But before we packed out—we had a lot of questions about what to expect for the A-100 and SOAR foreign service orientations and how to make sure our family was ready for life abroad.
Tips for getting through the Foreign Service A-100
Obviously, my husband’s focus was on completing the A-100, or SOAR, class. Granted, this is an orientation—the really challenging part, all the tests, is behind you—so there’s less pressure. That doesn’t mean you can just check the box by showing up.
How you engage and show up can make a world of difference. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Planning beyond the your A-100 class
Getting your family ready to move abroad and adjust to a brand-new life, while discussed during foreign service orientation, generally requires a little more planning. Moving your family around the world can be stressful and it can sometimes be challenging for children and spouses, but in general, the foreign service is very family friendly and comes with a lot of perks for your FS family.
Most of these perks are things that won’t be mentioned during A-100; they’re things you’ll learn after being in the FS for a while--unless, you know where to look or can get some veteran FSO insights.
And having been in the foreign service since 20210, our family can give you some insight into how to maximize your FS experience!
If you’re a family joining the Foreign Service, this will be your go-to resource: 40 Hacks for FS Families
From travel tips to housing hacks, and everything in between, consider this your cheat sheet for life in the foreign service! Implementing even just two or three of these suggestions could make a big impact on your life and adventures in the FS abroad.
Get 40 Hacks for FS Families here ?
The thing about starting a new life in the Foreign Service is that you often don't know what you don't know...
It’s a unique lifestyle that comes with benefits and advantages that you may not be aware of!
Inside this free guide, I will share hacks like:
As a FS Member, there are so many free resources, services, and reimbursement opportunities that you might not be aware of, and I've included the best of the best inside this guide.
I truly believe that implementing even one or two or three of these hacks can make a big impact! Don’t miss out on the perks!
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Now that you’re a part of the FS community, I’d love to connect! Join me and thousands of other FS families in our Toolbox for Foreign Service Families Facebook group! You’ll find even more resources, tools, hacks, and tips to help you and your family adjust to your new FS life.
Think back to the last time you had a pizza party—maybe it was because your grade school class won a reading contest, or maybe your child’s soccer season came to an end and you were able to snag a celebratory slice.
Even though pizza didn’t originate in the United States (it obviously was first made and eaten in Italy), it’s been a part of American culture since the late 19th century—when Italian immigrants came to our nation’s shores. And pizza is pretty synonymous with a good time here in the U.S.; there’s no argument there.
Where arguments can arise though, are when it comes to what pizza to order… or really, which pizza parlor has the best pie. 🍕
That’s why I’m proposing that your family have a Pizza Taste-Off, to settle things once and for all. It’s a fun little experiment to get your family’s (and friends’) take on which pizza reigns supreme.
My family and I did this a couple weeks ago, and let’s just say—we were all winners. Since we’re currently in Utah, we tried this with the big national chains, like Papa John’s and Pizza Hut. It was a blast, and now we have a go-to pizza place!
I know pizza isn’t always readily available in every single city around the globe, so you can modify this taste-off to fit your post. Instead of pizza, maybe your family orders lo mein. Or maybe instead of take-out, you try different frozen pizzas. Or maybe you all just try different vanilla ice creams! Truly, the sky’s the limit.
If at all possible though, I highly recommend at least starting this taste-off with pizza. Here’s how to do it.
How to have a pizza taste-off
Clear your family’s calendar and invite your friends and neighbors over—it’s pizza taste-off time!
My family had a root beer taste-off too, but it’s quite the challenge to try and find different root beer brands! You can try it with another soda or local beverage.
No matter how you slice it, a pizza taste-off is sure to be a hit with your friends and family!
Make sure you share your results and photos with me in our Toolbox for Foreign Service Families Facebook group!
I share more super fun things like this in my weekly 3-Things Thursday newsletter. It’s full of products, ideas, and entertainment curated just for FS families! Don’t miss out one a single cool “thing”--sign up here!
Our world is evolving faster than ever, and preparing a child for that world that doesn’t yet exist is an exceptional challenge.
As part of the Foreign Service, our kids are already lightyears ahead of so many of their peers, but teaching them a few extra skills will give them an even bigger head start and make them better prepared for what’s to come in the New Year and beyond.
Here’s a breakdown of some important life skills to teach your kids in 2022, along with a few suggestions for how you can tie many of them to their academic life.
Don’t forget to join the Toolbox for Foreign Service Families Facebook group for more tips and resources for FS kids!
Good news!: U.S. History Abroad helps Foreign Service kids develop many of these skills! Enroll and get more info at www.ushistoryabroad.com!
Adaptability is a great skill for kids to learn at a young age. Research shows that kids who are adaptable tend to feel more confident, be happier and more driven in life, and have higher self-esteem and a deeper sense of purpose. You can teach kids adaptability by mirroring flexibility and introducing new routines and ideas to them regularly so they keep practicing this skill.
2. Problem Solving
Problem solving is a skill that helps kids develop discernment, creativity, resilience, confidence, and leadership. Almost every job application they’ll ever have to complete will require this skill. Playing games, giving kids room to make mistakes, and asking questions instead of answering them are all great ways to get kids to practice problem solving.
Kids of the digital age are social by nature. They’re constantly communicating in several different media formats—texts, posts, chats, emails, you name it. Make sure they’re getting some face-to-face interactions in too, and always model respectful language and communication in your household.
The world of the future (and even present day) is globalizing due to the internet. The ability to collaborate in these situations is essential. The simplest way to encourage collaboration is tackling projects as a family; getting your child involved in team and group activities helps them learn to collaborate with their peers as well!
