Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: A Look Back

Well, it's December 31st, 2010. To be sure, it's been quite the year for me. I realize that you probably don't care too much about the details of my life, but I thought it would be fun to recap 2010 in a blog post that I can look back on in a few years. So, here we go.

Last year on New Year's Eve 2009, I was standing below St. Stephen's tower in London, England to ring in the new year. I watched with amazement as the massive fireworks display went off and Big Ben itself quite literally rang in  2010.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thoughts on Spanish Class

Shortly after becoming a Foreign Service Officer, I took a language test to see just how well (or poorly) I spoke Spanish. I ended up with a 2+/2+ (that's State Department lingo in Speaking/Reading, which means I'm just below "professionally proficient", which would be a 3/3.) That resulted in me being assigned to eight weeks of Spanish classes, which should bring me up to the required 3/3 for my position in Monterrey.

Let me just get something out in the open: I. Love. Spanish. I really do. Ever since my first Spanish class in high school, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Spanish language and the cultures of Spanish-speaking countries. The Spanish language is fun, dynamic, and fluid. But, I think one of the things I enjoy the most about learning languages is the feeling you get when you are just suddenly on a roll and every word is flowing off your tongue and your grammar and pronunciation is spot-on.

Then come the days when you feel like you have no idea what Spanish even is. For about half of this afternoon, I felt like that. In fact, the four of us in my class felt the same way. We were all stumbling over words, making huge grammatical mistakes, and just generally sucking it up. But, those times can also sometimes be the most fun. Let me share with you the following two misspoken phrases that caused me to crack up in hysterics. Note: they're probably not too funny if you haven't studied Spanish yourself, but oh well.

First up: This is one of those situations where your mind just screws up because it's Friday afternoon and you're tired. One of my classmates was trying to say "What are we going to do on Thursday?" which should've been "¿Qué vamos a hacer el jueves?" What she actually said was "¿Qué vamos a hacer el huevo?", which means "What are we going to do the egg?" (or, if you don't have the most innocent of minds, egg could be translated a little more crudely. Google it if you really want to know.) It's certainly an understandable mistake... jueves and huevo are pronounced quite similarly. As soon as she said it, we all cracked up.

Second up: We did a debate with another class this afternoon, so there were eight students and two professors. We were arguing whether or not the U.S. should legalize drugs, so we were talking about harmful effects, society, and the narcotraffickers of Mexico and other countries. Another of my classmates was having trouble pronouncing the word "dañinos," meaning "harmful", which is certainly a difficult word to work with. Our class was already having way too much fun with our debate, laughing it up the entire way through. So when that word came up, it quickly turned into "da niños", which ends up being "gives children." So the phrase "marijuana is harmful" turned into "marijuana gives children." Hysterical laughter ensued.

Spanish classes are great, especially the way that FSI does them. I'm pumped about the rest of my time here before heading out to post.

Hastla la próxima vez... paz.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's the Little Things...

I've been living in DC for almost three months now, and I've got another two and a half to go. I really do enjoy my fully-furnished apartment and it's location here in the Arlington area. I've got easy access to all of the local shops and restaurants I could want, and it doesn't feel like I'm trapped in a maze of concrete and asphalt.

Because of the temporary nature of my stay in DC, I've been reluctant to decorate my apartment and make it truly "homey," if you will. I haven't really hung anything on the walls because I'm not sure to what extent I'm allowed to do that. I mean, I'm sure I'm free to do so, but I don't want to run the risk of paying some exorbitant fees/fines for putting a few holes in the walls, when I know I'm leaving soon anyway. I wish now that I had gone ahead and bit the bullet and hung stuff up. It's a bit too late, now.

Recently, though, I've done a few things to make the place a bit more personalized. I found a deal on Shutterfly.com about a month ago offering fifty free 4x6 photo prints just for creating a free account. Why not? I sifted through the thousands of pictures I've taken over the last few years and chose my favorites that I'd like to have around my apartment. That's a daunting task, let me tell you. When you have that many photos, it's difficult to try to narrow down fifty that you really want. You end up having debates with yourself about the merits of one picture over another and why it deserves to be one of the chosen few. Or, at least, I did... maybe that's weird. PS - if you need a lot of frames in a hurry but don't want to spend too much money, hit up your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. I got six good frames for $10.

I also went last week and bought my first Christmas tree now that I'm living on my own. I didn't want to get a live one, partly because of the hassle and partly because it's kind of a waste of an entire tree (no offense to you live-tree lovers out there). So I went to Target and found the perfect one. It was love at first sight, really. The perfect little 4-ft Norway Spruce pre-lit with clear lights. I searched for the corresponding box under the display, but alas! There were no more of this specific tree, though there were plenty of other types. That must mean that the tree I chose was the best tree there, of course. I asked the Target employee standing nearby if he could check in the back to see if there were any extras. After awhile he came back and said that there weren't any more at that store, and the other local Target was out as well. To make a long story short, two more visits to different targets, 15 minutes on hold with a Target employee, and a day later, I had my tree. I picked up some ornaments and the obligatory candy canes and came home to set it up. That Christmas tree really spruced* up my apartment.

Having that Christmas tree lit up in the evenings and seeing some of the photos in frames around my apartment really have made the place feel a bit more like home. Just that little bit more cozy. I still haven't hung anything on the walls, but at this point it's kind of pointless anyway. In any case, I really enjoy walking around the apartment and seeing the random photo of my friends or a beautiful place I visited. And just in time for Christmas, too.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you've made an effort to make it feel like home. There's nothing like it.

Until next time...peace.

*Lame pun completely intended.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Note on the Wikileaks Debacle

I won't say much about the recent Wikileaks dissemination of classified State Department cables. I find it despicable, dishonorable, and treasonous. Of course, you probably already knew that. It severely impacts our ability to do our job overseas. In fact, a lot of my blogging friends have already covered most of what I would like to say about it, so check out their posts around the Foreign Service blogosphere.

Before I leave, I want to highlight one particular post that really resonated with me. I think the blogger said it all very well (and he or she has the same blog design as me...go figure.) Anyway, you can check out "Here's Hoping You Choke on that Whistle" over at Muttering Behind the Hardline.

Until next time... keep your cables protected. And peace.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Little Too Short...

I have discovered yet another downside to moving around so often.

Bad haircuts.

I went today, for the second time, to a barber shop that's attached to my apartment building. I pass it often, and every time I go by, I see the same thing: lots of guys getting their hair cut by lots of Asian women (I'm not sure, but I'm guessing Vietnamese.) It's almost always busy in there, though the two times I've been, I've only had to wait maybe five minutes each time.

Because I've seen so many guys in there getting their hair cut, I figured it must be a good place to go. There wouldn't be that many people if it weren't a good barber shop. So about a month and a half ago, I went for my first haircut in DC. The woman who cut my hair was very polite, although we couldn't communicate very much because it didn't seem like she spoke much English. This was the first thing that worried me, but again, I figured it must be OK if so many guys go there. By the end of that first haircut, it was slightly shorter than I was hoping for, but it wasn't bad, and I was satisfied.

