So You Think You Want To Be An International Advisor? (Part IV)

PART IV.  Special Attorney Section

Note: In this section I discuss options those with a law degree may have that the average police officer may not.  If you’re not an attorney you may want to skip this section.

I am an attorney, although as I love to say, I no longer practice law.  We attorneys tend to think we are special so this section is devoted to issues for lawyers.

 As an attorney you may have options which are not available to a lot of people who want to work overseas.  If you have experience working as a prosecutor you probably have the best chance of getting hired overseas.  Rule of Law (RoL) projects always need current or former prosecutors.  Any criminal law experience helps, and if you haven’t been a prosecutor but worked on the defense side, I would still consider applying for RoL positions.  Occasionally positions specifically for defense attorney are available, but those are pretty few and far between as RoL usually focuses on putting criminals in jail rather than defending them.

If you are one of the few attorneys who also has police experience, that will be a double bonus for you because that opens up RoL positions looking for police officers, investigators and managers. Having a law degree will give you a shot at those jobs, too.  They will often pay less than attorney-specific positions, but can still pay well and gets your foot in the door.

Another “foot in the door” position you should consider it the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative ( ) (ABA-ROLI).   This program looks for attorneys and judges to work overseas for periods of time as short as 90 days.  The problem with this “job” is it is a voluntary position.  You don’t get a salary, but I am told all of your travel and living expenses are paid and the stipend is generous enough to put some money in your pocket.  The great thing about this is it is relatively short term so you can test out whether you like working internationally or not. It also gets your foot in the door, allows you to put some international experience on your resume, and you are able to meet and network with people in the field who might hire you for a paid position.

As an attorney you will also have options outside of the CivPol/RoL area. You should look at USAID and contracting companies that work for them.  They will often be involved in civil-law-capacity-building projects and need attorneys for those.  If you have real estate or have banking/financial experience there are jobs available in those sectors.  You may also have office and project management experience which may qualify you for a job outside of normal law practice positions.  Human trafficking, adult abuse, and about any other liberal, not-for-profit cause out there may be looking for an attorney with an altruistic streak to work in one of their projects.  You are limited only by your imagination and ability to pad your resume.  If you ever “billed hours,” padding your resume should be no big deal for you.

In addition to the companies listeed in the last section there are a number of websites that specifically look for attorneys to fill overseas positions.  You can find them through a web search.

In the final section I will try to answer some Frequently Asked Questions.

Next:  Part V. FAQ

©2012 by Steven Fenner


So You Think You Want To Be An International Advisor? (Part III)

Part III.  Getting Hired

Note:  In this section we consider the two main ways of making your dream of working overseas a reality.

Ok, so you’ve read the first two sections (Seriously, read the second section.) and you still want to work overseas.  What do you do to get hired?  First of all I have a little more bad news, the CivPol and Justice Sector jobs are getting harder to find.  Here’s why – Iraq has wound down and Afghanistan is starting that process, Eastern Europe is winding down.  There are fewer jobs out there then there were 5-6 years ago.  The government is broke and cutting back funding.   At the same time you have a lot of people, who have done a mission or two, or who are currently in a mission and faced with being downsized.   Many of these people liked the work and/or the money and want back in or want to stay in.  There is a supply and demand problem.  I suspect this will result in the pay going down in the near future not to mention it being harder for a person who is new to this type of work to get hired.  The good news is Africa and Central-South America are picking up and with any “luck” Syria will be open in the future.  As long at the US wants to play world policeman and fight never-ending wars on drugs and terror there will always be jobs for Rule of Law professionals.  Someone will profit from our folly, it may as well be you.

Here are my thoughts on getting hired.  There are two ways to do it.  One is the “Who you know” game and the other is the “Numbers” game.  If you haven’t worked overseas before you probably should try both.

