Saturday, September 15, 2007

How this all happened

We've always wanted to live overseas. I'm a missionary kid and grew up in the Philippines, coming back to the states in 1993 to go to college. By the time I was done with it I knew I would be heading back out, as a missionary myself I thought, but first I had to pay down my school debt, which is what I set myself to for the next couple of years. Just as I finished that, I met my future wife Kerri and ended up marrying her a year or so later. One of our many compatibilities was our outlook on the world and desire to live overseas. However she too had school debt so once again we set to working on paying that down, figuring we didn't want to start out on such an ephemeral existence while owing any man.

Unfortunately, we got started in the wrong direction right off the bat, buying a house, settling into a small town, having a baby earlier than we intended, starting a career in Microsoft training...all of this had the effect of saddling us with numerous difficult to cast off ties that we've been slowly untangling over the past 7 years.

First we sold the house, moved several times each time taking the opportunity to cast off more possessions with the aim of living as mobile as possible. Eventually we ended up downtown Portland in an apartment, I had managed to switch jobs to be able to do what I had been teaching with a company also downtown. We love it in Portland and are very glad we made the move. We always say that if we have to live somewhere in the U.S., Portland is where we'd like to be. I cannot rhapsodize enough about it, nor do I have time today.

Along the way we had shifted our priorities regarding overseas living, realizing that typical missionary work was probably not going to work out for us. This opened up the possibility of getting work overseas, which also made the issue of the school debt (now surprisingly harder to pay down w/ the usual family expenses, and increase in cost of living in Portland) less critical to us. However, there were some other family obligations that developed and became the primary thing keeping us here. Recently, this issue was resolved in such a way that we felt free again to pursue the idea of moving abroad. This in combination with some marked instability with my company led to a new push to be out of the country by July, 2008, the end of our current lease. So we started looking...

Kerri is an avid Craigslister and she began trawling for possibilities sending them my way to veto or try out. One of them was an unassuming post located in "the middle east" doing basically what I'm doing now (AD and Exchange). I figured it couldn't hurt to apply, so I sent my resume in, not thinking I'd hear anything back.

A few days later I got a call from a first level recruiter who asked me some basic questions, and who then told me I might hear back from the next level of recruiters sometime in the next 3 or so weeks. She did tell me that the positions open now were in Baghdad and Afghanistan, to which I responded letting her know that I was only interested in positions that would allow my family to come along. She said she'd look and see if there were some available.

Based on previous experience, I didn't expect to hear back again, and it was 1 week later that I got a phone call while out on my bike riding to a park nearby to where we live. We reconvened at the park and I was asked some slightly more in depth questions on Exchange database recovery tools. It slowly dawned on me that I was basically being offered a position...though I had virtually no information on who or where... These were the answers to some basic questions at that time:

1) Who: ITT Systems, a contractor to the military
2) Where: Kuwait, on a military base
3) When: Not sure at all, the process is apparently byzantine

An offer letter would be forthcoming in a the next few days...

We were seemed so fast. We talked a bit about it...Kuwait was never on our list of "want to live" places, there was the safety issue (not a problem it turns out), added to which was a recent restructure of our budget and priorities all aimed at leaving in a year, not right now. We decided to try and keep our excitement down and think carefully about it before immediately going nuts.

The next day, the offer arrived. We had 5 days to accept, which of course was no guarantee of getting the was contingent upon numerous things such as a full medical exam, dental exam, visa application being approved, and security clearance obtained. We decided to take the weekend to think and pray about it, and seek advice from family members and friends. I wasn't going to notify my boss at work until we had decided for sure, but he was leaving on vacation the next week and I felt it would be more appropriate to tell him we were seriously looking at a new opportunity before he left.

That weekend we talked to a lot of people, prayed a lot, thought a lot, and eventually decided that it was the opportunity in front of us and there was no reason not to go. We new the hours would be tough (60 hour weeks, 12 hours x 5 days), that I'd have to be there for 3 months before Kerri and Rowan could come over, and that we might hate it there. was also a contract job renewed yearly and if things were really awful we could decide not to renew, or ask for a different assignment. The company, ITT Systems, is a very large international contract company so it would seem a good place to start work for if it could lead to assignments in other countries. In any case, it was as good a place to start as any.

We accepted the offer and thus began 3 weeks of filling out papers, making appointments, and general discovery of this process.

After acceptance, we had to schedule a medical exam using their intermediary. I got this done in the next week, along with the dental exam and form. We spent a good 4 or so nights filling out the initial paperwork which is mammoth. Luckily they prefer it if you scan in documents and send them via email which simplified things massively as we have a pretty good scanner/printer combo.

Then came the security clearance online form...which required information on living and work history going back 7 years. Also information on family and their citizenship status. This was the worst, my brother and sisters all having been born outside of the country but citizens, they required proof of citizenship status, either certificate of citizenship or naturalization certificate. Well we couldn't find either for my brother and one sister, even after frantic calling and searching through records. Doesn't help that my brother is in the UK, my sister is autistic, and my mother is in South Korea...coordinating communication was exceptionally difficult and the periods of waiting in between were excruciating. I finally got through to my contact at ITT Systems and they told me that a passport number was sufficient (despite it not being an option on the form itself). Luckily we had that information and were able to submit the form.

The visa was going to take the longest potentially, as the month of Ramadan began on 9/12 and we were told that things slow down a lot in the Kuwaiti government during the fasting and festivities. They said that if it didn't get done in the big push just prior, then it wouldn't be til mid October that we found out if it would work out. By this time we had resigned ourselves to the fact that it really might not work out after all.

At work, I had let my boss's boss know we were pursuing this, but had not yet officially resigned, as that is not recommended until it is final. Of course, it would have been within his right to terminate me immediately as a security risk, but luckily he decided against that. We figured that if he did, we weren't going to let that stop us from dealing with our employers with integrity. I refuse to play the political games that always seem to be going on.

After submitting the clearance form, there was nothing left to do but wait...which was hard...but a couple of days ago we finally got the call letting us know everything had come through and that they were ready to schedule my departure date. I'll be heading in 3 weeks to a "CRC" which is a location in the US where presumably they have some basic training and briefing for 1 week prior to flying me directly to Kuwait.

And so began our preparations in earnest...we need to sell everything, get all finances in order, and Kerri and Rowan will be moving to Newberg to stay with family for the next 3 months. I've given my two weeks notice officially to work which will leave one week for final prep.

We are profoundly excited...

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