Hands down, the most exciting thing about A-100 is the bid list. Even though most of us will remain in the DC area for the short-term future (anywhere from a few months to 2 years), we keep narrowing the possibilities of our next post. First, we get the bid list which narrows down the possibilities to about 70 locations or so. Then, we start thinking about which post we WANT. Then, in a few weeks, we will find out where we are actually going.
At this point in my career (just starting out), I actually have very little say in where I get to go. Like all foreign service officers, I am world-wide available. I have agreed to go to where ever the State Department sends me. Sure, they could send me to Rome, London, or Paris. But, they could also send me to Islamabad, Mogadishu, or Tokyo. Since I am single, I plan to go alone to my post, but officers are often sent to unaccompanied posts without their family.
That being said, the Foreign Service recognizes that people do better work when they are happy and that people are happier when they are somewhere they want to be. So how do they figure out where everyone goes? Through the bidding process. (Note: the bidding process changes dramatically for mid-level and senior-level officer. I am only familiar with the entry-level bidding process).
My A-100 class was given the bid list which has all the possible posts. This list is fluid. There have already been several changes and there are likely to be a few more changes - even after we turn in the list on Friday. For every post, they list the Bureau, city, job title, approximate start date, differential pay (extra pay for serving in hardship posts), danger pay (extra pay for serving in dangerous posts), and post size. For each of these posts, we have to bid high, medium, or low. We also have to turn in a list of 3 preferences, which help explain WHY I bid what I did. (My 3 preferences are (1) I can bring my dog; (2) decent social/singles life; and (3) I'd like to learn Portuguese or French).
There is a real debate on how people choose to rank their bids. Some people have assigned numerical value for their various preferences and are letting a formula help them make their decisions. Some people have lots of highs, very few mediums and lots of lows. Some have only a few highs, lots of mediums and lows. I can guarantee that no two bid lists are the same. I would venture that no two lists are even substantially the same.
One of the comforting realizations going through this process is that there is someone who loves every post. I have talked to people who can't believe that I like certain posts and other people who are bidding on posts I hate. Everyone is different. So, how did I do this? After doing a fair amount of research (both State Dept. sources and outside sources), I came up with a system.
For me to bid 'high' on a post, I have to absolutely LOVE the post. If I get one of my highs in 2 weeks, you are likely to see me jumping up and down. In my head, I will be making fun of everyone else in my class that I got that post and they didn't. Proper decorum does not allow me to get on stage and say, "Nanananananana", but I can guarantee you that is how I will feel. So, how many places can bring about such euphoria? I believe I will be bidding 14 posts high.
Mediums are a little bit different. A medium might not jump right off the page at me, but I find it very intriguing. Perhaps it is an interesting place, but I don't like the language. Or perhaps the completely obscure language fascinates me. (Who wouldn't want to learn Telugu? Telugu is a real language. You can look it up). At the end of the day, I won't be upset if I get a medium. I may not be shouting off rooftops, but I won't be crying either. I have about 25 or so mediums.
Lows are places or jobs I just really don't want to go to. Now, some of these places are perfectly fine. I would be willing to bet that I have a great time there. But, if I get a low, I have every right to bitch and moan on flag day. I get to be pissy about it and people just have to deal with it.
It is hard to fathom that two weeks ago, I had ZERO idea where I would be going. In a little over two weeks from now, I will KNOW where I am going.