The “who you know” method is the easiest.  If you have experience in the Rule of Law area (Cop, Prosecutor, Judge) and you have decided you want to work overseas.  Think about who you know, or who you know who knows someone that does.  Contact them, network, and get them to give your résumé to their boss.  If you feel this is taking unfair advantage or not kosher, get over it.  That is how most of the people in this business get hired.  There are so many people looking for these jobs that potential employers are inundated with resumes, they don’t like looking at hundreds of resumes and there are so many idiots with good-looking resumes applying for these jobs that a recruiter or employer is looking for someone they know is “OK” or for someone somebody they know vouches for.  Trust me if the person(s) you talk to doesn’t really like you they won’t forward on your résumé or they will do it with a weak endorsement.  So don’t feel bad about asking.   They are, however at least likely to tell you whether there are any openings now or in the near future and they will probably know who you should contact.  Knowing someone in the biz is vital.

The second method, and the way I got started is the “Numbers Game” method.  I went on the internet, found all the companies I could that were remotely involved in anything I thought I might qualify for or be interested in and I applied.  There are a couple of things to remember about the numbers game.  First of all apply for every job you think you might vaguely be qualified for.  Employers, when they type up the job requirements, are thinking about the perfect candidate.  They might not get the perfect candidate and they might settle for you.  Good enough is a win!   Secondly fill out the forms completely, check for spelling and grammatical errors.  You should have several different resumes highlighting your experience in different ways for different types of jobs.  This method is a pain in the neck and takes up a lot of time as each employer probably has its own fill in the blank web application process.  If you have the option, save or print out the application when you finish, it could save you time in future applications.  Be aware I started filling out online applications in the spring of 2008 and it was the spring of 2010 before I was hired for my first job.  It could take a while.  But if it is something you really want to do keep at it.  Expect to fill out literally hundreds of applications.

Below are links to a number of companies I have worked for, received job offers from or applied to.  This is not a complete list.  Be resourceful, there are also websites out there who are headhunters for companies that hire people for overseas work, use those as well:

Engility (formerly MPRI):

Civilian Police International:




Checci Consulting:



Next:  Part IV.  Special Attorney Section

©2012 by Steven Fenner

So You Think You Want To Be An International Advisor? (Part II b)

Part II b.  The Bad Continued…

Note:  In this segment we consider some additional factors that can make living and working overseas a challenge.

I realize this isn’t politically correct but if your health isn’t good, you are morbidly obese or you have some disability (mental or physical) working overseas, at least in a dangerous location, probably should not be for you.  Surprisingly you can probably get a job overseas because of the employment laws in the US.  But be aware you may have to work in very physically and mentally taxing environment.  You may be in a very hot, non-air-conditioned or a very cold, unheated environment.  You will have to walk a lot more than you do in the US.  You might have to run, lift and carry things or even crawl.  Unless your contract entitles you to military medical care, the care you get will not be what you are used to in the US.   You may not be able to get prescription medicine overseas and what you can get may be of dubious quality and origin.  I have actually worked with people overseas who were well over 100 lbs over weight, their joints were shot, they had back problems, diabetes, etc.  No one wants to help you carry your things, or wait around on you, and no one wants you taking up more than your share of valuable space.  Do everyone a favor and if you are not healthy don’t be a burden to others, stay home.

The free market is alive and well in the international advisor field.  If you work as a contractor (and most of us do), you can bet that your company will know exactly what the minimum amount is that they have to pay someone to work in a specific place.  They will not pay you a penny more.   If the place they send you is really bad, it will pay really well.  If the place is nice it won’t pay very well.  What does this mean?  Afghanistan, South Sudan – lots of money.  Europe – a lot less.    For example, in 2010 I was offered a direct hire job in Afghanistan which would have, with overtime, paid about $300,000 per year.  I turned it down and instead took a job in Kosovo (SE Europe) which paid a lot less, and I mean a lot less.  Instead of living in a shipping container and dodging mortars and bullets I lived in a decent apartment in a nice part of town and spent my occasional free week-ends sipping drinks on a beach in Greece.  Was the loss of income worth it?  That’s a decision you have to make.

