Monthly Archive for December, 2010

Reader Searches Part II- Joining the Foreign Service

As I promised a few weeks ago, I’m doing a couple of posts inspired by reader searches. As an aside by far the most entertaining key word search someone used to find my blog is “how many trash cans, fort bliss.” I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that one… but I have noticed a reoccurring theme on other search terms. People seem to want to know about studying for the Foreign Service exam and failing the foreign service exam. While there are some incredible people who pass through the FSOT, QEP, and FSOA the first time through I was not one of them. I failed the written exam twice (back when it was the FWSE) before passing the first try through the new FSOT/QEP system. I remember seeing a statistic back when it was the FSWE that only 2% passed all the way through the FSOA to get an offer (I do believe it is slightly higher now). I was lamenting to my sister that there was no way, I wasn’t one of the top 2% smartest people in the world, it just wasn’t going to happen. She gave me what was probably the BEST advice I got in the whole process. “So, be one of the 2% most persistent people.” More than anything this is a process that rewards persistence. Most people don’t pass the first time or they don’t get off the register after passing the first time. So for those intrepid applicants out there still weeding through the process–that is the best actual advice I can give– be persistent. The rest of this is just ramblings about my own experiences and what worked for me all within the confines of the NDA of course! Continue reading ‘Reader Searches Part II- Joining the Foreign Service’

Cancun and Braving Juarez

Since I seem to have caught the plague that has been circulating around the consulate and I’m home sick at the moment, it seems like as good a time as any to get caught up on the blogging. It’s hard to believe I’ve been back from Cancun for a month and haven’t actually gone anywhere since! A whole month in Juarez/El Paso, this is kind of a new record for me.  Last weekend was spent getting out of my 2 square miles of Juarez. A small intrepid group of us trekked down to the main market in Juarez. We had been there before on a CLO tour, but since it is the holiday season the market seems to have expanded and taken over the streets outside the normal market building. I’ve also never been so happy to see a parqueo before, because without a parqueo we seriously might have circled the streets for hours. Bless the parqueos (words I never thought I’d utter)! I’ve been to lots of markets in Mexico by now. Most of them sell things like handicrafts and sculptures, or artisan works. Not the Juarez market. Pretty much what you find there is love potions, vodoo dolls, and herbal medicines. Ah, gotta love Juarez, it has a character all its own.

Cancun was beautiful though. It doesn’t quite feel like Mexico since I think I heard more English spoken there than I do in El

Chichen Itza

Paso, but the beaches are gorgeous. The highlight of the trip was heading to Chichen Itza to check out the ruins. I’d never been to a ruin when this year started, but in the last 9 months I’ve been to Tikal, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, and Chichen Itza. Not bad, now if I can just get out to visit my friend in Peru and check out Machu Picchu, I’ll be set. The main temple at Chichen Izta, is pretty amazing. If you stand in the right spot and clap it sounds like a bird call echoing out of the building. Also on the solstice the sunlight forms a serpent on the side of the building, tragically we were not there at the solstice. I was also able to meet up with my friend from the Merida consulate, and spend a night out experiencing Cancun nightlife, which is insane. I thought Oaxaca was wild at Day of the Dead time, Cancun is just crazy all the time.

Since then I’ve spent most of my weekends around El Paso battling border traffic. I’ve never seen anything as insane as the shops and the bridge crossing in El Paso around Christmas time. I’d also thought until recently that the scariest thing I’d seen in El Paso/Juarez was the cow I saw tied in the back of a chevy a few months back, until I started seeing all these cars with reindeer antlers and Rudolph noses tied on them. It is a strange, strange world down here sometimes.

Reader Searches- Part I- Life in Juarez

So, I have been a very bad blogger lately for a variety of reasons mostly stemming from a lack of time and time spent at home with my computer.  I still have more to write up from the trip to Oaxaca and also my trip to Cancun but to atone for my blog inattention I thought I would try to address some of burning questions out there. I also promised a shout-out to the co-worker who keeps gently reminding me that I need to update this thing. Hope you’re enjoying the vacation and the TDY- Juarez misses you!

So  I enjoy checking my google analytics from time to time to see how people are finding the blog. Based on the top search terms (ignoring the ones that were people looking for a bakery called diplomat– which sounds like it has a tasty menu) it looks like what people are most interested in is the process of joining the Foreign Service (specifically failing a test and trying again) and life in Juarez. Life in Juarez searches broke down in to two general categories–what is it like here on the ground and “the joys of working in Juarez” (and there are joys to working in Juarez, really!)

I’ll tackle the Juarez question first tonight and write up my not so pithy advice navigating the entry process in a not-to-distant post (really, I promise!). So what is life like in Juarez? Well I do honestly feel safe most of the time. I haven’t seen anything other than a few car accidents since I have been here. You do see a lot of federal police armed to the teeth rolling around the streets, but you get used to them after a while.

Yes, I have heard gun shots but none of them very close to my community. The violence here is very random and some people have seen more than I have or heard shots closer to their community. There are people who have driven by crime scenes, I’m just not one of them.  I do go out to dinners in Juarez and to bars with friends at least a couple of times a week. It involves a lot of common sense, things like knowing where the exit is… just in case and not staying out late in Juarez. I have come back over the bridge late at night from El Paso, and honestly sometimes I feel safer at 1 am crossing than I do at 1pm just because there is no one around and I can easily see if anyone is coming towards me. I also don’t go deep into Juarez. There is about 2 square miles around the consulate that I mostly stick to. I do almost all of my shopping in El Paso. There are plenty of people who do most of their shopping in Juarez without a problem. I did more when I first got here. For me it isn’t so much the violence as the fact that I can speak English in El Paso, and well sometimes that is just easier after a day of speaking Spanish in the window. Yes it would be nice to be in a city where I felt comfortable going out and exploring every inch of it and I will probably finish my 2 years here in Juarez without ever having seen much of well, Juarez but I don’t feel like I am going to die at every minute. I don’t feel like I am living in terror. I miss things like running outside but I got a treadmill so you learn to make do. I’m mostly not tempting the fates and taking advantage of being in Mexico to get down into southern Mexico where I feel completely safe and getting out and seeing the American Southwest. Despite all the drawbacks of living in Juarez (not running outside, not getting out into the city, ect.) there is a great community at the consulate and I am having a great tour. It’s hard to believe that I’ve finished nearly 7 months already. Time is kind of flying by.