Teaching accountability means teaching honesty, responsibility, and integrity. Online, independent learning (which our kids are now pretty familiar with) is an excellent way to teach kids accountability; they learn the importance of intrinsic motivation and take responsibility for their own work and success.
When you’re thousands of miles away from home, keeping up with the latest trends and news can be challenging—to say the least. Sure, you can catch the major headlines on your post’s news stations, but there will always be a few things that
slip through the cracks. If you want to stay informed with what’s going on back home—trends included,
not just the news—here are a few ways to do it.
Download an app
If there’s a news outlet you regularly go to, downloading that publication’s app is the easiest way to get some news. But when it comes to tracking news, I highly recommend making sure you’ve got multiple sources from all ends of the political spectrum… and there are apps for that too. Flipboard and Feedly are news aggregators that help you organize publications based on topics you’re interested in. All the news you need to see comes to you in one place!
Sign up for a newsletter
Speaking of getting the news to come straight to you, a newsletter is a great way to keep up with more niche stories. I’d recommend Morning Brew, which is a daily email that covers the top business stories. Robinhood also has a great (fun and kinda snarky) newsletter that focuses on financial news. And, of course, you can subscribe to 3-Things Thursday, where I keep my ear to the ground and bring you some of the coolest products, shows, movies, and books so you stay up-to-date on the latest trends.
Listen to podcasts
Podcasts are perfect if you’d rather listen to the news than read it. And most news podcasts are created to be entertaining, so you’ll be able to hear a few jokes or opinions on the topic too. There are plenty of podcasts available; you just have to find the one that fits your interests.
Get savvy with social media
I’m willing to bet that you use social media to some degree, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. I know it’s a great way to stay in touch with friends back home, but you can also use it to stay informed on current events by following the pages of news outlets. (Again, I’d recommend following several outlets with different stances so that you get a more well-rounded account of our nation’s happenings.)
Talk to your friends and family back home
The easiest way to keep up with news back home? Talk to the people who live there! Whenever you talk to your friends and family back home, ask them what’s been going on, what’s on their social media feeds, what are stores selling out of… They’ll be able to give you the 4-1-1 on the events and trends that will be most relevant to you.
You may not find your child’s favorite after school activity already organized and available at post, but there are still an endless amount of options to keep your foreign service kids stimulated, active, and entertained once school is done for the day. Here are some ideas and programs to keep your kid busy (and still learning) after school.
Sign Up for Recreational Sports
Many international schools include after school sports. For example, my kids participate in "rec" volleyball, track, soccer, etc.—all through their school. Of course, the options vary from post to post. When you enroll your child in a new school, make sure to ask about the different sports they offer.
Try an Online Extracurricular Activity
Most traditional (in-person) after-school activities are now taught online! If you can’t find art, music, or language lessons, or other skill-based activities at post, head to the internet. There’s definitely been an uptick in the types of online courses available. You can start here with a FREE online Karate class just for FS kids: www.ushistoryabroad.com/karate
Help Your Child Find a New Hobby
A “lack” of structured extracurricular activities gives your child the chance to explore new interests and hobbies. Maybe they’ve decided to start an herb garden or are determined to become the next star baker—either way, give them time to explore a little bit. By the way, the Kennett Kitchen has some great online baking classes (like Cupcake Wars) that can get them started on the right track. More here: www.thekennettkitchen.com
Look for Volunteer Opportunities
Volunteerwork is a great after-school activity for kids of all ages, since it can help them build life and social skills, learn more about responsibility, give them a greater awareness about the world (and your post), and teach them appreciation. If your child wants to volunteer after school, check with your CLO and/or community service organizations to see where help is needed.
Start a New After-School Program
If your child’s school doesn’t offer an activity they’re interested in, you may be able to start your own! Just make sure to ask their school what requirements or rules they have for these kinds of programs first. (Your CLO may be able to help share the activity with the community too!)
Stock Up on Downloadable Activities
Not every after-school activity needs to be social. Keep your kids learning after school with workbooks and activity books. It’s a chance for them to explore a school subject they enjoy or need more help in or even document their life. U.S. History Abroad a free “Life as a Foreign Service Kid” workbook you can download here: https://www.ushistoryabroad.com/activitybookforfskids.html
U.S. History Abroad 🇺🇸 is also a GREAT after-school activity for kids! It provides an online American history education that your kids can get from the comfort of wherever you happen to be posted. And it’s FUN! They learn through puzzles, games, and awesome videos. Get on the waitlist to be the first to know when registration opens up: www.ushistoryabroad.com/about
Look, there are a ton of gift guides out there with lists of hundreds of toys, games, and gadgets kids will love, so I figured, instead of creating another one and adding to your (theoretical) decision paralysis, I’m just going to bring all the good guides to you in one place.
I’ve gone through each of these and I sincerely think they’ll help you find the perfect gift for every kid in your life. But, before you jump into those, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you start going through these lists and making your purchases.
Let’s face it, we all do most of our shopping on Amazon these days (especially if you’re overseas at post)! Amazon has compiled its own list of all the toys kids are wanting this year, so you can get them straight from the source.
Buzzfeed is well-known for two things: its quizzes and its gift guides. They have very niche and very specific round-ups, a few notables are: 24 Screen-Free Gifts For Kids That Are Actually Fun *And* Educational and 29 Gift Ideas For Kids If You Have No Clue What To Get Them. They also have gift-guides for different ages and for different budgets.
They’ve compiled a list of 40+ gifts for kids in a slideshow gallery. From budding scientists to the more artistic kids, and little ones too—this gift guide has you covered.