This time not so much. When I sat down, the woman cutting my hair (named Hanh) put the apron around me, a towel around my neck, and then stood in front of me and asked how I wanted my hair cut. As I told her, I felt like she wasn't really paying attention to me.

Yet another thing that I should've picked up on was the fact that all of the chairs in the entire shop face AWAY from the mirrors. The only time you can see yourself in a mirror is at the END of the hair cut. Now, maybe it's just how hair is cut in the South, but usually, you see everything that's going on in the mirror. Not so much here, I suppose.

Hanh was surprisingly rough while cutting my hair. She used some clippers and a comb all around the sides of my head, and while doing so, she ripped individual hairs out of my scalp with every swipe. Then, while using the guard on the clippers, it felt as though she was pushing them into my head with all her might. Ouch.

When I finally saw the result of her abuse of my head, it was as I expected: too short. Way too short. That was when I decided that I'll be looking for a new barber shop next time I need a haircut (which will be a long time from now, thanks to Hanh.) I tried to figure out how to express my disappointment. Should I complain? Should I not tip? After thinking for a few minutes, I decided to reduce her tip from the normal tip I give after a haircut. Maybe she got the message, maybe not. ...Probably not. She probably just thinks I'm cheap.

In any case, this is a good object lesson for how the rest of my life will be. I'll be living in countries where I won't speak the language well and will probably have difficulty communicating with the people who will cut my hair. I guess I need to find a picture of me when I had a good haircut and just bring it with me every time.

Have you ever had an experience like that?

Until next time...peace.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Need a Hobby

I'm now looking for a new hobby. I've got some free time, generally in the evenings, and I'm looking for something different to do.

I've been considering learning guitar, so that seems like a viable option. It's something I could definitely spend some time on every evening, and I could almost teach myself to play. That might be fun, and it's definitely something I'm considering.

I could also become a bonsai tree gardener. I could come home every day and painstakingly and artfully trim a small bonsai tree. ... Yeah, right.

Then again, once I start my Spanish classes in December, maybe I won't have much time for hobbies. I'm betting studying and practicing Spanish will be my new hobby, haha.

What do you think? I'm now taking hobby suggestions. (One of my friends on Facebook just suggested I take up knitting. I'd like to point out that I'm moving to Monterrey, Mexico, where the average temperature year round is 88 degrees.)

Oh, and no offense to bonsai tree lovers.

Until next time...peace

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veterans and Volunteering

Yesterday was Veteran's Day.

I'm very grateful for the service of our American heroes. It's easy to forget that we have military personnel serving all over the world right now. For wars in recent American history, it seems as though people back home in the US were actively engaged in following the war and supporting our troops. But now, when our lives are so hustle and bustle and with hundreds of channels of television entertainment and the internet's social media, there are plenty of distractions that keep us from having to focus on the war. We don't feel the effects of the war here at home, partially because now is different than 50 years ago, and partially because we don't want to let it.

I'm thankful that there are people serving in the military doing what they do. I don't think I would be capable of doing that. Yes, I am a patriot and I wanted to serve my country, but I don't think I have that "something" that people in the military have. Instead, I've chosen to serve my country as a Foreign Service Officer, though the life is admittedly easier this way than if I had joined the army.

Suffice all of that to say: thank you, heroes.

Instead of lying around all day yesterday while enjoying the federal holiday, I decided to join some of my Foreign Service classmates to volunteer at the Capital Area Food Bank. It was a great opportunity to give back to and serve the DC community. There were around 20 of us who showed up, and we ended up sorting over 40,000lbs of food donations that will be delivered to over 700 different partner organizations in DC.

How do you feel? Does the war seem distant and unrelated to you? Have you thought lately about those around you who don't have the luxuries you do? It's worth doing.

Until next time...peace.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Clock is Ticking

I find myself in a strange situation. I'm sure many of you Foreign Service folks can relate to the situation which I'm about to describe.

I just moved here to DC two months ago, and now I'm leaving again in just over three months. Usually, when people move to a new place, they make an effort to get to know their neighbors and invest themselves in the community. But the fact that I know I'm leaving in three months has negatively affected my motivation to get to know people.

Obviously, I'm getting to know people that are in training with me. They're great, and we have a decent number of social activities to keep us entertained. But now that we've all kind of gone our separate ways and some of us will be leaving next month, those opportunities are diminishing.

It's a hard decision to make. I'm a very social person and an extrovert to the max. But I also know that friendships I make here (at least, non-FS friendships) will be essentially left behind in three months.

Is this bad logic? What do you think about the situation?

Until next time... peace

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Let's Do the Time Warp Again!

Last night, I went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. For the first time.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Let's start from the beginning. One of my A-100 classmates from The Winning 156th sent out a message saying he was going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) on Friday night and asked if anyone wanted to go with him. Now, I've heard of RHPS before, but I knew literally nothing about it before going, other than that people throw things and yell during the movie. I've never seen the movie on TV, and I knew nothing about the RHPS culture.

I was completely flabbergasted by the entire event. First of all, as soon as I arrived, I realized the night was going to be weird. There was a guy wearing nothing but golden underwear, scantily-clad women, and even some (disgustingly) scantily-clad men. Oh, and then while we were waiting to enter, a group of people wheeled a full-size coffin into the theater. Because, that's normal when you go to movies. Riiight.

Luckily, I was attending the RHPS with folks who had seen the show before, so they coached me a little and helped me understand the madness. So, the movie gets rolling, and people immediately begin yelling things. Hilarious things. Witty things. Super vulgar things. But still funny things.



During the movie, we danced the Time Warp (video above), we threw cards, we waved glowsticks, we covered ourselves with newspaper.. we did all kinds of really strange things. But you know what? It was all so much fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself once I stopped thinking about how absurd it all was.

In summary, it was really a great evening spent with great people. I'd like to do the RHPS again sometime, but I need some time to process it and let it sit first. Maybe in a few years, hahaha.

One last little tidbit: Leslie over at Destination: Diplomacy posted a video the other day that has taken me by storm! I didn't even realize that Will and Jada (Pinkett) Smith had a daughter, but apparently, they do, and she's pretty talented. The video below is her new single that just came out. It's definitely my current guilty pleasure song:



On a slightly related note: what's your guilty pleasure song? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time...peace.

Oh, PS - The Rally to Restore Sanity was GREAT today. No word yet on how many people were there, but there was a massive amount of people there. Well done, Stewart/Colbert.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Quick Status Update

Hey folks. Sorry it's been so long since my last post. I would attribute it to being so incredibly busy with work and having a jam-packed social life, but neither of those would be entirely accurate. Here we go.

