Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

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.