Today has multiple gift guides for kids of all ages. Each guide is broken down by age, so you can be assured that the gift you end up getting will be stimulating and age-appropriate.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s gift guide has a few notable picks for the super-cool kids in your life.
Also, don't forget to download our fun activity for kids to complete while you are shopping!
(Click the image below for a printable PDF file)
This month, I've included some great crafts and ideas to help you and your family enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday wherever you are. These aren't just useful for one year, but can turn into treasured traditions!
1. Engage Locally
Most Foreign Service families won't be driving to Grandma's for this American holiday, but we will be gathering around the table with some new and old friends to celebrate the time-honored celebration. Here are some ideas to brighten up your holiday and share your meal.
2. Make a Thankful Tree
This tradition is simple and easily replicated anywhere you live.
3. Movies and MORE!
Here are some other fun ideas to enjoy the holiday!
Happy Thanksgiving from U.S. History Abroad!
Students in Course C explore the formation of the thirteen colonies, the thrill of the American Revolution, and the construction of the Constitution with the Founding Fathers.
These students take on additional lessons outside of their regular school day because they (and their parents) know how important it is to keep up with American history studies while living abroad.
I'm so proud of these kiddos and wanted to share their hard work with you!
Summer is just around the corner and there are a few special activities that always seem to bring me back to the U.S. (at least in spirit) no matter where I am in the world—a few little slices of Americana, if you will. I’m sure you have your own summer must-dos, but here are a few of my favorites, that I know your kids will love too! Hopefully they make you feel right back at home.
Sign Up for a Summer Reading Program
As a FS mom myself, I’m always looking for ways to keep our kids connected to U.S. culture and a summer reading program is the perfect way to give our kids an American experience—while they even learn a little more about American history. I’m kicking off my own Summer Reading Program this month, and if your kid completes it, they can win a free book! Get all the info: www.USHistoryAbroad.com/Summer-Reading
Make Some Patriotic Crafts
Get ready for Independence Day with a few patriotic crafts! From paper-plate star wreaths to red, white, and blue slime, a quick search will lead you to hundreds of ideas that’ll keep your kids entertained over the summer.
Cheer on Team U.S.A. in the Olympics
There’s nothing like the patriotism we feel when cheering on the U.S. Olympics team! (This is where some of those crafts may come in handy too!) The games begin on July 23!
Create Your Own Salt Water Taffy
Depending on what part of the U.S. you’re from, you may equate summer to a trip to the boardwalk and a pile of salt water taffy! It’s actually not that difficult to make! Check out this recipe: tasty.co/recipe/saltwater-taffy
Whip Up Some All-American Eats
What’s your fave summer dish? Apple pie? A juicy cheeseburger? A big bowl of strawberries? Plan a potluck for your friends at post and have everyone bring their favorite summer dish from back home. (There are a ton of crowd-pleasing recipes available online!)
U.S. History Abroad is also a GREAT after-school activity for kids! It provides an online American history education that your kids can get from the comfort of wherever you happen to be posted. And it’s FUN! They learn through puzzles, games, and awesome videos. Get on the waitlist to be the first to know when registration opens up: www.ushistoryabroad.com/get-notified
Looking for a list of fun, family friendly podcasts that your kids will enjoy??
You've come to the right place...
An award-winning science podcast for kids and curious adults from American Public Media.
But Why: A Podcast for Curious kids (NPR), But Why is a show led by kids! Kids ask the questions and they find, the answers. It's a big interesting world out there. They tackle topics large and small, about nature, words, even the end of the world.
Circle Round (NPR)
Created and produced by parents of young children, WBUR's Circle Round adapts carefully-selected folktales from around the world into sound- and music-rich radio plays for kids ages 4 to 10. Each 10-to 20 minute episode explores important issues like kindness, persistence and generosity. And each episode ends with an activity that inspires a deeper conversation between children and grown-ups.
In For Scores, host Jon Burlingame takes listeners on a magical journey into the world of film and television composers, revealing never-before heard special moments behind many of today's most beloved scores.
Mystery Recipe (America's Test Kitchen)
Uncover the fun, fantastical, and fascinating sides of food
Planet Money (NPR)
The economy explained. Imagine you could call up a friend and say, "Let's meet up so I can hear what's going on with the economy." Now imagine that's actually a fun evening.
Proof (America's Test Kitchen)
Weird, surprising and funny backstories around food
RadioLab for Kids (WNYC Studios)
Kid-friendly stories curated by Radiolab.
Eleven-year-old Holiday is pulled from the icy waters of Alaska with no memory of who she is or where she came from. Are her mom and dad, really who they say they are? And when she begins to develop incredible abilities, she'll soon discover she's not alone in the world. From the Peabody award-winning creators of The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel and the Peabody award-nominated Treasure Island 2020, comes Six Minutes, a mystery adventure for the whole family. Six minute episodes, twice a week, all year long...and beyond. Produced by Gen-Z Media in partnership with PRX.
Smash Boom Best
Smash Boom Best is a debate show for kids and families from the makers of the award-winning podcast, Brains On! Every episode takes two cool things, smashes them together and lets you decide which is best.
Story Pirates is a group of world-class actors, comedians, improvisers and musicians who adapt stories written by kids into sketch comedy and musical theater.
The Way the World Works: A Tuttle Twins podcast tackles current events, hot topics, and fun ideas to help your family find clarity in a world full of confusion. This would be a solid choice for parents that want to teach their kids about Libertarian political principles.
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
Listen along as eleven-year-old Mars Patel and his pals JP, Toothpick and Caddie set out on a daring adventure in search of two missing friends. But the mysterious tech billionaire Oliver Pruitt might just have a thing or two to say about their quest... Winner of the Peabody Award, Webby Award and Parents' Choice Gold Award.