I started ConGen (Consular General) training last week. Basically, this six-week training course will teach me the actual day-to-day things I will be doing when I get to CG (Consulate General) Monterrey. So far, I've learned all about passports, nationality, and citizenship. I can adjudicate your passport application with my eyes closed. (ok, maybe not with my eyes closed, but you get the picture.) I can also inform you on how you could possibly expatriate yourself (lose your U.S. citizenship...something I will not ever encourage you to do.) I could even document your child's birth overseas, though just because you're a U.S. citizen doesn't mean your child automatically will be, too. I found that to be very interesting. Before ConGen, I had just assumed that if you were a U.S. citizen, your children would be too, regardless of anything else. Today we started learning about Immigrant visas, and next week we'll start Non-immigrant visas. There is an incredible soup of letters and numbers that go along with each of those sections, but for now, I can tell you about IR1,2,3,4,5,6, F1,2,3,4,12,13,21,22,2A, E1,2,3,4,5, EW, SD, SR and a few other random immigrant visas. Yeah, it's a little ridiculous. Good thing we have a chart.

I was at the State Department on Monday morning taking care of some business during some downtime in my daily schedule. I was walking through the "inner sanctum," where all of the super important people work, of the State Department (with an escort, of course), when lo and behold, there is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking to someone in the hall. I was maybe two feet away from her, and she made eye contact with me. Yes, I was star struck by the former first lady, NY senator, and current cabinet-level official. Call me a nerd if you wish.

I'm going to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear this Saturday on the National Mall. I'm not normally one for big quasi-political rallies like this, but honestly, I'm excited about it. First, I think Stewart and Colbert are hilarious comedians. In addition, Stewart is really a brilliant person, and is much more than "just a comedian." For reference, see this Youtube video in which he dominates Tucker Carlson in a CNN interview. His commentary on the daily news is witty and astute, not to mention absolutely hilarious.

But the point of his rally is one with which I fully agree: it's about time for some sanity around here. Mainly, in the media. Unfortunately, insanity, fear, and hype are what drives the news cycle these days, and I think a lot of the American public are tired of it. It's time for some rational, logical debate instead of fearmongering. I think it will be a hugely entertaining time out on the National Mall with tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people. It'll probably also be the last time I do something like this.

In other, completely unrelated news, I cooked a roast last weekend. It was my first attempt at cooking something that seemed so daunting. But in reality, it wasn't all that bad. After cooking in the oven for about three hours, I had a delicious roast with potatoes and carrots...which I then ate as leftovers for the next 5 days!

Speaking of seemingly daunting tasks... what's something you've done recently that you thought would be really difficult but ended up being a great thing to do? Let me know in the comments.

I think that's about it for this update of randomness. I'm going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (first time ever!) tomorrow night, so I'm sure I'll do some kind of follow-up blog over the weekend about it!

Until next time... peace.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Change is Coming...

Change.

Before starting my career in the Foreign Service, there wasn't a lot of change in my life. I spent four years at the same college, with roughly the same people, doing the same jobs, going to generally the same classes. Life was comfortable, predictable, and enjoyable. It was a normal, American life.

After joining the Foreign Service, though... everything is changing.

What do I mean by that? Well, for one thing, I'm no longer in college. That's major life change #1. College only lasts so long, and after that, everyone experiences some kind of change from that "quasi-adult" stage to the full-fledged "adult" stage. That change is normal and expected. But I've experienced quite a few other changes since then, and there are only more to come.

Let's examine the last seven days, for example. Last Friday, I was sitting in a big room with lots of people and ninety-four flags on a table and projector screen. In the span of an hour, ninety-four people had their lives changed, and ninety-four plans were changed (for better or for worse). In the span of an hour, the next two years of my life were handed to me in a blue folder with the seal of the State Department on it. I think it will be a great place to start my overseas career, and the people there seem to be really quality people.

Fast forward to yesterday. In a room full of family, friends, my classmates, and even a few ambassadors, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. It was truly a special moment for me. It sent a chill up my spine as I said it. I am officially a Foreign Service Officer in service of my country.

That's a lot of change. My career has changed, my home has changed (and will change again soon), and my friends have changed. And you know what? The rest of my life will be like this. Every few years, I will change homes, change friends, and change jobs. Change is imminent, and it will be often.

And you know what? I'm pretty happy with that.

So, what kind of change is occurring in your life? Are you OK with change, or does it bother you? If it does, why?

Until next time...peace.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Flag Day Recap

As you know, Friday was Flag Day for the 156th A-100 class. Ninety-four of us were handed the plan for the next year or two of our lives in a nondescript blue folder accompanied by a small flag of a foreign country. My flag happened to be that of Los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. It all went by so fast.

There we were, listening to each assignment announcement and clapping wildly for each person (while also playing bingo with the cities on our bid list. America Wins Again!) As my classmates were called up one by one, I was really blown away by the reality of it all. Here were 93 people that I had spent the last four weeks with, getting to know them and building friendships. And at the end of next week, we will all begin our own, separate tracks toward our posts. For me, that means various training classes and a language refresher before departure in February. For some, it means spending almost an entire year in language training. And for a few others, it means reporting to work in a week at the State Department to begin their job! I'm really glad I didn't get a DC post, but it floats some people's boats. Not mine.

I've been doing some basic research about Monterrey since Friday evening. It's a big, first-world city with about 4 million residents. It's got a public bus and metro system, and is surrounded on four sides by big mountains. I've heard that the views are spectacular, and there are a lot of outdoor activities available if you can handle the smog and air pollution. Medical services are good, and the police are trustworthy. I'll be working in the U.S. Consulate General (consider it a "satellite office" of the embassy in Mexico City.) It also happens to be the busiest visa processing post in the world. Last year, they processed more than 179,000 non-immigrant visas. That's massive.

I'm certainly not disappointed by my assignment! I'm excited about getting to use my Spanish that I've been studying for quite a few years. I just wish that I was going a little further away than 2 hours across the Texas border. On the bright side, though, being so close will make it easier to come back to the States for things like my friends' weddings.

My mom has been in town this weekend visiting, and we've been quite the sightseeing pair. So far, we've hit all of the memorials and monuments on the National Mall, the Natural History and American History Smithsonians, the White House, the State Department, and Arlington Cemetery. Tomorrow is the U.S. Capitol Building before she flies out in the afternoon. Great weekend.

That's enough for now, I think. This upcoming week is our last of Orientation. It will be tough to say goodbye to these friends of mine in the 156th.

Until next time...peace.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's Mexico!

I'm going to Monterrey, Mexico in February! Yeahhhh!! I'm actually pretty excited, and I'm glad that I'll get to use my Spanish. I'm sure I'll post something more detailed later this weekend!



Thursday, October 7, 2010

Flag Day... Tomorrow!

Oh man... I can't believe that tomorrow is Flag Day! By the end of the day tomorrow, I'm going to know exactly where my first post will be, how long I'll be in training, and, subsequently, how much longer I'll be in DC.

I'm crazy excited, and even more excited that my mom is joining me here in DC for the weekend to celebrate!

Fear not... I'll have a blog post up Friday evening or Saturday to let you know where I'm going!

Until then... peace!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hitting the Ground Running

Good Monday Morning to you all!

My weekend in Nashville was a great change-of-pace and a much needed break from being under the foreign service fire hose. Seeing friends is always a good thing, and always worth sacrificing a bit of sleep. I got back to Baltimore at 10p, in time to catch an Amtrak train that was supposed to depart at 10:45p. It finally rolled in to the station at 11:25pm. Luckily, I had my iPod and a great book with me, so it wasn't a terrible wait.

