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Career News | Jan. 25, 2024

Outside the Continental U.S. Employee Spotlight: Katherine Joseph

By DCAA Staff Writer

Ms. Katherine Joseph is a Branch Manager at the Northern Virginia Branch Office. Katherine worked at the European Branch Office in Germany as a Supervisory Auditor overseeing the Israel sub-office from August 2018 through June 2023. While majority of DCAA locations are in the continental United States (CONUS), many DCAA offices are located outside the continental U.S. (OCONUS) and have their own challenges and rewards for employees. Learn about the OCONUS office experience and the unique opportunities DCAA has to offer.

What made you interested in an OCONUS tour?

I wanted to visit Europe and I love travel. Traveling for my OCONUS tour was my first time outside of the country and I loved it. These positions are extremely competitive, and the interview process can be intense. However, an OCONUS tour is a truly life changing opportunity. I really miss my OCONUS time.

What hesitations did you have?

There are two major transitions you encounter with an OCONUS tour. For the personal transition, I knew I had to adjust to cultural changes and language barriers. Thankfully, the housing transition wasn’t too stressful because DCAA has access to military posts since we’re with the DoD.

For the work transition, I found myself juggling all the personal transition changes while learning how to do my job in a new place while meeting new contractors and adjusting to the work culture differences. The culture for OCONUS contractors is different and adjusting to their workplace culture is a necessity.

What were some of the unexpected challenges you encountered?

The workload at the OCONUS offices is unique because the work is mostly demand. Every audit is a requested audit and there is no plan for what you’ll audit throughout the year. There are times where there is so much work that you don’t know how you’ll meet the deadline and other times you can steadily handle the work.

For personal challenges, I needed to allot more time to schedule appointments, set up utilities, and other seemingly simple tasks. In the US, a lot of customer services have “press 1 for English” and then additional languages. In Germany, it can take a few attempts to get help in English.

How was OCONUS impactful on you today?

While my tour included pandemic time, I still managed to visit 33 countries. I learned that there are no guarantees in life. There were a few countries I wanted to visit that were very affordable. These countries were lower on my priority list to visit, but things change. Travel restrictions and geographical conflicts can escalate overnight and make that country off limits for travel. I have become much more flexible because of my tour.

My family’s life has changed too. While my daughter attended an American school in Germany, she learned about the German culture and gained a lot of independence. A lot has positively changed for me and my family. I have integrated a lot of the changes from my personal life into my work life.

My work-life balance has improved, and I value my personal life over my professional career more than before my tour. I’ve slowed down in life and spend more time with my family when I’m not at work. My standard of what is considered passable for an audit also shifted because of how quickly and creatively we had to complete audit requests.

What are some keys to successfully completing an OCONUS tour?

Being open to new things and pivoting is huge for OCONUS.

Workwise, you must be flexible and able to change direction without any direct impact to the timeliness of audits and workload. As I mentioned earlier, vacation and time away from the office is legally protected in Germany. There are times where contractors aren’t in the office for months each year. You need to have the flexibility and knowledge to still complete your audits when people aren’t in office.

When you visit contractors, they aren’t in Athens. They’re in Chalkida, a city outside of Athens. You travel a lot and get to see more non-tourist spots and sites. You eat authentic food and learn cultural differences. I remember I ordered a pizza, and they brought ketchup in a bottle for the sauce. There are so many unexpected differences to adjust to, but they are all great experiences. Flexibility and outside the box thinking is essential both in your personal life and for the office!