What If World
Each week, Mr. Eric takes a "What if?" question from a kid and spins it, into a story for all of you!
Wow in the World (NPR)
Hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz guide curious kids and their grown ups on a journey into the wonders of the world around them. We'll go inside our brains, out into space and deep into the coolest new stories in science and technology.
What others would you add to this list?
Foreign Service kids are so blessed with a fantastic life of adventure and culture—and some really thrive in this kind of dynamic environment. But as a parent, you know that the Foreign Service also comes with certain challenges for our children too.
Transitions can be stressful and some kids might struggle with the constant changes brought on by each new post. Being uprooted every couple of years can also deprive children of a sense of belonging; they may struggle to maintain friendships and could even find it difficult to find their identity as a third-culture kid.
Our kids’ lives are so unique, the challenges they face are some their peers back at home could even fathom. That requires some specific and strategic problem solving—and thankfully, there are so many resources available to us as FS parents, including parenting coaches.
Parenting coaches provide tools, ideas, and support to help us help our children through any problems they may face. On top of that, they can help you be the best parent—especially during transitions. And what’s great is that there are several parenting coaches who specialize in helping foreign service families.
This is actually something I’ve been personally looking into for a while, even more so since my own family has moved across the world to a new post in the last year. Here’s a round-up of a few foreign service parenting coaches who I think would be incredibly helpful to our FS community families!
I’ll be welcoming a few of these parenting coaches to share their insights in our Toolbox for American Abroad Facebook Group! Join us now so you don’t miss a thing! www.facebook.com/groups/ToolboxForAmericansAbroad
Former U.S. Ambassador William Stoltzfus Jr. served many years in the Middle East, but it took him two attempts to be able to pass the Foreign Service Officer test. He was quoted in Princeton’s weekly community newsletter, Town Topics, saying, “I was turned down because they felt I didn't know enough about the U.S.!”
That statement makes sense when you consider that Ambassador Stolzfus, a child to Presbyterian missionaries, William and Ethel Stolfzfus, spent his childhood in Syria and Lebanon until he was 15 years old.
“I had fallen really short when asked to name 11 ports on the Mississippi River and other
mysterious questions to someone who grew up in the Middle East,” he told writer Jean
Stratton. “So I studied some American history, and the second time around, I was accepted.”
Families within the Foreign Service are expected to work and live overseas, and their children
get to experience some pretty amazing things throughout their overseas childhood, but there
can be a tradeoff.
American history is often not a course that is available in the host country,
even though it's an important subject that should be taught to American kids—no matter
where they live.
Online supplemental American history courses, such as the ones offered at U.S. History Abroad,
make it easy for parents to provide the American history education that kids are receiving in
These types of program mean foreign service kids can continue to benefit from the unique experiences of living abroad, while still keeping pace with their peers back in the States. So as a FS parent, you truly can support your child’s education and give them the best of both worlds!
For more information, visit www.ushistoryabroad.com.
In August, I held a very special EFM Careers Summit inside the Toolbox for Americans Abroad Facebook Group. I live-chatted with nine speakers to get their advice and stories about how they’ve created and managed careers for themselves while at different posts all over the world! There were so many great takeaways, it’s much too difficult to share it all on one page, so here are a few quick-hit words of wisdom from each of the guest speakers.
Now you can watch or rewatch all of these video interviews, just click HERE!
Moving from one country to another can be stressful and sometimes feel isolating, especially if you’re doing it frequently. It’s important to have a strong community around you to give support, offer a helping hand, and simply provide friendship.
No matter where in the world you are, our Foreign Service community can be a great resource to help you get through life at a new post, but plugging in somewhere new is often easier said than done. And once you do get plugged in, life can get in the way of staying connected. So how do you go about getting and staying involved in your community? Here are five tips I’ve used as I’ve moved with my family from one post to the next:
1. Put yourself out there! I totally understand that if you’re shy, actually taking the step to connect to strangers can seem terrifying; but the truth is, so many other people are looking for a friend and sense of community too--they’re just too afraid to make the first move themselves. Start by connecting where you feel comfortable. It can be as simple as complimenting someone in line while picking up your packages, making small talk with someone at your favorite coffee shop, or planning a play date for your kids. Putting yourself out there may be the most challenging step, but it’s also the most rewarding!
2. Make friends with your Community Liaison Officer (CLO). Ask your CLO for the inside scoop on your post’s community. How have people come together in the past? Are there certain activities that really bring the community together? Is there a community chat on WhatsApp or do people prefer communicating on Facebook? You can even try asking what’s missing in the community. Are people craving a book club but no one’s organized one yet? Be willing to step up and fill a void. Your CLO is a tremendous support system; let them you know what to be involved in the community and/or meet new friends, and they’ll probably get the word out and point you in the right direction.
3. Join the community Facebook group. If there isn’t a group set up for your local post then create one! Use it as a forum to talk about what your family is doing. If you’re taking your kids swimming, ask if other parents want to come along. If you just tried a new restaurant, share your thoughts and ask for additional recommendations.
4. Just say YES! Start saying yes to all the invitations that come your way! This isn’t forever, but when you first arrive at a new post, do your best to attend every get-together, party, play date, CLO Coffee, or other invitation extended to you. You’ll meet new people and showing up for stuff will help you keep tabs on all the community goings-on.
5. Throw a party! Better yet, don’t wait for others to invite you to a party—throw your own! Most people are looking for a sense of community too, they’re just too afraid to make the first move. It doesn’t have to be elaborate either. Love wine? Create a wine club. Into board games? Host a family game night! Or simply bring people together for a barbecue or a potluck.
