same vibe, different responsibilities. 

It made sense that Jenny would befriend the Marines; and, perhaps, it is no surprise that she would fall in love with one. 

She didn’t mean for it to happen. Jenny’s intentions were to keep her head down, put in her time, and impress her bosses. Hers was the opportunity of a lifetime, and she planned to make the most of it. She was also acutely aware of her age, gender, and rank – the combination of which made her something of an anomaly at the Embassy. For every achievement she held and feat she accomplished, there existed the potential for it to be washed away by confirming her co-workers’ base expectations of what a fun 25-year-old might be up to. A woman working in a sea of men, walking through doors that twenty years prior would never have been open, holding her own in foreign languages with foreign leaders who may still wish those entrances were closed… Jenny had a lot to lose.

(For the record, the ability to be taken seriously may have been threatened by any relationship she engaged in at the Embassy. The second a woman is deemed desirable, certain men and women get tunnel vision. Credibility is lost as the individual is whittled down to nothing more than an object. It's a tale as old as time… literally. In Beauty and the Beast, many women are actual objects: teapots, feather dusters, wardrobes. But then again, the men are candelabras and chairs. It’s actually less of a sexism thing and more of a curse issue. I digress.)

Although it was taboo to date a Marine, there were no rules against befriending them. So for the first six months, that’s what Jenny did. They were her brothers-in-crime. They all needed each other: the country could be lonely without camaraderie. So, to protect the sanctity of their new posse, the Marines made a pact: no one would pursue Jenny. 

Jenny and the Marines wined, dined, and partied, often ending the evenings at genuine speakeasies hidden within the city, clandestine clubs where drinks were poured well into the wee hours of the morning. Her status granted her and her compatriots a spot on any list, including parties on farms in the middle of the desert where they’d dance and drink in the company of expats and princes. 

At the end of the eve, they’d stumble back to Jenny’s house, a three-bedroom villa a stone’s throw from the Embassy. It was their routine. And then one night, everything changed. 

It was around 4:00 a.m. and Jenny and the Marines had just finished a rousing round of hide-and-seek in the park near her house. Out of breath after racing through the bougainvillea, they desperately needed a drink. They made their way up to Jenny’s roof, guzzling water as the city below glittered in the night sky.  

It was at this moment that Jenny and… “Jack”, let’s call him Jack… stole away and found themselves near the service quarters (yes, there were service quarters). Who knows exactly when, why, or how it happened, but one thing led to another, and… 

“You better not tell anyone!” Jenny whispered as they made out under the moonlight. 


For the next five months, Jenny and Jack carried out a covert affair. Of course, the Marines caught on quickly and forgave Jack for breaking their pact (which he had, in fact, initiated). But no one else found them out. While Jenny sat in meetings strategizing with foreign intelligence leaders, Jack stood guard outside of the Embassy walls. During his night patrols, he’d hide love notes in various rooms for her to find the next day. She’d uncover his romantic dead drops under red tacks on maps, between the pages of heavy almanacs, behind portraits of world leaders. Each time, Jenny would fret, worried a co-worker may see and mistake her for a spy committing espionage, but the nerves weren’t enough to stop her: she was hooked. 

It didn’t fizzle. In fact, it heated up. 

Jenny and Jack were sneaky, but the Embassy has eyes, and people talk. After half a year of ignoring each other in public and only associating in group settings, a co-worker’s husband spilled the beans during one of the Embassy’s weekly steak nights (a social event not to be missed). As Jack walked past the diplomat’s table and Jenny averted her eyes —

“Can you just say hi to your boyfriend and stop pretending you’re not dating?” 

With that, the secret was out.

A year later, Jenny and Jack got engaged, and a year after that, they returned to the States. 

Leaving was bittersweet, but it was time to go. When Jenny and Jack had arrived three years prior, it was at a specific moment when the world was stuck in time, removed from reality and rules. But the country was opening up; restrictions were easing, the Embassy was changing, and so too would the life Jenny and Jack led if they stayed. It was the end of an era. The days of skinny dipping on Tuesdays, sneaking through the gardens, and partying in the desert were likely over. The whole operation was becoming more buttoned up, more professional, less wild. In the words of the great Lester Bangs, “Rock 'n' Roll is over.”

Would it have happened if Jenny and Jack had arrived at the Embassy two years later? Would the compound still have been a pressure cooker for passion, a delinquent whirlwind of drugs, diplomacy, and drinking? Or would it have been merely an office, an overseas posting with cordial co-workers, lovely living quarters, and a decent steak once a week?

Would it still have been an adventure?

As her plane home climbed through the sky, Jenny watched the world that had once seemed foreign and now felt familiar fade into the distance. It was full of memories now, each landmark and location a reminder of the person she had grown into while overseas. Before her diplomatic duties, Jenny had been a rule follower back in the States, keeping to herself and playing it safe. It had even been a risk to accept the position, let alone live outside her comfort zone while there. Who knows if she would have met Jack had the timing been different or the Embassy less laissez-faire. Maybe it was fated, an alchemical mix of timing, luck, and chance. Either way, it happened. And that’s all that matters.

Jenny and Jack are getting married in the fall of 2025. They’ve invited some friends from their overseas posting and are building a life together in Washington, D.C.. Jack now hides his love notes in the National Portrait Gallery, behind the photo of President James Garfield.


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129 Ways To Get a Life
129 Ways To Get a Life (The Podcast!)
A series in which a 20-something exclusively follows the advice of a dating column published in 1958 to explore modern love and life.