On the subject of the contractors you will work for.  Their concern is making money not making you happy.  You are a short term resource to be exploited.  I have heard horror stories about people signing a contract getting on a plane to their new job and when they arrive being told they aren’t getting paid as much as their contract calls for, or being sent off to do a totally different job then they were hired for.  Do not expect your employer to care about you.   They will not do anymore for you than they are required by your contract, maybe less.  No one is looking out for you but you.  I have had good luck so far with the companies I have worked for and have no major complaints, but go into this with your eyes open.   If you don’t like something your contractor does and you complain about it you should not be surprised if the only question they ask you is “Window or aisle?”

It seems inevitable that you will have to work with someone with absolutely no redeeming qualities what-so-ever.  For some reason CivPol (Civilian Police)/ Rule of law work seems to draw some of the biggest jerks and idiots you will ever meet.  As an added bonus they may be your boss.  I do not understand this but the Peter Principle is alive and well in this sector.  My personal theory is that since most contracts are for one year and it is such a pain to find a new person if they fire someone, companies would rather keep an asocial moron than go to the trouble of finding someone new. – As long as they don’t directly cause the company grief.  These types of people are able to move around yearly and stay in this field.  They lied shamelessly to get the job in the first place then every year they get to add a new important sounding position to their résumé.  I cannot over stress this, I have met two of the biggest freaks I have ever known doing this work.  To be fair I have met a lot of good people and made some good friends doing this as well, but most of the friends I have made who work in this field will tell you the same thing.

Finally for those with spouses and families you have to consider the ramifications of being absent from them for at least a year.  Are the events you might miss in your children’s or grandchild’s life really worth the money you will earn?  Being away for months at a time generally doesn’t help a solid marriage and can be the death knell for one on shaky ground.   Are you here to get away from your wife?  Putting off dealing with problems at home is seldom the best way to deal with them.  Being overseas puts you at a distinct disadvantage if your spouse decides to divorce you while you are gone.

I am not joking about any of these issues, please be sure you understand the gravity of what you are considering.  There are more potential problems but I am way over my 500 word per article limit.  Suffice it to say yes there are things you may not like, but many people successfully makes the transition and find working overseas rewarding.

Next:  Part III.  Getting Hired

©2012 by Steven Fenner

So You Think You Want To Be An International Advisor? (Part II)

Part II.  The Bad

Note:  In this section we continue our discussion about working and living as an advisor overseas. I set out some aspects about living overseas that you might consider less appealing.  Overseas assignments vary widely depending on the location, company and type of in mission in which you are working.  All of the factors listed below will not apply to all missions.

“Wow!”  You say, “That sounds great where do I sign up?”  But a little voice in your head may also be saying, “Wait, this sounds too good to be true.  Is there any downside to this big adventure?”   Well the short answer to that is “yes”.  Or perhaps it is more a matter of perspective.  It depends on your personal situation, personality and ability to adapt.  The following information will give you food for thought about whether overseas work is for you or not.

Here’s a quick list of things to think about.  After the list, in the next post, some bigger issues will follow:

  1. If you expect things to be like they are in the US you will be disappointed.  It is different here. That’s kind of the point.  If it is important to you to shop at Wal-Mart and eat at Appleby’s you won’t like it overseas.
  2. If it bothers you when people don’t speak English you probably shouldn’t work overseas.
  3. If you can’t make yourself try strange new foods you probably won’t be happy here.
  4. If you need to pack three large suit cases for a week-end trip, working overseas isn’t for you.
  5. If there is no way on God’s green earth you will ever understand the metric system, you could have problems.
  6. If you can’t imagine working unarmed.  This work may not be for you.  Some missions allow advisors to carry a weapon, many do not.
  7. If you are a type “A” personality and have to be moving at a gazillion miles an hour all of the time, overseas work may be unduly frustrating for you.  On a daily basis everything moves slower here and no matter how hard you try you will not be able to speed it up.
  8. You may feel much of your time is spent unproductively and the way work gets done may be extremely frustrating and hard to comprehend.
  9. If you think the rest of the world love’s Americans, the American Dollar and wants to be like us you are in for a rude awakening.
  10. If you are unfamiliar with the phrase “situational awareness” please, please stay home.
  11. On a related note:  No one outside of the litigious US really cares much about civil liability, it is a dangerous world out there, full of sharp pointy things, electrical hazards, unsanitary conditions, holes in the ground, really bad drivers, etc.  If you can’t pay attention to what you are doing and your surroundings you are likely to get hurt.
  12. If you think you would totally freak out if you were shot at, mortared, rocketed or if someone tries to blow you up you should think twice about working overseas.
  13. If creäture comforts are important to you, you may not like it here.  If you are living on a FOB (Forward Operating base)in Afghanistan if you are lucky you will live in a CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) this is a finished out shipping container which may or may not have electrical power to it.  It may not have a bathroom and you may have roommates.  You might live in a tent.  You might have to walk a couple of blocks to use the shower or the toilet, which sucks at O’dark-thrity on a brisk January morning.  If the shower works it will probably be cold.
  14. You may be required to work long hours.  Seriously, you might be working 12-hour days six days a week, sometimes even seven.   This is one factor to consider when you are thinking about the “big money” contractors make.  If you work 72 hours per week is your hourly wage really all that great?  Does it matter since you won’t be home for a year to spend it?
  15. That’s right most contracts are for one full year.  You will get a chance to go home a couple of times during that year, but every time you go home it costs you money.

Next:  Part II continued, more factors to consider.

Day Trip to Prizren

Downtown Prizren from the Fortress

     An employee group with the U.S. Embassy occasionally sponsors trips to various locations.  This week I received notice that the Embassy group was going to take a bus trip to Prizren on Saturday.   So I signed up and paid my 10 Euros.

     Prizren is a fairly large city by Kosovo standards.  No one really seems to know what the population of the various cities in Kosovo is but I have heard that Prizren is estimated to be around 125,000.  It seems bigger.  I had been to Prizren briefly once before to visit the prosecutor and I thought it was the prettiest of the cities I have been to in Kosovo.  Unfortunately most of Kosovo’s cities suffer from their recent eastern bloc past.   You will see haphazardly planned expanses of large grey, poorly maintained concrete apartment buildings and utilitarian business and factory buildings in Kosovo.  Prizren is no exception, but fortunately the center of Prizren is made up of older more historic looking buildings including a large Mosque (actually Prizren has a lot of Mosques)  a couple of Serbian Orthodox Churches and a Catholic Church.  A river flows through the downtown and there are several picturesque bridges and something resembling a square.  A number of the non-church buildings look like they pre-date the communist era.

Silver Filigran Bracelet

      The bus left the Embassy for Prizren at 8:00 am, it was about a two-hour bus ride, much of which I slept through.  When we arrived at Prizren our first stop was to a factory where they made silver filigree jewelry.  It appears that Prizren is, or more accurately once was, known for its high quality filigree jewelry.  We were led to a large communist era factory that looked to me like it spanned two stories and about 20,000 square feet.  As we entered the factory the owner explained that they did not usually work on Saturdays but were opening to give us a tour.  He took us into a small room at the front of the factory which had several display cases containing examples of some very pretty and intricately woven silver jewelry. 

Filigran craftsman at work

As we looked at it he explained that Prizren is the last place in Kosovo where this type jewelry is made, he said it can now be made by machine and although the quality is not as good now most people buy the less expensive machine-made jewelry.  He said all the jewelry in his factory was made by hand.   This factory was once a training center where young people spent four years learning to make this jewelry however after the war the school portion of the factory was closed and now no new people learn this craft anymore. 

