Monthly Archive for October, 2009

Life after A-100

This week I had “gap days” which were filled with a variety of short classes, post research and a visit to the Mexico desk. I had a two day security seminar which was designed to heighten our awareness overseas. There was something surreal about going from the session which included a lengthy chat on swimming pool safety to the one which provided tips on what to do if dealing with a kidnap/hostage situation.  I suppose they have to try to prepare us for the full range of issues we might encounter abroad!

I also got “paneled” this week. Despite what it sounds like I was not beaten soundly with panels of wood by the Department as a part of some arcane ritual. It actually means that I received my assignment cable which officially assigns me to post. My assignment cable has a slightly different time frame from the one I was given in my packet on flag day. So it now looks like I am going sometime between May and July of next year. I’m hoping to head out sooner since I finish my training in May but I suppose that one advantage of a later departure is that I might be able to take some leave to visit J in Guam. I’ve always had this bizarre fascination with U.S. Possessions and Territories and I can’t think of a better time to visit one that when I actually know someone who has been exiled there.

Swearing-in

Friday was our “formal” swearing-in ceremony and the end of A-100. We were sworn in about a half an hour after we arrived at main State for in-processing on day one (it was necessary to get paid). However, the State Department is big on ceremonies so we did it again! This time family and friends were invited and we had one of the Under Secretaries (some one very, very high up in the department) swear us in. It was especially nice to be sworn in by a career diplomat. Nothing against the appointees, they are brilliant and hard-working individuals, but as a career member of the Foreign Service it is inspiring to see just how far one can go.

They promised us that the ceremony would be short and sweet and they certainly delivered. It was about 30 minutes from start to finish including a short speech by our swearer-iner. The highlight for me was the presentation of the 148th where they had us all stand and announced where each member of the class is going. We’re going to be scattering to over 70ish different countries located on 6 different continents in the next year and Friday’s ceremony was almost certainly the last time the 148th would all be in one place.

Monday I start my security overseas seminar and a few short courses to help fill the days before my language training starts in November. A week from Monday the 149th starts and we’ll no longer be the most junior people in the State Department. The last 5 weeks went incredibly fast. I’ll miss seeing the 148th every day but I’m eager for the next step and of course to depart for post in a little under 7 months!

Winding down

A-100 is starting to wind down; our last day of class is on Friday. The new class starts about a week after we finish and the focus now is all on “what’s next?” We’re all going to start scattering next week. Some will be off to main State to start their one year assignments in DC or “bridge assignments,” some are starting language or additional functional training, and then some of us have “gap days.” I have a couple of weeks where I have to find additional training or something else which justifies the paycheck. I have a couple of ideas which I will have to run past my CDO but right now I have no real idea what I am going to be doing for the next few weeks. I’m hoping to take advantage of the Rosetta Stone access to start resuscitating my Spanish ability.

In other news, probably about 20 minutes after I received my assignment I had an e-mail in my box from my “social sponsor” in Juarez. A few hours later I had a slew of e-mails from other people at post welcoming me and the other new members. Since then my e-mail box has steadily filled with additional welcome e-mails. Needless to say I feel very welcome and  excited to be joining the team!  I’ve also already begun plotting all the places I’d like to see while I’m in Mexico. Top of the list is Oaxaca, land of the tasty grasshoppers.

Friday is our formal swearing-in ceremony. We were actually sworn-in on day one (so we could get paid) but they end A-100 with a more formal swearing-in which family and friends can attend. They also invite someone senior to do the actual swearing-in and give a short keynote. Given that the Secretary visited us in the first week, which was just fortuitous timing since she was out touring FSI, I think it safe to say she probably won’t be our swearer-iner. No word yet on who will. It should be a fun time though and then I’ll be off to my “gap days.”

Flag Day

The verdict is in, I’m off to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico!

Viva Mexico!

Viva Mexico!

It wasn’t a high or a medium bid for me, but it also wasn’t a surprise and I am excited about Juarez. It will certainly be an interesting experience and I’m going with a great group of people. There was a sizeable “Team Mexico” contingent in the 148th, one of whom is another of my good friends. She snagged a post on the Yucatan which is one of the spots I am defintely hoping to visit. I’m planning to use my 2 years in CJ to get out and see a lot of Mexico.

I start Spanish training in November. After 5 years of Spanish in college and high school, apparently my grammar makes testing evaluators cringe and small children cry. Having the opportunity to work full time on improving my Spanish is just incredible. I still have to pinch myself periodically, I can’t believe I am being paid to do this job sometimes!

Another benefit of my Juarez assignment is that I’ve never lived out west; I imagine  living on the Texas border will be a “cultural experience” as well. Since it was one of my low bids I have an added bonus of being one of the winners of the “Tail Gun Charlie Award”. A group of my classmates including myself, contributed to a fund before flag day. It was low bid insurance and the people who got low bids are splitting the pot. I got a nice share, which means the margarita fund is off to a healthy start. 😉

I arrive at Juarez in May, so in a little over 7 months I’m off to the state of Chihuahua. I’m really excited about the big Mexican move but I think going to Chihuahua may just be karmic retribution for all the times I called my two chihuahua owning friends’ puppies “rat dogs.” I’m going to starting having nightmares about herds of chihuahuas exacting revenge on me in my sleep…

Flag Day Eve

Tomorrow is the big day! This week they have kept us too busy to really spend too much time anticipating flag day. We had our “core skills” rotations. So we worked on our public speaking, did another writing session and learned some of the common pitfalls to avoid in a Foreign Service career. My favorite session was the one I was dreading the most,”Composure Under Fire.” It had two parts, in the first we were given tips on how to handle the “tough questions.” In the second session our classmates fired some of the really difficult questions at us in rapid succession. As the day went on the questions had a tendency to get progressively crazier. I had a couple questions where I felt a bit like a deer in headlights, but I was actually surprised at how much more at ease I felt handling those questions after the session. I’m not going to claim I’ll do a spectacular job answering them if I do get them in the wild but I at least feel like I have a few good tricks to keep myself doing damage!

The public speaking was another story. I am not an accomplished public speaker. In fact I tend to avoid it like the plague. I’ve been informed that I talk insanely fast. I watched the DVD  they made of my speech and personally I don’t know what he was talking about, I talk at what I think is a perfectly acceptable speed. Clearly people just need to listen faster. 😉 It’s a family curse, we all seem to talk really fast. The funniest advice I got was that I should tan before speaking on camera. Apparently, the camera had trouble adjusting to my skin because I am so pale.

Tomorrow afternoon is of course the BIG day when we finally find out where we are going. The closer flag day has gotten the less and less I have become married to any specific post or region. I’m actually at this point excited to go to anywhere on the bid list. I suppose that is a good thing. I have about 30 posts that I think I might realistically get, but I think I’ll be excited no matter where I go. We shall just have to see what flag day yields! I can’t believe how quickly A-100 is coming to a close. Next week is my last week in A-100 and then off to more training. I’ll find out tomorrow exactly what that training will be.