Flag day. We will be living in…

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia! We are very excited and looking forward to living in a place so different than the one we call home.  Before I write a little bit more about the mechanics and logistics of how we were paired with Saudi Arabia, I’d like to share a few facts about our new host country.

  • Saudi Arabia is the third largest country entirely on the Asian continent, and 12th largest country overall in terms of land size
  • Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and is home to the religion’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina
  • Saudi Arabia is the largest country without a river and about 95% of the country is considered a desert or semi-desert
  • The kingdom has a very young population with half of its 35 million residents under the age of 25
  • About 1/3 of residents are expatriates
  • King Fahd International Airport in Dhahran is the largest airport in the world according to size, taking up 300 square miles which is about the size of all of NYC’s five boroughs put together

There will be plenty of posts over the next few years all about our new host country, so I don’t want to give away all of the surprises up front.  Plus, I just don’t know that much about Saudi Arabia quite yet.  

I will be working at the U.S. Consulate General in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.  While we don’t know exactly where we will be living quite yet (and I won’t share any specifics on here anyway), we do know that we will living somewhere close to the consulate.  This means we will be on the eastern side of the country on the Arabian Gulf and very close to the small island country of Bahrain. 

Flag Day itself is one of the great traditions of foreign service orientation.  Since my class was conducted virtually, our flag day had to be modified slightly.  Several of my peers got together to watch and celebrate together, others had family close by, and still others participated solo either by choice or default.  Since Mel’s parents were visiting that week, I opted to participate at home with family.  Traditionally there are lots of cheering, mild antics, signs, etc. but in a virtual environment those things have much less effect.  I logged into Zoom to join the meeting and waited my turn.  They assigned us in no particular order by showing a flag, then sharing the city/country name, followed by the position title, and then finally the entry level officer’s. (ELO – we are government after all and love acronyms! ELOs are new direct hire foreign service officers like me)  They called off assignments in groups of 10 and then had a brief pause for us to “celebrate.”  I had to wait about 30 minutes or so before they finally got to my name.  The Saudi Arabian flag appeared first, followed by the post name, and since my position was the only one in Dhahran, I knew this was my assignment.  There was both a sense of relief and excitement when we finally knew where we would be headed. 

Flag day from home, waiting to find out where we will live!

You might be wondering how we ended up in Saudi Arabia?  I know lots of family and friends were making guesses that we would be in China since I speak Mandarin Chinese and have spent time there in the past.  It isn’t quite that simple with the Department of State.  I won’t give away specifics about the actual process that the Department of State uses to assign officers to posts, but I can summarize it here to help everyone understand how we ended up in Saudi Arabia and not somewhere else.

All ELOs are required to serve two directed tours.  These directed tours are generally two years in length and as you can guess from the name are directed by the department.  There are many factors that play into which countries might be included in the mix for a directed tour.  Things like the ELOs language capability, vacancies or needs at certain posts around the world that need an ELO’s particular job or language skill, and timing of when an ELO might be needed compared to when they are considered available and fully trained.  Our career development officers (CDO) then share a short list of posts for us to “bid.”  We order our preferences and have dialogue about what’s important to us professionally and personally.  Then a panel of CDOs make determinations and “direct” us to a post.  Everyone that joins the State Department agrees to something they call worldwide availability, so with the directed tours you really need to embrace the spirit of readiness to go literally anywhere.  So to summarize, my first directed tour will be a two year tour to the U.S. Consulate General in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. 

Mel wrote in the last post that my class had organized a happy hour after our flag day ceremony.  With Tom and Rhonda in town for the week, they were able to watch Naomi so Mel and I were able to go out and celebrate (or commiserate with classmates who ended up with a post that they were not so thrilled with).  One of the pieces of advice we get frequently in training is to approach each position and post with an open mind.  Many people who get their dream post end up hating it, and others who end up with a post they didn’t want end up with some of the best experiences.  Coming into this journey people asked me is there any place you don’t want to go.  Honestly there are places I’d prefer to go more than others, and I’d be excited to go anywhere.  This time around, I’m happy to say that I’m very excited for the next two years of adventure in Saudi Arabia!

At the happy hour with my brand new U.S. – Saudi Arabia flag pin!

7 thoughts on “Flag day. We will be living in…”

  1. Brilliant! It will be an amazing tour for you all and man the food, sun, and souks to explore… it will be fantastic!

  2. Wow, Joel! I am so excited for you, Mel and Naomi! Kind of exotic to think of Saudi Arabia and the cultural changes for you and your family. It seems to be a place of differences between the modern cities and the desert dwellers. Perhaps my view is not accurate. I will look forward to learning more from you. So proud of you! Love you and want the best experience for you over the next two years.
    Do you know when this adventure will begin there? So many questions….
    Love and best wishes
    Aunt Cath

  3. I hope you have a wonderful time there. Our son Wade spent time in Bahrain and Quran with navy intelligence and Julia’s uncle was in Saudi Arabia for 20 years with aramco oil. I will be anxious to here your stories some time.

    1. Joel, Mel & Naomi. We will keep you in our prayers as you make this transition. Joel, if you need a private transition seminar for your fam just reach out. Auntie Sarah & I would be happy to help out. God guide your path.

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