     After showing us the completed jewelry we were taken to another small room.  The room had a long work bench and about 10 chairs in it.  He explained that this was the “factory” and that he now only employed 10 craftsmen to make the jewelry.  He had one of the men come in and show us how they wove and soldered the jewelry.  It was interesting but mostly sad to see how this factory and this art form was dying with little to no hope of being revitalized.  The obvious quality and beauty of this jewelry makes me think there must be someway this could be saved and become a profitable venture again.  Maybe I should call Woody Justice…

Serbian Orthodox Church Ruins

     After leaving the filigree factory we headed downtown and were left to our own devices for a couple of hours.   At the top of a mountain overlooking the town was a large fortress and myself and several others decided to go up and explore it, the trail to the fortress took us by the large mosque in the center of town and by the Serbian Orthodox church about halfway up the hill.  We wanted to go into the mosque which was being restored but it was locked, so we proceeded up the hill toward the Serbian church, as we walked up the hill it became obvious most of the houses were abandoned and in a bad state of disrepair.  One of the guys from the embassy said this was the Serbian part of town before the war and it was largely destroyed and abandoned during the fighting.  The Church on the hill was surrounded by concertina wire and once I got close to it I could see it was destroyed except for the exterior walls. 

Ruined Serb house with downtown Prizren in the background

     The fortress appeared from the outside to be pretty much intact but once I entered the walls it was obvious it was also a ruin, it was apparent that the fortress ruins pre-existed the recent war and one could see attempts to excavate and refurbish parts of it were in progress.  It was quite large and very interesting, no one seemed to know how long it had been there, I have heard some people say they thought its origins were Roman or Illyrian, it looks newer than that to me.  I should do some research on

Mosque in downtown Prizren, note the fortress on the hilltop in the background.

the things I am seeing here.

     After exploring the fort, we walked back into town and walked around for a while before having lunch at a traditional Albanian restaurant.  As usual the food was good.  After lunch we walked by some old Turkish baths, that are currently closed, and to a museum. 

Having been to the Louvre a few weeks ago, the contrast was somewhat depressing.  But it was interesting, and I was glad to see an attempt by some of the citizens of Prizren to preserve of some of their history.  The buildings the museum was in were interesting, white stucco with dark timbers.  The curator there told us some of the buildings had been burned down by the Serbs during the war and had been rebuilt by volunteers after the war.  As he told us about the struggles of the Albanians for independence over hundreds of years it was obvious he was proud of his heritage. 

    By the time we finished our tour of the museum it was about 1500 and time to head back home to Pristina, again I slept most of the way, no sooner did I get home that one of the other advisors called and invited me out to dinner.  I wasn’t going to go until he told me they were going to a Serbian Restaurant outside of town called “Caio” I hadn’t been to Serbian restaurant yet so I decided to go.  The restaurant was about 15 minutes southeast of town in a small Serbian enclave, the restaurant was similar to what one would find in Pristina, except pork was prominently featured on the menu.  You generally can’t get pork in Albanian restaurants here (though there are some quiet exceptions) since Albanians are Muslims.  Dinner was good; we all had some sort of pork dish.  I had a pork steak rolled and stuffed with ham and then breaded and fried, it was very good if not good for me.  The Serbian who waited on us was as polite and friendly as any Albanian waiter in Pristina.

    I got to thinking about what a shame it is we can’t go back 3-4,000 years and fix whatever gene it was in some successful and apparently prolific warrior that makes so many of us do such horrible things to our neighbors for sure illogical things as having minarets on their buildings instead of steeples or visa versa.

Hash House Harriers?

     It is a cold and snowy day here in Pristina. I had hoped winter was over as it was so nice outside last week-end and most of this week. Last Sunday was a sunny and fairly warm day, I met with a group of people known as the Hash House Harriers or HHH or H3. Apparently this is an international group started by some British expatriates back in the 1920’s.  Chapters of this group now exist all over the world.  I won’t go into their history you can find it on Wikipedia if you care. 

