Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time for the Overseas Seasonal Hire Program: Summer Jobs for 16 to 24 year olds

Speaking of employment for EFMs, its that time of year when interested 16 to 24 year olds can apply for summer jobs at embassies and consulates. Contact the Community Liaison Office at post if interested. More on the program from the FLO internet site:
"The Overseas Seasonal Hire Program provides clerical and administrative support at the time of greatest need, during the personnel gaps of summer transfers and other times during the year. If your post of assignment has an Overseas Seasonal Hire Program, job opportunities for students of USG employees are sometimes a possibility. Eligibility: U.S. citizens who are 16-24 years of age and on the travel orders of a direct-hire employee are eligible. Children traveling to post under visitation travel of separated parents' authority, traveling at USG expense, and meet the criteria of the above are also eligible."

Starting the "New Gender Agenda" at Home: Interesting Opinion Article in the Foreign Service Journal

The Foreign Service Journal has an interesting opinion article by Amanda Fernandez on the current state of Eligible Family Member (EFM) employment this month.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chitrabani: A Center for Media Arts

I had the pleasure of going to Chitrabani in Kolkata recently, a social communication center that has much to offer in media arts.

I was there to record voice-over narration for a video on life in Kolkata when I discovered what a gem it is. They offer classes in film making, animation, scriptwriting, radio broadcasting, puppetry and more. And have a photographic library of over 18,000 images of West Bengal.

Here we are making our way to the recording studio. I love the colors throughout the space, definitely create a mood.

Here is the director and sound engineer.

My view from the mic. The equipment was so sensitive I had to remain very still and stand in the same position for each take.

A Glimpse of Czech Creativity

As our last months fly by in Kolkata, I have been wondering if Prague will live up to the adventure that Kolkata has been. Today's Praque's Daily Monitor delivered a glimpse of the culture with its headline, "Travel agency to offer unique trips for teddy bears."

Of course you want to read more. I am looking forward to a place that not only has the creativity to think of a business like this, but is concerned over whether the teddy is a teetotaller.

This is going to be fun!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2010 World's Most Livable Cities According to the Economist

The Economist's Economist Intelligence Unit has released it's liveability rankings, which tries to quantify "the challenges that might be presented to an individual's lifestyle in 140 cities worldwide." "Each city is assigned a score for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure...whereas 1 is considered intolerable and 100 is considered ideal."

Cities in Canada and Australia are most liveable in the world, and Vancouver remains the world's most liveable city with a score of 98.0 out of 100.

Top 10 cities
1. Canada, Vancouver: 98.0
2. Austria, Vienna: 97.9
3. Australia, Melbourne: 97.5
4. Canada, Toronto: 97.2
5. Canada, Calgary: 96.6
6. Finland, Helsinki: 96.2
7. Australia, Sydney: 96.1
8. Australia, Perth: 95.9
8. Australia, Adelaide: 95.9
10. New Zealand, Auckland: 95.7

Bottom 10 cities
130. Senegal, Dakar: 48.3
131. Iran, Tehran: 48.3
132. Sri Lanka, Colombo: 47.3
133. Nepal, Kathmandu: 47.1
134. Cameroon, Douala: 43.3
135. Pakistan, Karachi: 40.9
136. Nigeria, Lagos: 39.0
137. Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby: 38.9
138. Algeria, Algiers: 38.7
138. Bangladesh, Dhaka: 38.7
140. Zimbabwe, Harare: 37.5

New Delhi was ranked 113th and Mumbai 117th.

These rankings are created for employers that assign hardship allowances as part of expatriate relocation packages, similar to:

Mercer's annual Worldwide Quality of Living survey
ECA International's Most Expensive Places in World for Expats report
both published typically in the summer.

Now the questions is, which is worst to live in a bottom ranked city in this survey or a city that wasn't even ranked? I will go with "ignorance is bliss."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Funding Opportunities for Trailing Partners and Spouses

There are a few programs which aim to provide trailing partners/spouses with funds to start a business, support a volunteer project and further their careers. Below are three of them, with descriptions taken from the program announcements.

AAFSW Fellowships for Business Start-Ups

As a special commemoration of AAFSW's 50 years of advocacy and support to the Foreign Service community, AAFSW is offering a limited number of professional fellowships that can be used by EFMs and domestic partners overseas to set up small businesses. Subject to budgetary considerations, fellowships of up to $1,500.00 will be granted on a reimbursable basis for business start up costs. The applicant must also be a member of AAFSW at the time of application.

Proposals are due in AAFSW no later than April 9, 2010.

Application forms and more information can be found on

J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust Project Funding
Established in the memory of J. Kirby Simon, a Foreign Service Officer who died in 1995 while serving in Taiwan, the Trust is committed to expanding the opportunities for professional fulfillment and community service of active Foreign Service Officers and Specialists and their families. In 2009 the Trust made its thirteenth round of grant awards, 44 in all, ranging from $550 to $4,500 for projects that fall under four topics: education, young people, health and safety-related, and micro-finance.

