Archive for the 'A-100' Category

Back to the Grind

After a week of self-study it is back to full-time 9-5 language study. Days like today remind me though what the best part of the foreign service is: the people. I went to a brunch thrown by one of the members of my oral assessment study group. It was great to catch up with the people I spent all those months studying and fretting about the oral assessment with. About a year ago we started a study group which met weekly at the MLK library in DC. Apparently this group has taken on a life of its own and continued even after the original group finished their OAs. It was nice to see the members of the original MLK group almost all of whom are either on the register, in the service, or finishing their security clearances. I have great confidence that the few that just barely didn’t make it the first time are about to put us all to shame with their amazing OA scores on the next attempt.

After brunch I headed over to a party which my class was hosting for the incoming 150th A-100 class, to help out and meet the newest FSOs. It was great to see my classmates again after being away from FSI for the last week and a half and to meet the incoming officers. It’s hard to believe that a little under four months ago, I was there wondering where I would be going and what I would be doing. I was given a few new FSOs to “mentor” which is almost humorous since most days I feel like I could still use a mentor to help me navigate the wilds of the department. I am constantly amazed by my colleagues and the 150th is no exception.  And now, back to Spanish studying….

From the ridiculous to the sublime

elvez

El Vez

Recently I’ve ventured out with my fellow members of Team Mexico to a few “Mexican” cultural events to get in the spirit. I have to put “Mexican” in quotes because the first of these events was a concert featuring El Vez y Los Straightjackets. El Vez is the self-styled Elvis of Mexico. I think in reality he is the Mexican Elvis of L.A. It was a hysterically funny concert of holiday themed music.  Tragically I didn’t think to bring my camera, but I think this picture I found with the assistance of google helps capture the mood of the event.

Tonight I went to a cooking demonstration hosted by the Mexican Cultural Institute. The theme of the event was the cuisine of the Yucatan Peninsula

Avocado Soup with Tortilla Chips and Queso Fresco

Avocado Soup with Tortilla Chips and Queso Fresco

and the food was absolutely amazing.  As an unapologetic foodie, this was right up my alley.  We sampled 8 dishes and 2 different drinks which were representative of Yucatan cuisine.  The presenter kept emphasizing how different the food on the Yucatan was from the rest of the country; I’d have to agree. While it had a lot of the spice that we typically associate with Mexican food, there was a lot more sweetness in the food as a whole as well. I don’t think there was a dish I didn’t like but perhaps my favorites were the Sopa de Aguacate and the Arroz Amarillo which was a rice dish with saffron, onion, and tomatoes.

Pollo Pibil, Cebollas Encurtidas, Tzaabi Buul, y Arroz Amarillo

Pollo Pibil, Cebollas Encurtidas, Tzaabi Buul, y Arroz Amarillo

The Sopa de Aguacate tasted a lot like very creamy guacamole which is perfect for me because me encanta guacamole! Since I like spicy food I also accepted the demonstrator’s challenge to try the habanero salsa. It was phenomenal. It certainly was hot but it had a lot of flavor to it and the heat faded quickly. They finished the meal with a flan style desert. If I have one complaint about the experience, it would be that it increased my fears that I’m going to gain a hundred pounds being constantly exposed to tasty Mexican food. At the end of the evening we had all pretty much committed to returning for the next cooking demonstration at the Cultural Institute.  And now back to studying Spanish.

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.

Bidding and Beyond

Well my final bid list is in and it is out of my hands. I’ll know in two weeks where I am going! I’d be pretty jazzed to get any one of my highs or mediums and pretty content with most of my lows. We shall see what flag day yields.

In between bidding they have kept us busy getting oriented to the Foreign Service and the department. We’ve learned the basics of crafting memos, cables, ect. and have had a lot of opportunities to meet and talk with some individuals who are pretty high up in the department about FS life. Probably the highlight thus far was last Friday when the Secretary toured the Foreign Service Institute. She stopped by my A-100 class, so yes I got to “meet” the Secretary! She stayed for about twenty minutes and took a few questions so it was pretty exciting.

Next up is the “Woods”. For as long as pretty much anyone can remember, A-100 has included a leadership and team building retreat to WVA. Ours is next week and I’m looking forward to it and the infamous “follies!”

Lisa vs. The 6am Wake-up Call

Shockingly, I’ve almost made it through a full week of early morning wake up calls and managed to arrive early (knock on wood). People who know me well will realize this is a herculean achievement for me.  I’m actually starting to enjoy waking up with the birds. The week has been flying by and I’ve been enjoying getting to know my colleagues. They are all amazing people which is a good thing because they have wedged far too many of us in a room I think could comfortably seat 60. So we’re we’re about a quarter of an inch from our nearest neighbors.

We got our bid lists yesterday which is starting to make this whole thing feel a little more real. I’m really happy with the list, if I could have crafted a dream bid list this would almost exactly be it. There isn’t anything on the list I am going to be heartbroken if I get and there are a few posts I am going to bid high that I never thought I would. I have until Wednesday to work up my draft bid list to discuss with my CDO. After my meeting on Thursday then I will reconfigure and resubmit a final list. Flag day, the day we are given a flag representing our assigned country, is only three weeks away from tomorrow. So, soon I will know my fate so to speak. Anyway, off to bed so I’m ready for another 6am morning! I swear there are witnesses to the fact that I arrive on time.

And we’re off!

Today was my first day in training! We had our “in-processing” day which is about as thrilling as it sounds. Though we were officially sworn in this morning so we can get paid. We have a formal swearing in at the end of training as well. So nice, we have to do it twice. I’m completely impressed by my classmates. The 146th hosted a meet and greet for us last night as well so I have spent much of the last 24 hours trying to get to know as many as my classmates as possible. It’s exhausting trying to meet around a 100 people and remember their names but it is a great group and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Oh and for those who were concerned… yes I made it on time and with plenty to spare. It was day one though, so we will see how Lisa vs. the 5am wake-up call round two goes.