I like the idea of, what I call, Treats in the Streets. It’s a fun twist on trick or treat! Ask few neighbors to serve a treat (like cookies, lemonade, etc.) and the take turns visiting the different treat stations. The “party” possibilities are endless; do whatever makes you feel most comfortable!
Above all else, remember everyone is new to a post at one point. So don’t stress! It might take a little time to find your community, but I’ll happen. If you put yourself out there and share a friendly smile, you’ll ultimately find the circle that’s right for you!
Want more tips and tricks for making your life in the Foreign Service a bit easer? For an ongoing list of ideas like these, straight to your inbox each week, subscribe to 3-Things.
Once your family makes the decision to join the foreign service and move abroad, it—very obviously—completely changes your life. With every new post comes new opportunities, new challenges, new excitement.
No matter how long you’ve been in the foreign service and living abroad for, you’ll learn there are a few essentials you need to make your life easier.
My family has been a part of the foreign service for more than 9 years (and are currently bidding)! I've found that as new technology, gadgets, entertainment, and life hacks become available, life abroad gets a little easier and easier. Make sure you have these seven essentials with you no matter where you are in the world.
1. Pack a Go Bag At this point, we all know how important it is to have an emergency kit for when disaster strikes. Living abroad in often unstable, unfamiliar, or at the very least, interesting places, it’s even more essential. A natural disaster or even a power outage can leave your family in the lurch if you’re not prepared. Actually putting a Go Bag together can be overwhelming—there are so many “must-have” items. Which do you really need? Which are the best? Let’s Go! Bags takes the hassle out of making your own. You can order a complete kit—with everything from light to food to water to chargers—or make your own from their curated list of supplies. Let’s Go! Bag makes it so easy, so no more excuses for not having one.
2. Learn CPR Here’s another living-abroad essential many of us have neglected or put off. Maybe you think you don’t have the time or won’t be able to handle the stress of having someone’s life on your hands, but a basic knowledge of CPR is truly the difference between life and death. This video from the British Heart Foundation proves it’s not as hard as it looks (and trust me, after watching, you won’t soon forget the technique).
3. Keep Your Kids Safe The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift are two MUST reads for any parent. The Gift of Fear teaches you how to trust your gut to protect yourself in potentially dangerous situations, and Protecting the Gift takes it a step further by sharing practical steps to ensure your children are protected and giving you the tools to keep them safe, no matter their age.
4. Listen to the Expat Happy Hour This awesome podcast—hosted by Sundae Bean, an “intercultural specialist” and expat coach—is dedicated to helping expats adapt and succeed when living abroad. Expat Happy Hour is created to help you solve some of the stickiest challenges related to international life. It’s funny, heartfelt, and helpful, and will get your through tough transitions and help you feel more connected.
5. Stock Up on The Right Gadgets Having the right tech in your pocket will make life abroad so much easier. This solar-powered phone charger ensures you have power, as long as there’s sun. If you don’t already have an Amazon Kindle, then get one! The newest version holds thousands of titles so you’ll never be without something to read. Finally, this non-tech multi-tool is really 10 tools in one; from a driver to tweezers to a bottle opener, you’ll be set for whatever life throws at you.
6. Get Some Helpful Travel Tech Whether you’re into researching your next trip or hate the idea of looking up places, there’s a travel app for you. TripIt helps you organize and access all your travel bookings in one place (offline too!). On the other hand, Inspirock does all the planning for you, building an itinerary with tons of carefully curated attractions to match her personal preferences. Of course, you’ll want to capture all your amazing travel moments, and for that, there’s Flytographer, which sets you up with a local photographer at more than 300 destinations across the world. Need a method to pay for the next trip? Make sure the foreign transaction fees on your travel credit card are minimal (or even better, zero!). You'll likely be able to score some rewards when you use your card too!
7. Hack Your Foreign Service Life There are a ton of benefits to living abroad, but if you don’t know the hacks that’ll make your life easier, you’re missing out! Download 40 Hacks for Life in the Foreign Service and see what a huge impact it makes! I know it’ll save you so much time, money, and stress! www.ushistoryabroad.com/hacks
We'd been out of the country for four years and wanted our kids to review and learn American history before returning. I was anxious about their re-entry experience, but U.S. History Abroad's courses brought surprising excitement from my kids about moving back.
When we arrived, [to D.C.] a museum volunteer commented at how knowledgable my kids were about the American Revolution! That was a proud mama moment for sure.
If I had know how short & sweet these history lessons were, I wouldn't have put off enrolling in them. Don't wait until the year before you move back to the States if you can help it. It turned out to be fine-- the kids just took two courses this year to get caught up, but they enjoyed it so much, I wish they could've taken their time."
Click >>HERE<< to read more testimonials from parents and students.
If your child is a new student at school this year or has had a tough time adjusting in the past, then you’ll want to implement the 11 tips below to set the stage for a successful year ahead.
We parents know that the Foreign Service lifestyle provides many benefits for our children. It also comes with challenges that can be heartbreaking to witness, especially if you don’t know how to help.
Think about how you would feel if you had to go into the office every day to a job where you felt unqualified, unprepared, or isolated. You would hate it and probably not succeed for very long. Following the tips below will ensure that the groundwork is in place for our kids to shine and feel proud of themselves!
1. Meet the Teachers
Parent-teacher conferences are nice, but don’t wait until you’re invited to meet the teacher. Not every school has them and sometimes they occur several months into the school year, which is too late. Instead, schedule 20-30 minutes before or after school for an introductory meeting with the teacher. You will show the teacher that you are an involved parent that cares about your child’s progress. You should also use this time to discuss unique or specific circumstances with the teacher. Is your child an introvert? Do they have learning differences? Are there any family matters that would affect your child’s focus?