Proposals for projects to be funded during calendar year 2010 must be received by the Trust no later than March 1, 2010.

Further information about can be found at

Professional Development Fellowship Program
The Family Liaison Office's Professional Development Fellowship program is open to spouses and partners of civilian direct hire US Government employees under Chief of Mission Authority [posted overseas]. This program is designed to assist those spouses and partners who are not in a position to pursue their career paths overseas to maintain, enhance, and/or develop their professional skills.

Fellowships of up to $2,500 will be granted on a reimbursable basis for enrichment activities. Selected applicants must fund a minimum of 25% of the cost of the proposed activities while the Fellowship stipend will cover the additional cost up to the $2,500 maximum. Activities can include, but are not limited to, continuing education and distance learning through an accredited university, professional development, participation in professional conferences, and dues for membership in professional organizations.

The proposal deadline for 2010 has already past, but keep an eye out for those in the future.

More information is at

First Spam Email in Czech!

Signed up for the daily email digest of The Prague Monitor, one of two English newspapers in Prague, to begin learning more about the country, and I received my first email spam in Czech! I had no idea what it said, but it was very exciting and also promptly deleted.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Beautiful Day for the Park, and a Political Rally

Taking advatange of the last weekends of cool weather, we headed over to the Indian Botanical Garden in Howrah, the district on the other side of the Hooghly river. The garden is known for being the largest and oldest of this kind in South East, nearly two centuries old.

It is also home to the largest Banyan tree, which is over 250 years old, with 2800 protuding roots covering an area of 1.5 hectares.

Sicily took her camera also and got some great shots:

And here is my photo of people taking photos of us.

On the way home, we ran into political rally traffic, people being bused in to attend a CPM demonstration at the Maidan. CPM is the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which has been in power in West Bengal since the 1970s, but has recently lost its standing.

The demonstrators not only get paid for their time but served a hot lunch from trucks parked around the periphery. This one had fresh puri with chick peas. Despite the traffic, the demonstrators were having a good time.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Foreign Service Tax Time Playlist

With the tax statements starting to roll in, its time to start thinking about (or thinking about procrastinating) the filing of 2009 income taxes.

Being in the foreign service complicates taxes, unless you were already a Virginia resident. When you join, you have to pick a "state of domicile" which is typically the place where you vote, hold licenses, own property, etc. Since we lived in DC prior, we kept DC as our domicile, which means we pay DC state taxes along with federal taxes while we are abroad. If Florida or Washington is your state of domicile, you are lucky to not have to pay state income taxes.

As we head to Oakwood and FSI this year and next, we have to consider our status in VA, but since we will be in the state for less that 183 days per year, we will still be non-residents and have to only file in DC for state taxes (hooray?).

Regardless, living overseas does have its tax benefit. You get an automatic two month extension from the IRS (if you owe money it is still due on April 15th). Now, you do not get an automatic extension from your state. And if your state income taxes are dependent on your federal taxes, you might as well just apply for an extension for them so that you can take that two extra months.

The American Foreign Service Association has a tax guide that is helpful, including a brief write-up on each state, if you are weighing which one to designate.

I would go into the complications of foreign earned income and whether hardship pay is taxed, but I believe it is time to talk about the fun part of taxes, creating your music playlist for while you are doing your taxes. Below was my playlist for last year. If you have any suggestions for this year's, please let me know!

Cash Machine, Hard-FI
Don't Stop Believin', Journey
Goody Two Shoes, Adam Ant
Got To Give It Up, Marvin Gaye
Help!, The Beatles
Help Me, Joni Mitchell
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, Ramones
I Keep Forgettin', Michael McDonald
I Wanna Be Sedated, Ramones
I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better, Tom Petty
I'm Going Slightly Mad, Queen
I'm So Tired, The Beatles
I've Been Trying, Greyhound
If I Could Turn Back Time, Cher
If Things Were Perfect, Moby
Mercy Mercy Me, Marvin Gaye
Miracles, Mambo Sauce
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, The Beatles
One More Heartache, Marvin Gaye
One Thing Leads to Another, The Fixx
Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, The Smiths
Policy of Truth, Depeche Mode
Save Up All Your Tears, Cher
A Season in Hell, Moby
Shout, Tears For Fears
The Show Must Go On, Queen
Taxes, Chris Rock
That's the Way of the World, Earth, Wind & Fire
What Difference Does It Make?, The Smiths
What's Going On, Marvin Gaye
Whatever It Takes, Anita Baker

Update: I ended up working in the Czech Republic in 2012: earning income, paying Czech taxes and reporting the foreign earned income on our U.S. income tax. For details, check out:
Paying Czech Income Taxes
Working as a Freelancer in the Czech Republic

Photo by Peter Carroll