About a half hour later, the train pulled into Union Station right around midnight. I was worried that I might miss the last metro (subway) train back across town to where I lived, so I hurried down into the station. I made it on the first train and rode it to Metro Center, where I had to change trains. As the train I was on arrived at the station, I noticed the other train that I needed to catch was also arriving. I hurried downstairs and managed to get on the last train of the night toward my destination. I'm so glad I made it because, otherwise, I would've spent quite a lot on a taxi across town. I arrived at my station, walked 3 blocks in the cold rain, and finally walked in to my apartment around 12:45a. After unpacking quickly and changing clothes, I was alseep by about 1:15a.

When I woke up at 6:10a this morning, I was surprisingly awake. I cooked two eggs, some toast, and ate some grapes. I finished getting ready early and caught the shuttle with plenty of time to spare. I'm now here at work, waiting for class to start. (Note: I'm not blogging during work hours! It's ok!) I feel great right now and very energized. I suppose we'll see how I feel around 2:30p this afternoon, haha.

Tonight's entertainment is a concert in Baltimore by Brandi Carlile. I'm a huge fan of hers and excited to see her in person. Hopefully we won't be too late in getting back so that I can get a normal amount of sleep, but somehow I don't see that happening.

Oh well. You only live once, right?!

Until next time...peace.

Oh, PS... Flag Day is this Friday!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sleepy Week

This week has been a little rough for me in terms of, you know, staying awake and attentive in training. Mind you, I never once actually fell asleep, but there was definitely a time on Monday morning when my head may or may not have been drooping a little. And on two separate afternoons, I had to take shots of a Mountain Dew to get the caffeine kick to stay focused.

So why the sleepiness this week? Well, I think there may be a few different reasons.

First, I'm getting roughly 6.5-7 hours of sleep a night. Some of you might say that this is plenty and you actually get less than that and still function just fine. For me, though, a solid 8 hours of sleep is deeply appreciated... and necessary.

Second, it didn't help that most of our sessions were the kind where we sit down and are supposed to absorb all of the information being thrown at us. In fact, one of our presenters described it as turning on a fire hose and spraying us with information, hoping that we might remember a few bits of it after training.

Now, don't get me wrong... I'm loving A-100. But I will definitely agree with the statement that we're approaching the limit of information saturation. I could use some time to sit and absorb it all before starting a new topic.

Luckily, that's just what I'll get this weekend. I'm flying to Nashville for the weekend to take care of some stuff, and I'm really looking forward to it. Don't get me wrong, I love being in DC, but a quick hop over to Nashville to do things completely unrelated to the Foreign Service will be a welcome escape.

So, until next time... peace.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Foray into The Woods

Those of you who are current Foreign Service Officers know what I'm referring to when I speak of The Woods. For all of you FSO-hopefuls.. have you ever seen The Blair Witch Project? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Ok, I'm just kidding. The 156th offsite to The Woods was actually a lot of fun, and we learned a lot. I mentioned in my last post that A-100 includes two days of an offsite leadership and team building exercise. We left FSI early on Thursday morning for the short 2-hour drive to West Virginia. The Woods itself is not exactly what I would call... woods. It's actually a somewhat secluded resort with all kinds of amenities, but it's located in "the country", so to speak, so it feels a little rustic. As soon as we got there we were divided up into city groups (go Beijing!). These groups remained as a team for both days. There were various missions to complete, such as crossing a dangerous gas field and retrieving information from booby-trapped containers! So dangerous! ;)

As we completed these missions, we learned crucial team building and leadership skills. Honestly, I've done a lot of leadership retreats before, but this one was certainly different than any of those. Instead of just doing "trust building" exercises like trust falls and low-ropes courses, we participated in real-life scenarios and had to function as a team to accomplish a goal. Then afterward, we debriefed each event and covered the basic team and leadership skills that were demonstrated.

Also during The Woods: the follies. I won't say much about them other than to say that the 156th A-100 is quite... "perceptive" (inside joke)... and has a lot of talent in the humor department. I laughed more than I have in a while watching my classmates make fools of themselves for the benefit of the group. Thanks to all of them. The follies were followed by general hanging out and merriment. The karaoke was great, and one or two classmates in particular quite literally stole the show when it came to interpretive dancing and singing. All I can say is: it's a good thing they don't allow anyone to take pictures or film.

Today I went with some classmates to the Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves game. We all had a great time, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them and getting to know them better. Unfortunately, it was ridiculously hot, and I sweated like a pig wearing a flannel shirt in the summer in Dubai. On the sun.

PS, one of my favorite new places in DC: Gravelly Point. This. place. rocks. It's located right on the tip of Reagan National Airport's runway. It has a biking/running trail going through it along the Potomac, and large open fields to hang out in. You can see there is a rugby match going on as a plane is landing overhead. Notice the Washington Monument in the background. Those planes come about every five minutes, and I felt like a little kid every time one flew over because I stopped whatever I was doing just to watch it. My friend George, his friend, and I were there tossing a frisbee around and just generally enjoying the beautiful morning this morning. I will certainly be making more visits to this place. There are no street lights or anything, so I want to go back at night and watch the planes land. I bet that's pretty cool.

My bid list is due Monday with my rankings for all 94 posts I could go to. I'll find out on Oct 8th where I'm going...very exciting. Also on Monday, our class is having our training at Capitol Hill in one of the Senate office buildings. That should be pretty cool.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for next time!

Until then... peace.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Live in DC Now

OK, maybe that's just slightly not accurate. Technically, I live in Arlington, Virginia, but it's still considered to be the DC Metro area. But let's just roll with it, shall we?

I'm actually glad I don't live in DC (or, as my brother and his friends call it, "The District"). I've lived in big cities before (London, for example), but for the most part, I come from small-town Alabama combined with collegiate years in medium-city Birmingham. I've always needed a vehicle to get around from place to place and run errands, grocery shop, go out for fun, etc. Don't get me wrong, I love public transportation, but Birmingham's bus system is infamous for being terrible, and I lived outside of the city itself so I never really had access to it. I've learned very quickly, though, that my extended cab truck is not suited to big city life. I've known for a long, long time that my truck is huge and can be difficult and complicated to park, especially in a tight, parallel parking situation. But DC is entirely another beast. Luckily, I have a parking garage to park in, but even it is tiny, and maneuvering inside it is a challenge. Suffice it to say that if you watched me trying to get in it and park, you would find it hilarious, as do I from time to time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week One: A Recap

Wow. This week has been absolutely fantastic. So much has happened, so much has been learned, so much about my life is changing. I want to make sure I get it all recorded here so I can remember it down the road. Let's jump right in, shall we?

I already covered day one and two in a top-ten style list. That was the majority of the excitement, but I'll add just a little to it. The A-100 room is slightly small, but that's mainly because our class itself is rather large. There are 94 of us in the class, and the room was built to seat about 60 comfortably and about 80 if you pack them in. Once again, I'll point out that there are 94 of us. Oh well.. close proximity just builds relationships all that much faster, right? Of course, it doesn't help that I sit right next to one of the biggest guys in the group (but he's also one of the most friendly!)

