Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

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

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.