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!