So that leaves us with days three, four, and five.

Wednesday was a pretty good day, though it was, again, more training and informational in nature. We learned how FSI (foreign service institute) handles language testing/instruction, which was really interesting to me because that's right up my proverbial alley. Normally, the language test would take about an hour and a half and consist of reading and speaking, but because there are so many of us who speak Spanish and French, I have to do something different. Next Tuesday morning, I will sit down with a Spanish instructor for about 15 minutes, and that's it. I'll try to demonstrate to him or her what level of Spanish instruction I've had and how well I know the language. But that's it.. I've got 15 minutes to prove my skills. So I'm sure I'll be a little nervous on Tuesday morning. They rank you based on a 0-5 scale, and I'm hoping for at least a 2+/2+ or a 2+/3. Basically, a 3 is "professionally proficient." (Oh, and the first number is your speaking ability, the second is your reading ability.) They call this method of language exam a "speed date" with your instructor. Here's hoping my dating skills are up to par.

Later that same day, we had some briefings on the mission and structure of the State Department and met with our Career Development Officers (CDOs). They spent the entire afternoon telling us how they go about assigning first posts and how to go through our bid lists. Then, the moment came: we got the actual bid list for our class. There are 94 different options, though some of them I can immediately weed out because I would rather not work there (domestic posts in Washington, DC, for example.) So I have until Sept 27th to rank EACH of the posts on the bid list with a High, Medium, or Low ranking. The entire process is pretty tight and organized. Needless to say, I have a lot of research to do. While I'm not permitted to share the entire list with you, I can say that there are a lot of North and Central American posts as well as quite a few in Southeast Asia and Africa.  I've got my work cut out for me.

The Treaty Room at the State Department
On Thursday, we had more briefings on the mission and structure of an embassy and the people that work within them. It was really quite interesting, and was very informative. I learned more acronyms (I mean, it IS the federal government after all!) At the end of that day, I learned how to go about getting my per diem paid to me and also how to be reimbursed for my travel to DC to begin the job. As for Friday, it was spent at Main State. We heard from a former ambassador as well as various other offices within The Department. I also took a short tour around the building, and saw the Treaty Room where the Secretary often signs treaties and other documents with foreign officials. Very, very cool.

That's all the dry, day-to-day information there. Now I want to give my thoughts on it all.

I. Love. This. Job. And I haven't even left the country yet! I am so extremely blessed to have been provided a job like this. Every day, I learn more and more about it, and every day, I love it more. It truly seems to be my dream career. I hope to have a long and successful run with the Foreign Service, for sure.

There was one session during the week that had a huge impact on me, and it made me realize just how important my job really is. I am honored and count it a privilege to have this job, to work with the people I work with, and to have the opportunity to get to know so many of the people in my A-100 class. I hope I can give back as much as they're giving to me!

I'm not used to this "real world" thing just yet, though. The waking up before the sun comes up and the going to bed as if I were still in college has taken its toll on me. Yesterday I woke up with a sore throat and slight congestion. Last night was filled with lots of sneezing and coughing. After sleeping about 10 hours last night, I'm feeling slightly better, and hopefully I'll be back to 100% by Monday.

This post is getting pretty long, and I'm going to wrap it up now. I've got a lot to do today, but I'm also trying to take it easy. My UAB shipment from home just arrived, so now I have two giant boxes in the middle of my living room, and I have absolutely no idea what to do with them. Lesson learned: I can live with much less than I thought I could. I just might not even unpack them and wait until I ship out for post (or, at least, until I know how long I'll be staying in DC.)

Much love to you all. Until next time... peace.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Two Days In

Well, my classmates and I have finished the first two days of A-100 training. Wow... so much has been shoved into our brains in the last two days, it's really pretty impressive. As a result of all that, this post will be given in a short, top-ten list style, in no particular order. Without further adieu:
  1. Walking into the Harry S. Truman (HST) building, otherwise known as Main State, otherwise known as The US State Department, was such a great feeling on Monday morning. Also, most of my day was spent inside the Loy Henderson auditorium (you've probably seen it on TV.)
  2. Secretary Clinton (aka HRC or S) was supposed to be there that morning to welcome us, but she's currently traveling somewhere. Slight bummer.
  3. The picture on my government ID badge is actually not bad at all. I got lucky, I guess. Unfortunately, I can't take a picture and show it to you. (Security Violation!)
  4. The cafeteria in HST wasn't bad at all. We won't be spending too many days in HST itself though, because of #5.
  5. FSI aka NFATC (Foreign Service Institute aka National Foreign Affairs Training Center) is a really nice campus. It felt very much like a college campus (which, of course, is what I'm familiar with.) That's where most of my training will be held.
  6. There are a mindblowing number of acronyms/abbreviations in the department. (Roughly 950. NINE HUNDRED AND FIFTY...if not more.)
  7. My classmates are diverse and extremely interesting, each with a unique background. Quite impressive.
  8. We get our bid lists tomorrow! (The list of posts available for me to take. I get to spend the next week ranking EACH of them..which means a lot of research...which means a lot of homework.)
  9. Funny story: when trying to leave HST yesterday, I didn't realize that you had to insert your badge at the turn-style for it to unlock so you can walk through it. So, attempting to look like I knew what I was doing, I walked into the locked turn-style at full speed and literally was bent over at the waist by the metal bar. The guard actually laughed at me.
  10. I'M OFFICIALLY A FED! ;)
Until next time...peace

Monday, September 13, 2010

First Day as a Foreign Service Officer

Good morning, folks.

It's roughly 6am and I'm getting ready for my first day on the job as a Foreign Service Officer. I've been told it's a lot of paper shuffling and standing in lines, but I'm excited nonetheless. I'm supposed to be at the Main State Department by 7:45am, so I'm leaving in about 30 minutes.

I literally woke up before dawn today. Let's hope this is not a constant wake up time.

I can't believe this day has actually come. Roughly this time last year I was getting ready to take the FSOT, and I fully expected not to pass it. I just assumed I was taking it to get a feel for it that I would take it again in the future. Looks like I was wrong, haha!

We, the members of the 156th A-100 training class, met some of the 154th last night as they hosted a great meet & greet for us. There are a lot of really friendly people in my class, though it's going to take me forever to remember all of their names and faces.

I suppose I'll post another update sometime this evening or tomorrow to document my first day.

Oh PS - I definitely get my "government ID badge" today. So legit.

Until next time...peace.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Marine Embassy Security Guards

I saw this video over on Life After Jerusalem and had to repost it. I'm really, really looking forward to meeting some of these guys at the embassies at which I'll work.

That's it for now... enjoy.

Oh, PS - I'm moving in this weekend. Hopefully I'll find time to write a blog entry about leaving home and starting training sometime in the next few days.