     Here in Pristina they get together every Sunday at 1300 in front of the Grand Hotel and then go somewhere and either hike or run. They then come back and at least have a drink and may have drinks and dinner. My Albanian friend that I met in Iraq, Valentina, told me about the group and I met her at the appointed time and place and we went to a place near the Pristina airport and hiked up a mountain.

     It was a nice hike and a pretty day. The mountain was full of wild flowers, mostly what I

Wild flower, Pristina Kosovo

 would call buttercups and crocuses, but we did see a couple of flowers I wasn’t familiar with. I am not sure why but I am always surprised at the similarity between the flora and fauna so many thousands of miles apart. If it wasn’t for the things man has created here you could easily wake-up in the morning and think you were in the US.

But I digress, the local HHH is a small group of about 10 people, apparently it was larger but the group reflects the international presence here which is diminishing somewhat. I did get to meet everyone and they seemed like an interesting group, there were a couple of citizens of the UK, the rest were Americans.

Wild Flower, Pristina Kosovo

 Two of the people I met were here working with the American Bar Association and one of them is involved in Strategic Planning with the Prosecutors here, so we made plans to meet during the week and see if we could find a way to work together. Another American is a media specialist and writer and we had a nice visit. During the hike we went up the mountain to some windmills of the modern type that generate electricity, it was the first time I had been that close to those types of windmills. They are huge.

We hiked along the ridge of the mountain until we came to the ruins of an old fortress, someone appeared to be excavating the ruins and restoring them. I have no idea how old they were though I heard fourth century. After checking out the ruins we went down the mountain back to the car and headed to town where we had a drink at “91” which is a coffee house/bar/restaurant frequented by expatriates. In Iraq those are the places that blow-up most frequently, here they seem as safe as any other place. I meant to write this a week ago but things seemed to keep coming up.

I have a more to write on my trip yesterday but in the interest of brevity will save it for another post.  For those who might wonder, I took the photos of the flowers with my Android phone since I forgot my good camera.  I am surprised who well they turned out.

Kosovo Independence Day

Current coat of arms of Kosovo
Image via Wikipedia

     Today is the Kosovar’s Independence Day.  It is their third one.  There are celebrations scheduled and it would be interesting to participate in the festivities.  While I am certainly not an expert on the politics of Kosovo I think the festivities are tempered somewhat by the inability, thus far, of their elected officials to form a government.  If the parliament is unable to elect a president after three tries there will have to be another public vote.  It seems possible that this could happen since none of the coalitions formed by the various parties have a strong majority.  The recent elections had a number of irregularities and at least some fraud was widely suspected.

     The country probably doesn’t need more elections right now and there seems to be a growing frustration in the public with the political situation and the general fraud seems to permeate the government. People talk a lot about the corruption; I haven’t personally witnessed any, though it does seem that all the Politicians end up wealthy while the average Kosovar makes about 200 Euros a month. Multi-national corporations won’t invest here yet because of the corruption and though the Kosovars seem individually resourceful and able to get things done, they have no real organized manufacturing or large-scale businesses within Kosovo. They really need to develop this or be able to draw in international business if they are ever going to survive as a country. I really hope for the best for them and I hope they can pull things together, do away with the corruption and get on the right track.  The international aid organizations have been here 10 years or more now and they are tiring of continuing to give aid with only marginal improvements.


The immediate effect this holiday has had on me is that I have the day off. I actually went to work for about ½ day since I am taking tomorrow and Monday off. I am off Monday for the (US) President’s holiday. So I am packed and ready to leave for Paris in an hour and a half. I am hoping for a good trip. I have made lots of plans and the weather looks like it is going to cooperate for the most part. I am going to be gone for five days and am taking only a small carry on. I hope I planned the packing well. I am looking forward to getting to Paris and having a few days to explore.