2. Get Involved with the School
Commit to volunteering at least 1-2 hours a month at the school. If parents are not allowed in the classroom then ask if you can assist in the library or with special projects, performances, or school events. Most schools have a parent association that you can join. Your kids will notice that their education is important to you.
3. Encourage Reading at Home
Readers tend to be more creative, open to new ideas, and do better in school. Also, when kids are reading a good book, they can relax and de-stress. Audiobooks count too! Here’s a list of some great American classics to listen to.
4. Emphasize Friendships
Help kids connect with at least one other person in their classroom. If your child is shy, they may need your help! Offer to host a make-your-own-pizza party, a create an ice cream sundae bar, or a sugar cookie decorating party for your child and a few friends. Repeat until your child has at least one friend that they look forward to laughing and talking with at school.
5. Fill the Gaps
One of the most frustrating parts about constantly moving is the inconsistency of curriculum. Here’s an example; The old school didn’t teach multiplication until 4th grade, but the new school teaches it in 3rd. SOOO, when you get to post, your 4th grader is now “a year behind” in math. What about U.S. History? Most International schools don’t teach it all, but your child will certainly need it if a domestic post is in your future, or if your kid intends to take the ACT and SAT to get into college.
U.S. History Abroad provides online American history courses for expat kids. The lessons are self- paced so students can fit them in on a weekday afternoon, a weekend, or a summer break. This year, students get a $150 Amazon gift card to purchase their choice of recommended books and games.
6. Fuel the Brain
The daily grind of a typical school day can get pretty boring, pretty fast, BUT meals don’t have to be mundane. Here is a link to some yummy (some funny) breakfast and snack ideas that are sure to boost alertness and memory.
7. Talk (and listen)
If you’ve ever asked your child “How was school today?” and they responded with “Fine.” or “Good.” then you’re asking the wrong question. Try asking questions that elicit full sentences and result in interesting conversation like:
It’s also fun to ask kids to rate the school day on a scale of 1-5 on a daily basis.
8. Define Success
It’s important to talk with kids at the beginning of the school year to communicate what is expected of them. It’s equally important for them to be able to express to you what their goals for the year are. The point is, success is not just getting top grades. For some kids it means trying new things that are difficult for them (speaking up in class, learning a new language, trying a new sport/instrument). Other ideas to define success are turning in homework on time (without nagging), packing healthy lunches, maintaining friendships, or waking up on time/by themselves.
9. Get Equipped
Start the school year off right with the proper school supplies. Some schools will send a list of required items that you can buy on the local economy or order from Amazon. If not, here is a list that you can download
10. Encourage More Sleep
Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic founder, Mandy Gurney, says that in general, children need to get more sleep. Here is her guidance:
You can set a reminder alarm 45 minutes before bedtime to help kids remember to start winding down their day and get into bed.
11. Protect Family Time
Older children may try to slink off with their phones or tablets, but research shows that teens who spend more time with their parents have higher self-esteem & self- confidence. Eat dinner together! Declare Friday nights (or Sunday afternoons) family game time or watch a movie together. Bribe kids to chat about current events with you by serving them dessert, lots of it.
I'm so excited to announce the kick-off of this year's Summer Reading Program for Foreign Service (FS) Kids!
As a mom to three FS kids, I know how important it is to keep some cultural traditions going, even while living abroad.
I loved participating in our library's summer reading program as a child and have thankfully passed on that enthusiasm to my kiddos as well.
BUT... there are no programs like this overseas.
So, I just created one.
Now FS kids living outside of the U.S. can experience this famous American tradition!
Read 8 books and get 1 Free!
Join NOW to get your reading chart and age appropriate book suggestions!
No matter where you are in the world, you and your family are probably already making plans to celebrate Memorial Day. From BBQs to family time there are so many ways to spend the holiday.
There’s a good chance your post has some activities planned, such as participating in the National Moment of Remembrance. While the President or Vice President lay a wreath on soldiers' graves in Arlington National Cemetery each Memorial Day, he’ll also issue a Presidential Proclamation and Prayer for Peace at 3 p.m. local time. You can read the Prayer for Peace online with your children and then try out one of these Memorial Day crafts to get your kids in the patriotic spirit.
History of Memorial Day
Today, Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May; it honors all the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. The holiday got its start in the years following the Civil War and was originally known as Decoration Day.
After the Civil War, which claimed an estimated 500,00 lives—more than any conflict in our nation’s history—Americans began holding springtime memorials for the fallen soldiers. Their tributes included decorating the graves of soldiers and reciting prayers.
On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, called for a nationwide day of remembrance; this would later be known as Decoration Day. He declared, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country.”
The first Decoration Day was celebrated with a speech from General James Garfield at Arlington National Cemetery. More than 5,000 people gathered and decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington.
By 1890, most Northern states had made Decoration Day, an official holiday. However, Southern states, honored their soldiers on different days. It wasn’t until after World War I that the United States moved from honoring just the soldiers of the Civil War to honoring the military personnel who died in all wars.
In 1968, nearly a century after the holiday was first introduced, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, rather than May 30, giving federal employees a three-day weekend. You might even say that it also cemented the holiday as the unofficial start to summer, mixing the day of observance and reflection with lighthearted fun.
Memorial Day Craft Ideas
These crafts can be completed by kids of all ages but feel free to modify the steps to fit your child’s capabilities.
Patriotic Jar Candle
Your child can get creative with this craft! There are several ways to make this Memorial Day jar candle. They can paint on a design or roll it in embellishments to make it their own!