Until next time...peace.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Life is Like a Box of...Books

I was listening to a segment on NPR today about books and reading. While I won't bore you with the details of the show, I would suggest that if you do want a slightly interesting read/listen about the skill of poly-reading (that is, being able to read multiple books at the same time), check out the article on NPR's website. After the segment was over, I let my mind wander a bit and ponder books in general. My preoccupied and multi-tasking brain didn't take long before it had me thinking about my move to DC (the drive starts Thursday!) and my new job in the FS.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Late-night Tidbits

I'm back in Birmingham this weekend to visit my college friends one last time before I move to DC at the end of next week. It seems like the days are flying by now, and pretty soon I'll start "real life" with training at FSI.

Until then, though, I'm living it up with the last few days I have around here. One of my friends is throwing me a BBQ at her house, and a large number of my friends are going to be there. I cannot express how excited I am about that. It'll give me one last time to hang out and say goodbye to them, which is exactly what I wanted.

In other news, I've been keeping myself amused by watching these new Geico commercials. Now, I'm not trying to advertise for them or anything.. I don't even have a policy with them... but their new commercials are pretty funny. In addition to this one, I suggest checking out the one with the little piggy, bird in the hand, and the woodchucks.

So, without further adieu, I'll let Abe Lincoln finish up this entirely random and pointless blog post:


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

UAB Packout

Well, the movers came today to pack up my UAB (Unaccompanied Air Baggage.) For those of you outside the FS world, every FSO gets two types of shipments when they move between posts: UAB and HHE (Household Effects.) The UAB is limited to 250lbs. and is shipped via air freight to your destination, in the hopes that it will beat you there or get there shortly after you arrive. The HHE is generally shipped via ground and/or boat and can be up to 18,000lbs. But, because I just graduated from college and don't have a whole lot of belongings, I opted not to do an HHE shipment and just do a UAB. Since I'm driving my POV (Personally Owned Vehicle) to DC anyway, I can take anything extra with me on my own.

It was weird watching the movers pack up my few things into boxes, tape them all up, and drive away. Somehow, seeing all of that made this job even more "real" to me. You know, I've been waiting around for training to start, filling out forms and mailing them off to a State Department address. But until now, nothing really "physical" has happened. I'm moving to DC next week, and training starts in 13 days... it's getting more real by the minute.

In other news, my laptop finally arrived, and she's a beauty. I love this thing. It's incredibly thin and light and is lightning fast as well. My previous laptop weighs almost 8.5lbs and is 2" thick. This new laptop weighs 3.8lbs and is 1" thick. Check out these two photos for comparison:


Needless to say, but I'm well pleased.

Until next time...peace.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

I'm the kind of guy who really likes to work quickly to get things accomplished. I'm also a multi-tasker, so I tend to be juggling a few different things at once. In college, this served me well because I was able to handle a pretty decent load while also still making time to hang out with friends and have fun. Unfortunately, I'm now in the two-week countdown window until I move to DC to begin A-100 training, and my list of things to do seems to have dwindled significantly. Either that, or I'm also procrastinating...something I'm also quite good at.*

There are a few obvious things that are currently causing me to hurry up and wait. First up is my new laptop. I ordered it a week and a half ago, and it has yet to arrive. I love technology and gadgets, so from the moment I placed the order I have wanted the laptop in my hands to begin playing with it and loading all of my junk onto it. I have checked the UPS tracking information more than any normal human being ever should. This means I watched as it flew from Shanghai, China to Anchorage, Alaska to Louisville, Kentucky in the span of about 36 hours. Then I watched helplessly as Customs put a hold on it and wouldn't release it from the UPS warehouse there for four solid days while they were waiting for information from the shipper. Then there was that time when they "accidentally" scheduled it for delivery even though it wasn't released by customs, which only slowed things up a bit more. Luckily, I was reassured over the phone by a UPS agent that it has finally cleared Customs and should be delivered by the end of the day tomorrow. I'm now hurrying up and waiting for the end of the day tomorrow!

The second thing causing me to hurry up and wait is emailing back and forth with folks at the State Department. Now, don't get me wrong - these folks are extremely busy and important people who probably get hundreds of emails a day. They're typically great about getting back to you quickly, and thus far they have been. As my luck would have it, there was a slight discrepancy on my travel authorization that I had to email them about for clarification. After about a week, everything is cleared up, but it caused a hitch in my current moving plan that I'm going to have to find a workaround solution for**. Suffice it to say that I need to book a hotel for a night in DC, but I can't quite do it just yet. Being the kind of person who really wants to get things done... this certainly stinks. I'd rather just go ahead and make the reservation and be done with it, but I can't. Sigh.

In other news, I went to the beach this past weekend. Yes, the BP Oil Spill Gulf Shores beach. I couldn't really see any physical evidence of oil on the sand or in the water, even though I knew from previous news reports that things were better than originally thought. I find it fascinating that Mother Nature is cleaning up another one of our messes. Someone must have finally put all five magic rings together and summoned up Captain Planet.


In any case, I was still pretty cautious about swimming in the Gulf because of all of the mystery dispersants BP used to clean things up*. I also got to see a concert by Train and Needtobreathe with a friend of mine and my brother, so it was definitely a great weekend.

Next weekend some friends of mine are throwing me a Goodbye BBQ as a kind of farewell type thing. I'm super pumped about it, and a lot of my good friends are going to be in attendance. I am definitely going to miss them, though I expect all of them to come visit me wherever I end up*! (yeah.. that means you. No, not you. You.)

I found out today that the State Dept is going to issue me a work computer to use while in training, though its uses are limited due to security concerns. I'm pretty excited about that, to be honest.

I think that's about all I have for now. Sorry this blog is so boring at the moment. My UAB packout is on Wednesday, so I'm sure I'll have some reflections about that coming up soon.

Until then...peace.

*I know you're not supposed to end sentences with prepositions, but the "correct" version of this just sounds clunky: "something at which I'm also quite good." Really? Can't we just change the rules of English grammar once and for all and allow prepositions at the end of sentences? Please. There's a famous quote by Winston Churchill (though there seems to be some debate on to whom the quote is really attributed and what the original line was) that I think addresses the matter perfectly. In response to a writer who rearranged one his sentences so that it wouldn't end in a preposition, Churchill wrote, "This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put." I agree.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Quick notes

So I thought I'd share a few quick things with you this morning. Let's see what's on the docket:

Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did a solid 10 minute segment on Glenn Beck and his ridiculous "Restoring Honor" event happening tomorrow, 8/28. The rally is being held at the Lincoln Memorial. Anything seem familiar? Oh, yes... that's the exact date and location of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Now, I don't dabble in politics much, and I try not to make inflammatory statements...but Glenn Beck is a goober. How can anyone dare to hold a rally on the anniversary and at the same location as MLK, Jr.? Hence why I loved Stewart's segment last night:


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
I Have a Scheme
www.thedailyshow.com


In other news, I ordered a new laptop last week. My current laptop has never let me down, but I got it four years ago and I made the decision then to buy a more hefty laptop that would stay roughly in place and not travel much. So, it's a 17" screen, is 2" thick, and weighs almost 9lbs. That won't do anymore. My new laptop should be here any day, and she's 1" thick, weighs 3.89lbs, and has a 14" screen. Yup, that'll travel better.

