Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Time for Some Updates

It seems that my blogging has slowed down as much as the Sun has as it moves across the sky during the summer. And let me tell you, it is painfully, uncomfortably slow down here in sunny Mexico.

I'm not sure, exactly, why the blogging has slowed. It could be because of the noticeable uptick in busyness at work (for more info, see that last blog post I made.) Then again, it could be due to just a lack of interesting things to blog about. I'd say it's kind of a mixture of these two.

Some of you have been contacting me lately asking what I ended up deciding in terms of pursuing schooling and/or finding some new hobbies. I decided - after much deliberation - that I wouldn't enroll in any master's degree programs just yet. The University of Texas at Brownsville just didn't really seem to be that enticing (it wasn't that cheap, either). I think that if I'm going to make the leap into higher education, I might as well wait for a better opportunity at a better university. I've got nothing against UTB, but the cost:benefit ratio just didn't make sense at the time.

By no means am I giving up on higher education, though. It's just deferred, for now. There are quite a few opportunities in the State Department that would allow me to serve one of my "tours" domestically in pursuit of a higher education degree. The vast majority of those won't be available to me for a another 8-10 years, but I don't mind. I've got time on my hands. In other, slightly related news, I'm looking into taking French classes here in Matamoros. (Yes, I would be learning French in Spanish. Commence mind explosion.) Right now I'm just waiting for a bit more information about the courses, but they look promising. I'll keep you updated.

Speaking of time on my hands... I still have a lot of it. When I don't spend my evenings at work, I spend them at home not really doing anything. I've been reading some here and there, but so far haven't found a book that has really grabbed my attention. (Any suggestions?) I'm currently reading George Kennan's autobiography called Memoirs: 1925-1950. As I'm sure you've deduced from the title, it's thrilling. It's about Mr. Kennan's career in the Foreign Service of the early-mid century and WWII. While it is fascinating at times, offering some really rather comical views of the Old Foreign Service, it hasn't really sucked me in. Still, I've picked up a few gems of wisdom that still seem applicable to Today's Foreign Service.

In terms of hobbies, I still haven't found a good one that I can really practice learning a new skill or doing some self-improvement. I've been riding my bike a bit more, and last Saturday I accidentally rode 30km (a little more than 18mi) in Brownsville on the paved bike trail that runs right through the middle of town. It was super hot, mid-day, long, straight, and flat. It wasn't the most exciting ride, but at the end I had really enjoyed it and plan to do it again sometime soon. I would love to be able to get up to 30mi at some point. All of that is on my mountain bike, and half of it was against the wind (which was not appreciated, thank-you-very-much.)

I've also had a number of you email me for tips on taking the FSOT and FSOA, etc. Again, my best recommendation is: relax. Take the tests, do your best, and see where you end up. In my opinion (take it or leave it), there's no amount of studying that will help you pass either one. Sure, you can try to prepare, but in the end it just takes some self confidence, a general knowledge of the world writ large, and some luck. Don't give up. And feel free to contact me via email if you have specific questions.

Also, one quick plug for a really cool Department program that I think deserves some more attention. For those of you who are students (under- and post-grad!), check out the Virtual Student Foreign Service. It's basically an internship program with various missions worldwide, but it's all done online. There are some really sweet prospects out there (ahem.. two of them are offered here at Consulate General Matamoros!), and offer some good opportunities for students to get directly involved in the mission of U.S. diplomacy overseas. For more info, check out the State Department page and the corresponding Facebook page. Applications are due on July 20th.

I think that may be it for now. I'm just waiting for my ham & cheese quiche to come out of the oven for dinner. My gas oven is a bit quirky - I'm often cooking things for waaaay longer than the directions tell me to, just to get them done. Maybe I should have it looked out.

Oh, one more thing. I've been on a foreign-film kick lately. I went to the local public library (on the U.S. side, of course) to look through their foreign film section. I was rather disappointed. There were maybe ten foreign films there. Maybe. I decided to give up on the trying-to-be-stingy-and-rent-them-for-free method and signed up for Netflix (yes, they do still offer DVD-by-mail service instead of just online-streaming...which I can't do from Mexico.) I'll give it a try for a while and see how it's working out serving me up some foreign flicks. Any suggestions on good foreign films I should see?

Until next time...peace.


  1. Question: since being in Mexico, what have you managed to learn in terms of cooking and baking?

    Also, the only foreign film I can ever recommend is Boy. And if you wanted foreign foreign, then Howl's Moving Castle. Is it even that foreign though?

  2. Get a VPN for Netflix, as well as Hulu and other streaming services not available overseas. I use StrongVpn and can't imagine living without it now.

  3. Hi Andrew, I enjoyed your blog and can serve as a point of reference for language resources in Brownsville/Matamoros. As with any new place, it takes time to get involved in activities, but if you're interested, I can help you with the public speaking people, or even a ping-pong group that I used to attend (it's a great way to meet new people). We don't go out too much after dark (for obvious reasons), but I've found as well that Cinepolis has at least one non-American film a week (and maybe two European movies a month). Take care, and I'll look forward to reading more from you! Zel

  4. I have some suggestions!

    Film: The BBC has a ton of really great short series. One of my favourite is "Wallander". Also "Luther" and "State of Play" (the BBC series, not the American film.) My very favorite foreign film is called "Elling." It is truly amazing.

    Bikes: I recently bought a road bike that I got fitted for, and it is awesome! To me, having a bike that is the right size, and a road bike that really moves fast is just so much more fun than a mountain bike!

    Graduate School: I started grad school when I was 30. It was a good time to do it. I think having some work and life experience is really beneficial when you go back to academia. The other option is an online grad school program. Really reputable high caliber schools are offering all online programs that are quite robust. I've taken some fantastic online courses. It could double as your hobby while you're in Matamoros! :

    Books: I don't really have any good suggestions for books since I just finished grad school and have been reading mostly FS and current events stuff. But I did recently get a subscription to The Atlantic magazine, and I've been surprised at how great it is. Interesting articles and insightful writing.

  5. @ the first anonymous:
    Interesting question about the baking/cooking in Mexico. To be honest, I haven't learned anything here that I couldn't have learned elsewhere. That is to say that I don't think I've picked up any influence from Mexican cooking just yet. Perhaps I should take a cooking course.

  6. If you are into non-fiction(ish) adventure tales, I would enthusiastically recommend Bill Bryson's A Walk In The Woods. I have never laughed so hard reading a book in all my life. It will certainly add some color to your slow evenings (at least for a few days because you will hardly be able to put it down).

  7. Foreign film recommendation: "Love Me If You Dare" (French) Don't worry, not nearly as sappy as the title, kind of twisted actually in a very entertaining fashion. One of my favorites.