Red, White, and Blue Parfait
This “craft” also offers several iterations. You can make it as healthy as you want it and allow your kids to choose their favorite fruits to add to it.
Stars and Stripes Kite
You can make this as a kite and let your kid try and get it airborne, or make it into a pennant and use it to decorate your home or kid’s room.
How are you spending Memorial Day this year? Share your plans in the comments below! And if you make any of these crafts, share photos of your kids’ finished product with me on Facebook or tag U.S. History Abroad on Instagram.
If you’re like a lot of families abroad (and even back home in the U.S.) then dinner is probably pretty chaotic. You’ve just finished cooking, your spouse still isn’t home from work, one kid is at a friend’s house, the other is grumbling about homework…it’s a challenge to get everyone to the dinner table at the same time to enjoy a meal together.
When you pull your family away from their friends, electronics, toys, or even work, dinner can feel more like a chore than quality time together.
The CRAZY DINNER changes all of that.
One of my dearest friends from our 2-year assignment to Moscow introduced me to CRAZY DINNERS and they've been a hit in our house ever since!
We've discussed picky eaters and incorporating American history in your meal time, but this meal is all about FUN. It brings chaos to the dinner table in all the right ways.
You can have a Crazy Dinner with just your family, or invite another family over to take part in the silliness too. The more people, the more crazy.
All you need to make this happen is to empty out your kitchen, get a little creative, and be willing to look a little ridiculous.
The first time we tried a Crazy Dinner at my house, my family thought I was crazy! But since then, I can’t even count how many times my kids have asked that we do it again. That’s the beauty of a Crazy Dinner—not only is it fun, but you can do it over and over again and it’ll never get old.
You’re probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about. I wrote out the full instructions and provided a few recipes to try out, so you can have your own Crazy Dinner with your family. Check it out by clicking the link below.
No matter how many times you’ve moved across the globe, a new post comes with its own unique challenges and excitement. You know that with every brand-new country, comes new adjustments.
Our saving grace from the anxiety of a new move, most of the time, comes from a CLO or sponsor. As we get more posts and countries under our belts, we might forget or take for granted just how awesome sponsors are, but think back to your very first time abroad, how much hand-holding and comforting did you need?
I’m hoping you’ve all been fortunate enough to have at least one amazing sponsor. Some of us have had not-so-stellar sponsors too, and boy, what a difference it makes! While some posts do offer sponsor guidelines, we know that going slightly above and beyond those makes for a great community sponsor. I tapped a few people in our foreign service community (and added my own experience) to find out some of the actions and special touches their sponsor took to make their transition to their new post a lot easier—that way if you get tapped to sponsor a family, you’ll know how to take your welcome to the next level.
How to Be a Good Community Sponsor
First and foremost, as a community sponsor, your role is to make your sponsoree feel welcome at their new post. Not every family will have the same needs, but here are some general ideas and ways to help them out.
1. Answer all of your sponsoree’s questions—to the best of your ability and without any eyerolling.
A family on their first tour will have a ton of questions. Do they have shampoo there or should I pack my own? Will there be internet? How do I get around the city? Can I bring my cat? What are the best schooling options? (Don’t forget to give U.S. History Abroad a shout out with this question! Especially since your kids can study together and form their own relationships, making them feel more at home.) You may also encounter families who have been in the foreign service for decades, and only have logistical questions. Even if there’s nothing important to discuss, it’s helpful to talk with somebody already at post. Offer as many answers as you can either way, and do so with a smile.
2. Talk up your post.
You might be in a bustling city in China with faulty internet connections, a quaint town just outside a history city in Europe, or in the middle of Malawi, where your closes neighbors are a family of mosquitoes—it doesn’t matter, talk your post up. Yes, answer all your sponsoree’s questions honestly, but remember, they probably already have some reservations and anxiety about moving somewhere new. You’ve got to be their cheerleader and moral support. There’s a silver lining to every post; helping them find it before arrival will make them feel a little more at ease and excited for what’s ahead.
3. Have a meal ready upon your sponsoree’s arrival.
As you probably remember, after a day (or sometimes several days) of travel, all you want is a cozy bed and some warm food. A good sponsor knows that a hot meal can do wonders for welcoming a new family to post. When you’re talking to your sponsoree, find out if anyone in their family has food sensitivities or allergies. Here are three make-ahead, freezer-friend, pop-in-the-oven-and-done recipes to bring over.
4. Fill up their fridge.
The day before or morning of your sponsoree’s arrival hit up your local grocery store and fill up their fridge. Ask them for a grocery list and get as many of the items as possible, that way they don’t need to feel frantic because there’s nothing for breakfast and they have no clue where to shop.
5. Put together—and unpack—a “welcome kit.”
Typically, a welcome kit consists of household necessities like silverware, coffee maker, toaster, dishes, towels, and the like. When your sponsoree’s family gets to their new post, they’re already going to have to do a lot of unpacking, so help them out by putting away some of these items. Obviously, don’t open any packages without permission, but getting their home ready with these items will help them to settle in a lot quicker. If you know that cash is a necessity at your post, lend your sponsoree a few bills of the local currency, that way they’ll be able to get by for a few days before going to the embassy cashier.
6. Make their house a home.
You can take unpacking the welcome kit a step further by setting up their home to make it cozy and inviting the minute they step in. Make their beds (find out what bed linen goes where beforehand), and leave a thoughtful gift like a candle or fresh flowers. Even something like making sure their internet is set up, will make them feel more at home.
