Before I delve into topics such as home decor and crafting, I feel the need to address some of the common assumptions of diplomatic dwellings, our "homes" across the world. Soon after learning we are a diplomatic family some of the first questions we commonly get from non-diplomats are, "Do you live in a compound" and "so you get your housing paid for?" No and No.
To begin with, we are not US diplomats we are Mexican diplomats with the Mexican Foreign Service. As I have come to learn, the two foreign services are NOT the same. Despite this fact, in either service you most likely are not going to be living in some walled compound with roving security. I think this is some notion people get from Hollywood movies. The US Foreign Service might have compounds in their most dangerous locations, but those are few and far between. I am not even sure the Mexican Foreign Service has diplomatic housing in any sort of compound anywhere. Generally speaking, the world is rarely mad at Mexico as a country and their diplomats probably require less protection then US diplomats even in extreme locations.
Another major difference between being a US diplomat and a Mexican diplomat is that our housing is not paid for. Only ambassadors and heads of mission get rent free residences, but for your average career diplomats, we pay for our oversees housing. At most posts the US State Department provides their diplomats with housing pools which are basically pre-approved government owned housing and US diplomats get to live there rent free. If there is not a pool of housing, then diplomats are authorized a generous housing allowance to cover their rental costs. As Mexican diplomats we rent homes as regular renters across the world. There is a small percentage based rental stipend available to us but as an example, if we rent a house for $2,500 per month, we can get about $250 of rental help. It is nice, but not quite the same as the free rent other members of the diplomatic community enjoy. But every foreign service deals with diplomat housing differently, and you know what you are getting when you sign up, so you won't find anyone playing victim here.
Actually, the thing that I think is much worse then not having free housing is this...we get no help to find housing whatsoever. Imagine for a second. You are living your life and suddenly get orders to relocate to Germany or South Africa or Tokyo within 60 days. Most diplomats fall into one of two categories of people...frantic or laid back. You either frantically jump online scouring all corners of the internet for a trustworthy source of rental properties in the local area, contact a local real estate agent for help, and/or decide to pay out of pocket for a house hunting mission to your new post before your actual paid move. Or you take the laid back approach of just going with your paid move and no idea of what type of place you will move into. Upon arrival you stay in a hotel and see what housing you can find within a week or two of moving into the country and sign a contract. Then this process gets repeated every 2 to 6 years over the 30+ years of your career. In case you are wondering, I am the first type. If I don't know what place I am moving into, how can I possibly decide what to toss and what to bring based on space, layout, closets, etc. Is there going to be enough wall space for my three panel artwork depicting the Mexican countryside? Are there built-ins in the dining room or do I need to haul my 1,000 lb. solid wood vintage buffet? Will it be 3 bedrooms or 4? I need to know whether my entire guest room needs to be shipped oversees or sold on craigslist and I need to know now! I don't know how people do it because I cannot seem to just wing it.
This brings me to another common diplomat topic. Drexel. Drexel for American diplomats is basically furniture provided to you at your post. So yeah, free rent and free furniture, but from what I have heard, some of it can be the stuff of interior designers' nightmares. Think Queen Anne quaint meets Embassy Suites elegance with a splash of 90s nostalgia. There are some pretty entertaining blogs and pins about hacks for making drexel more tolerable. So even though I do not get free pools of pre-approved housing and free hand me down furniture, I do get free-dom! Full creative freedom. You cannot put a price on freedom and for me, a person who cares about decor and making a rental feel like my home, this really matters. I pick the neighborhood, I pick the house, and I decorate to my heart's content which helps my family feel that our diplomatic posts (even though temporary) really are home.
In Love & Glitter
Making Home Anywhere
This area is to share how I make a diplomatic posting anywhere feel like home. I write about my decorating ventures at various posts and DIY projects that give our rental homes a more personal feel despite the fact that "home" changes every 2-5 years.