My UAB pack-out is next week.. I should really start sorting a little. I'm not doing an HHE shipment at all because I'm driving to DC, and I don't have a lot of HHE to begin with. I sold what little furniture I had when I moved out after I graduated college because my lodging in DC is fully furnished, and I've heard most posts are fully or semi-furnished anyway. I'll buy some furniture when I get ready to leave DC. Three weeks from today I'll be in DC!

I finished up the massive packet of EOD (Entry on Duty) forms last week and sent them on to HR/the Registrar. Glad that's done, but of course I know that I'll be filling out even more forms when I actually start work. Oh well.. eso es la vida, ¿no?

I'm out for the weekend. Peace.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Orleans - 5 Years Later

I'm in New Orleans for a few days to visit my brother and some friends. I've been to New Orleans a number of times over the past few years, including the past two Mardi Gras(es?), which is always a lot of fun and rather entertaining. NOLA (or New Orleans, Louisiana) has always been an interesting place to me, especially after Katrina hit. There was so much destruction and so much desolation after that hurricane, but if you stay in certain areas of the city, you might not have ever known it. I've always told people that NOLA seems like a Third World country to me, in that there is kind of that one cool place that all the tourists go to (in this case, the French Quarter and Garden District), and outside of that, it's just totally different. It literally seems like a different country.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Weekly State Department Blog RoundUp

Welcome to the Weekly State Department Blog RoundUp for the week of August 13-20. For those of you reading this who aren't in the FS community, the WSDBRU (yup, I just invented an acronym for it) is a weekly (short) summary of what's being posted in FS blogs around the world. It is informally run by the folks at A Daring Adventure, and each week, a different member of the community hosts the roundup on his or her blog. I volunteered to take it this week as a way to introduce myself to the FS blog community and to get a better feel for the blogs that are out there. I can definitively say that it was a lot more work than I expected! It's pretty difficult to try to get around to so many of the blogs and then briefly summarize a post or two from each one. I tried to make them interesting but also not give away everything so that you would still want to go read it. I also wanted to include more pictures, but Blogger and I got into an argument about it, and unfortunately, Blogger won. Sorry about that.

I first attempted to group the posts into some meta categories to make it easier to write about them, but then I came to the realization that, although we all share the same job (more or less), our lives are extremely different. I suppose this is because we live in so many countries around the world, and each one presents its own challenges and oddities. So, I just decided to do a boring old bulleted list style rundown of the blogs I wanted to highlight. They're in no particular order, and just because I didn't include a blog doesn't mean there wasn't something interesting! Without further adieu, here we go:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How I Got This Job, Part 2

Note: This post is the second in a two part posting describing how I ended up with a job as a Foreign Service Officer for the US State Department. If you haven't yet read the first part, I suggest you check it out before reading this one. Also, this post contains a lot of acronyms and abbreviations; I did my best to define them all. Sorry, but that seems to be my life these days. This post will be entirely too long... I apologize in advance.

Now, on to the nitty-gritty of becoming a Foreign Service Officer (FSO). The very first thing you must do, before even registering to take the test, is choose which "cone" you wish to pursue while joining the FS. There are five cones - basically large departments or divisions - within an embassy. They are: Management, Political Affairs, Economic Affairs, Public Diplomacy, and Consular Affairs. For a detailed description of each cone, see the State Department's explanation. Suffice it to say that I decided that the Consular Affairs cone was the best fit for me...more on that later.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How I Got This Job, Part 1

You may be wondering how I managed to land my dream career. To be honest*, I'm not entirely sure myself. This blog entry will try to trace the steps to how I got the job, beginning with my first trip out of the US and ending with beginning the process of applying. Part Two of the history will come in a few days, which will cover the actual process of becoming a Foreign Service Officer. Let's get started.

My first time out of the country (minus a trip to Toronto, Canada when I was young) was a family vacation to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I was enthralled - everything was different, new, and unknown. I had studied Spanish for four semesters in high school, so the opportunity to use what I had learned gave me a sense of accomplishment. That week long trip sparked something in me that I have only recently identified as being a major component of my personality. Adventure. I live for adventure, but it wasn't until a few months ago that I realized that. Of course, in college, I have been pursuing adventure all along, but I never saw the big picture. (Because this post is so long, I've snipped the part that appears on the main page. Click on the Read More link to see the rest of this post.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vacation Recap and Wisdom Teeth

So I'm back from my vacation, and I got my wisdom teeth removed this morning. Why is he writing about his wisdom teeth, you're asking. Isn't this a blog about life in the Foreign Service? It is, yes, and strangely enough, they do apply to my new life, albeit it's a bit of a stretch. But first, a quick recap of the vacation to Yellowstone.

I flew in to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from Birmingham and via Dallas/Ft. Worth. While boarding the plane in Dallas, the gate agent was practically begging for someone to get off the flight because they had overbooked. I ignored it for a long time, and right before they closed to plane door (with me on it), they offered a $500 flight voucher and a rebooking on a different airline to make the arrival just 2 hours later. I couldn't pass that up, so I signaled to my family who was on the plane with me, and I bolted. Within 5 minutes I was boarded on the new plane, this time in first class, toward Denver. From Denver to Jackson Hole, I was also seated in first class. Can't beat two first class tickets and a $500 voucher.

Old Faithful, doing her thing.
After two days in Jackson Hole, including a Snake River raft-floating trip, we moved on to Yellowstone via the Grand Teton National Park. I personally thought the GTNP was significantly prettier/nicer/better than Yellowstone, but that's my personal opinion.  In any case, we spent the next five nights in the park itself. Our first stop was at the Lake area, staying in some cabin/lodge type deals close to the historic Lake Hotel. One morning I went on a hike by myself to a ridge overlooking the lake, which was absolutely fantastic. That day ended with a six hour private bus tour to see wildlife in the park, of which there was an immense amount. We had a really great time, and our tour guide told me he used to do something similar to work in the Foreign Service, though when pressed about it, he dodged every question. I think he must've been some kind of intelligence officer and still can't talk about what he did. After getting my fill of buffalo, deer, ospreys and various other wildlife, we returned to the lodge. The next day we were at the Old Faithful Inn, where I evaluated in person the oldness and faithfulness of the geyser. It is, indeed, both old and faithful. I went on a ranger walk with a trilingual ranger and really enjoyed it, including the numerous marmots we saw. During my stay at the inn, there was an incident with a mouse, my backpack, and some trail mix, which the hotel humorously responded to ("Here.. here's two mouse traps. It's a 100 year old inn, what do you expect?") To wrap up the vacation, it was a great time with family, which I may not see much of in the next few years. US National Parks are absolutely stunning, too, and a great asset to our heritage.

Now, about my wisdom teeth. My dentist has told me for the past few years that my wisdom teeth were coming in just fine, with plenty of room, and didn't seem to be causing any problems. Three of the four were fully in, and only one was partially in, though not cause for much concern. But, then at the beginning of June, during my routine six month cleaning, I mentioned the new job I had and how I might be living in some less than desirable countries in the foreseeable future. She raised the good point that wisdom teeth are sometimes unpredictable, may someday cause me pain, and I certainly wouldn't want to be in a third world country somewhere with no access to good dental care. On top of that, by that point, I would have to take off work for a few days, and perhaps my insurance wouldn't cover it. Of course, now, my insurance covers it, and I'm not working in the days leading up to my new job. Fast forward a bit, and I had my surgery this morning.