Consider buying flowers, a bowl of fruit, or some small welcoming gift to make it feel more homey. (Other examples: A friend of mine likes to buy a nice kitchen towel and I like to make a sleep spray out of my essential oils.
7. Give them a tour of the city.
Give everyone the chance to get settled (and some sleep), then offer to take your sponsoree and their family around the neighborhood. Point out important landmarks and places, including grocery stores, parks, banks, schools, and anything else they’re curious about.
8. Make sure your sponsoree’s kids feel at home too.
Whether they’ve been around to a few posts or are fresh-faced and wide-eyed, there’s a good chance your sponsoree didn’t pack as many toys as their kids would have liked. If you have children around the same age as your sponsoree’s family, lend them a few toys, games, and books to until the rest of their stuff arrives. You might also want to take your kids over and introduce them, that way they’ll have some familiar faces to say hello to.
9. Help out with the kids.
There are a lot of errands and responsibilities that need to be taken care of once you get to post. Visits to the embassy to fill out paperwork or grab packages can end up taking longer and being more stressful than expected. If you can, arrange for playdates or to watch your sponsoree’s children when they have to go take care of business. (They might even return the favor once things calm down.)
10. Stay connected.
Continue to reach out to your sponsoree as they settle in. They’re not going to be completely acclimated to their new post in the first day, so remind them that they can still turn to you with any questions and that you’re still there to help.
Continuing to reach out over the first several weeks, rather than the obligatory one trip to the grocery store and done. Making it a point to introduce the new family around, especially the EFM, who doesn’t meet people at the office. – Deborah S.
How to Show Your Appreciation by Being a Good Sponsoree
The best way to say thank you to a great sponsor is by being a great sponsoree.
1. Keep them informed.
Your sponsor will obviously need to know your flight details, but let them know how much you’re traveling with too. Five pieces of luggage, an animal crate, and two car seats probably won’t fit in a standard car. Help them help you by providing as much info as necessary, and answer any questions they may have as well.
2. Pay them back ASAP.
Don’t make it awkward! Your sponsor has hopefully gone above and beyond to purchase the groceries and household items you requested, so make sure you pay them back as soon as you can. Venmo, Paypal, and Zelle make it super easy, so no excuses here.
3. Bring a gift from the U.S. (or whatever country you’re traveling from).
While we wait for Trader Joe’s to start shipping internationally, take advantage of the items you can only get at home and bring some of those treasures over to your sponsor. Ask them if there’s anything—food, supplies, beauty products, etc.—that they miss and would love to have. It’s a small gesture, but it can have a huge impact on showing your appreciation.
Have you ever had a sponsor who completely exceeded your expectations? What did they do? Share your advice, tips, and stories in the comments below!
I get so excited hearing about expat kids really getting into learning their U.S. history. It was one of my favorite subjects growing up, and I think there are so many more resources available today to help kids learn in a fun way.
Of course, one prominent subject in U.S. history is geography. We touch on it in American History Course B, which is available to students in K-2nd grade, but if students aren’t regularly practicing their geography skills they can literally get lost during other U.S. history lessons.
With 50 states, it’s easy to forget where each one is located, let alone facts about the state or each state’s capital. Think about it. Could you point out New Hampshire on a map?
Because U.S. geography is so important, I wanted to round up a bunch of apps, activities, and toys that would make it fun for your student to learn. Here are 10 (almost all of which you can find on Amazon) that’ll make learning geography less of a lesson, and more of a game.
2. Learn & Climb Electronic Kids Map of the United States
Your child can explore the country with the Learn & Climb Electronic Kids Map. It’s designed with bright illustrations that make learning geography interactive and fun. When children press on a state, the map’s push-to-talk system shares one of more than 500 interesting facts. This toy gives them the opportunity to learn about all 50 U.S. states, capital cities, climates, fun facts, and quizzes.
3. Map of The United States Geography Puzzle
This U.S. geography puzzle can help your child learn the nation’s 50 states by name, capital city, shape, location, and even nickname. The puzzle includes 70 double-sided pieces that are shaped like each state and have each one’s nickname printed on the back. With fun illustrations, this puzzle is an engaging and unique way to start learn U.S. geography!
5. GeoCards USA
If your child learns well with flashcards, then get them GeoCards USA. The set comes with 50 jumbo-sized cards and instructions for five different card games. Each card has the state on one side and the capital on the other; they also include information on the state’s population and land area.
6. U.S. Geography by Mindsnacks
Fair warning: your kids might find this geography app a little addictive. It seems to cover just about every geography fact you could want to know about the United States, including landforms, state capitals, mottos, famous citizens, and state histories. With eight games, the app is perfect for geography learners of any level. Students will gain a full understanding of the country—geographically and beyond—as well as their place in it.
8. States and Capitals Flash Cards with Workbooks and Worksheets
This learning set will prepare your child for every U.S. geography quiz they’ll ever face. It comes with two sets of 50 flash cards; one set includes the 50 states and capitals, the other has more advanced facts. On top of that, your child can complete workbook exercises, maps, and quizzes to test their knowledge.
9. Educational Trivia Card Game - Professor Noggin's Card Games
The Professor Noggins card series encourages kids to learn interesting facts about their favorite subjects—like U.S. geography! The game cards combine trivia, true or false statements, and multiple-choice questions. Players collect cards by answering questions; the one with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner. (The series also includes History of the United States and Presidents of the United States card games.)
Let me know in the comments below if you have any tools you’ve found helpful for teaching geography!
If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter yet, do it now! Email subscribers got a whole new list with completely different games—plus tools, songs, and activities to teach geography. (As a subscriber you’ll get extra bonuses and exclusive news or promos that I won’t be posting here, so don’t miss out!)