I'd like to think so. Last week, as a part of our initiative to provide an even wider variety of activities and programs, AAFSW hosted the first ever UT (Unaccompanied Tour) Happy Hour. Like the other happy hours we have begun hosting, we gathered at central Foreign Service-y meeting area and mixed and mingled prior to an evening of panels and Q & A.
You see, when the FSO/DS Agent/OMS (the list goes on and on) goes overseas to an Unaccompanied Post, there is plenty of training. What to do (what not to do) and lots of manuals about insurance, contingencies and what-ifs that we hope will never be thought of again. The spouse of the person headed overseas, however, does not get the same kind of training. There are classes on basic regulations and allowances and security seminars, but all target those going overseas together. Since there are so many different departments out there working to try and assist family members, we at AAFSW thought perhaps it was time to bring them all together. After all, we are *the* Foreign Service family support organization.
So, we did! I created the idea of the UT Happy Hour and even managed to plan quite a bit (with help from other AAFSW board members) while recovering from surgery. We had staffers from several different departments at State speak on the various UT topics and also had a panel of EFMs (Eligible Family Members) discuss issues that affected them during their tours. Don't worry, I only talked a wee bit and therefore, avoided completely depressing folks with my "woe is me" B'dad tour of 2010.
We had a very full room and while I am sure we did not capture everyone, we did manage to take copious notes that will be shared with AAFSW members. While maybe not the magic bullet that will suddenly make the UT a fabulous time, it is a wealth of information that ties together the different areas of assistance (with live links, of course).
Wondering what we discussed? A few of the benefits, such as ISMA and the travel of separated families. How to keep in touch without overdoing it and trying to keep all family members at a modicum of happiness even during such trying times. Discussing methods of communication, various options (where to live and how to decide), and even just ideas for vacations. Stay at home or take a whirlwind trip?
While we may not have been able to give each and every person the exact answer that was being sought, I felt like we had a great gathering with a lot of information. I received feedback that the event was extremely helpful for all who attended, not just those seeking information about UTs, but also those trying to assist family members. The end result seemed to be a night full of advice and experience, a good lesson in planning for me (it actually went very smoothly overall) and, yes, the thought that we will be doing this again soon. I don't want to pat myself on the back, but must admit I am very proud of the way the evening came together and excited that AAFSW is creating such new and necessary programs!