I told the doctor that I always try to last as long as possible when I'm given anesthesia, kind of a challenge to myself. In the past, when counting down from 100, I've made it to 97. I told him I wanted to hit at least 96 this time. Then suddenly, I woke up. I really don't remember when he gave me the anesthetic, nor when I fell asleep. But suddenly, I was waking up. I was down for about an hour or so, I guess, and the few hours afterward were pretty fun as the anesthetic wore off. But, contrary to the numerous stories I heard, I've had hardly any pain at all today. In fact, I would only classify it as slight discomfort. In fact, the worst part about it is that I can't eat what I want for the next few days. (Hint: buy stock in Jell-o, apple sauce and Special K protein shakes.)

Isn't it interesting how this new job I'm starting seems to reach into all areas of my life? If I hadn't told my dentist what I'd be doing, I would still have all four of my wisdom teeth right now. In fact, this extended reach seems to be coming into light more and more every day. I'm having to consider things I want to take with me, things I'm OK with leaving behind, and how I'm going to live my day-to-day life. Further, a lot of my friends are probably getting married next summer, and I want to be present at their weddings. Will I be able to be there? Who knows. That's just a random tidbit to think about.

Stay tuned to the blog in the next few days and weeks. I'm preparing for my move to DC and the beginning of training. I'm also planning a two-part blog entry about how I managed to end up with this job, which I hope will answer some of your questions and be interesting for you to read. Thanks for reading.

Hasta luego.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Going on Vacation

Found this chipmunk enjoying a pretzel
at Rocky Mountain National Park.
I really enjoy going on vacations, because it usually means travel to somewhere I haven't been before. Of course, I don't necessarily need a vacation right now, because I haven't really done much this whole summer. But it's kind of a family tradition to take a summer vacation, so we're going. This year, it's Yellowstone National Park with a brief stint in the Grand Tetons as well. I'll be gone for a week.

I've recently fallen in love with National Parks, mainly because of one single visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. I never expected to find such beauty in the United States as I found there. Two friends of mine and I spent a day hiking there, and by the end we had hiked around 7.5 miles. But being in such fresh air, at such a higher altitude was actually quite exhilarating and relaxing. I'm looking forward to going back to that atmosphere.

Because of the vacation, I've decided to postpone the launch of this blog until after I get back. If you've already found it, don't expect any new posts next week. Otherwise, sit tight and relax and wait for the next update!

Until then, I'm out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Information Sifting

The State Department overnighted me a very thick packet of forms and information today. When I picked it up, I was expecting a simple envelope with a few forms in it - I was expecting this. And, to be sure, those forms were in the packet. But along with those forms came a hefty bit of other information.

I'm an information-hungry kind of guy. I love receiving, processing, and categorizing information. In fact, when I was a freshman in college, I did a StrengthsQuest© personality evaluation, and my #1 strength is Input. Basically, that means that I constantly collect information and store it for later use. This is also why I'm a pack rat, but that's another beast. So, when I opened up the thick FedEx envelope today and found a wealth of information, I was both excited and immediately overwhelmed.

At first, I couldn't read much of it. A long time ago, someone in the government was a huge fan of Campbell's Alphabet Soup, apparently [with a quick bit of Googling, I discovered it kind of got it's start with FDR and the New Deal. Interesting, huh?] There are about a thousand new acronyms to learn: CONUS, HST, FSI, FEGLI, FEHB, TD, TO, PCS, TDY, etc. I won't even bother defining those for you. In any case, it takes a lot of getting used to, although I seem to be making some headway in that area.

The 2010 Guide to Federal Benefits for Federal Civilian Employees is 113 pages long. It details all of the options I have in choosing my health benefits, plus dental, vision, life insurance, and long term care insurance. Let me suffice the entire booklet to say this: I'm overwhelmed. There are numerous options, conditions, and requirements to consider. Then I need to evaluate my personal risk tolerance in choosing a plan. Then of course, I have to plan for my retirement, even now, at age 23. This is all new to me.

Of course, that booklet is just one of numerous collections of information. There's an 80 page guide to moving around the world and from home to Washington. Then there's a packet or two on various non-profit organizations out there to support Foreign Service officers. A DC metro map. A pamphlet on Virginia's Luray Caverns (no idea why that's there.) A booklet about the Thrift Savings Plan. And, of course, plenty of forms.

I was speaking with my college mentor today, and I told him that this is really the first time I've come up against something of which I really have no prior knowledge. I've never had my own health benefit plan because I've always been covered under my parents. In fact, I've never had any benefits to speak of. There are a lot of things I don't understand; but it's not because it's overly complicated, it's just that I've never dealt with these things before.

Am I intimidated? A little. Does that excite me? You better believe it.

In the coming days, I'll be evaluating all of this information and beginning to process it in my mind. It's true... my life is completely changing. But I love adventure, and I look at all of this as the next big adventure for me.

I figure that's enough boring you for today. Maybe I'll post something interesting soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Blogging Begins

Blogging is a lot harder than you might think. Before even the first entry is written, a lot of time goes into preparing the blog for its big debut. Everything from overall style to tiny customizations are important. If the blog isn't interesting, attractive, or easy to use, then the audience won't want to come back regularly. (Of course, my audience is probably just my family, mainly - Hi Mom! - but that's beside the point.) So, from the beginning, I wanted to spend a lot of time getting everything set up correctly before I opened up the blog. Please let me know if you have suggestions for the site or for topics to post on.

My goals for the blog are simple: chronicle my life as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) for the United States of America; enable family and friends to keep up with my daily life easily; and provide useful information and anecdotes to the Foreign Service community at large. As a result, my blog entries could be anything from what I ate for lunch yesterday to the process of becoming a Foreign Service officer to sharing tips and tricks I pick up along the way with other FSOs.

Setting out on the journey.
A photo I took in Kinsale, Ireland.
So, consider this the first post of hopefully many concerning my new life. In fact, it's truly strange to take a step back and pondering what is happening in my life at this very moment. In a few years, I'm going to look back and read these first few blog entries and remember everything that was going through my head. I'd like to invite you to join me, here, to follow along with me as I start this new thing.

I just had a moment where I thought of all the old clichés that would fit this entry. Here's a short list: opening a new chapter, riding this new wave, embarking on this new journey, setting out on this new adventure.. you get the point. The funny thing is, each of those includes the word "new." And they're all right. Everything about this is new. I plan to write an entry in a few days discussing some of these new things... forms (bureaucracy!), salary, life insurance, moving, travel, etc. I can already tell it's going to be a wild ride. (See what I just did there? Another cliché.)

I hope you'll stick with me to learn about the Foreign Service and how my life is changing. I would appreciate your participation in the comments - it will certainly help motivate me to keep writing!

For now, though, I'm going to bed. I'll see ya when I see ya.