Brandon is a Junior Officer and has guided bids for his first few tours. What this means is that everyone in a particular bidding cycle (which is based on when you got to post - 'summer' or 'winter') gets a list of available jobs, and has to pick 20 jobs that they'd like to do for their next post.
These jobs have various components to them - when they're open, what language they require, where they are, and what actual job they are. All four of these components are very crucial to what 20 jobs go on one's particular list. There may be a position open in Vienna, but if it's consular opening in August of 2011, you don't speak any German, and are a political officer, that job in Vienna is not only useless to your career but isn't going to happen anyway because German is not a language that can be taught in no months (sigh).
Everyone's situation is different and is defined by what particular pieces they have fulfilled/are lacking. By then end of two tours all JO's need: 1. at least one year in a consular position 2. functional knowledge (according to their tests) of a foreign language and 3. something in their particular field because when the third tour comes, they have to get a job based on who they know and what skills they possess because the magic wish list no longer exists.
Brandon is currently serving his consular tour, and so now we're looking for a political job for the next time around. Political officers are often counseled to stay in two geographic regions, and so we'd like to stick to Arabic/Russian speaking posts. But that is where all of that nice theory starts to break down.
Before receiving the bid list, we had a nice little plan to go somewhere straight from Cairo - surely there are enough Arabic and Russian speaking posts that something would come up, right? What we didn't factor in was an enormous hiring surge that would leave the HR people scrambling for enough jobs for all of the people coming out of initial training.
So when we got the list, all of the political jobs that had any language except English and Spanish had dates that included 2012 in them - some of them as far as December 2012. And we're done with this post in 2011, which leaves a very large gap of time to be filled between summer 2011 and (at earliest) April 2012. Since State doesn't pay us to sit in DC while we're waiting for a job to open up, Brandon gets to have language training, any language training really, as long as it takes time.
Which leaves Brandon in an incredibly odd position: too much language capability. He knows enough Arabic that he doesn't need trained for those jobs opening up in 2012, and the same goes for Russian (although I'm not that disappointed to be missing out on Moscow). He also has just too much French for any of the French posts as he only would need a top-off course which wouldn't take long enough. And his Spanish is not enough and too much at the same time: not enough for Spanish posts opening up soon (I'm not sad about Mexico City either), but too much to need a full language course.
Brandon's top pick is in another strange language never-never land: it's a either/or language post and Brandon has one of the two. His CDO got back to him the other day and said that they would only consider him if the other language was the one they wanted. Essentially they'd rather train someone else in one language that Brandon already speaks rather than have Brandon trained in the second language and speak both of the languages [insert derogatory remark about government healthcare here].
And so the last few weeks have been spend researching posts, making a list, having half of it disappear to the early bidders, researching posts, making a list, having half of it struck down because of timing issues, researching posts, and making yet another list. At this point I really don't care where they send us, as long as I don't have to make any more lists and make any more decisions about housing and household help.
But, you ask, where are all of these places we could be living in two years? I'm not telling; that's for when we actually know.
I have, however, been using the last few issues of National Geographic to do some looking into where we could live. So I'll give you one hint: we're not going to Australia.