Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

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.
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.