Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Training in DC

First things first: Yes, I'm aware that I haven't posted in the past two months. My apologies to those of you who emailed me asking whether or not I had been kidnapped by drug traffickers or if the tigers had gotten me. Rest assured that neither of the two happened. I'll try harder to keep up with y'all.

I've been in DC for the past week for some training. Now, the Foreign Service seems to be generally pro-training, in the sense that managers and bureaus greatly support the idea of both on-the-job training and taking courses back at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA. Whether or not you actually get the opportunity to come back from your overseas post for training depends almost wholly on money. If you're in the middle of nowhere and it takes almost 48 hours to fly back to DC (and, subsequently, thousands of dollars), you may find some Debbie Downers or Negative Nathans out there who point out that the State Department's budget is already getting slashed in the FY'12 budget. (Which, I'd like to point out, still hasn't been passed. Good job,  Congress.) How could we afford to send you back to DC in this budget climate?, they may ask. Or, as may be the case in smaller posts, how could we survive without you being here?

Luckily, my training was fully supported and paid for by a bureau back in Washington, which means that Post didn't have to pay a thing. Which means, of course, that Post management fully supported my attendance. Of course, my absence from Post for a week meant that my colleagues on the visa line had to assimilate my numbers into their daily load without skipping a beat, which I'm sure they did without even batting a proverbial eye. I work with rock stars. I'm deeply grateful to have bosses who support training and are willing to let me go.

The training I attended was Advanced Consular Namechecking and Advanced Interviewing Techniques. In a nutshell, this means that I learned more technical details about how the State Department's systems operate and how to best manipulate databases to ensure that I maintain national security by having the information I need, when I need it, to make the best possible visa adjudication decision. It also means that I learned a lot about micro-expressions and deception, giving me an advantage at the interviewing window in determining whether or not someone is being truthful with me. To be sure, the training was great, and I feel confident I will be able to apply what I've learned when I get back to Matamoros.

I'll admit that when I signed up for the training, I was equally as excited about the training as I was about being back in the big, bustling, eclectic city that is Washington, DC. Ever since I lived in London for a while in college, I have been in love with public transportation, being a pedestrian, and the hustle and bustle of city life. While Matamoros is a great city, it simply doesn't compare to Washington, DC. Before I even arrived in the city, I had already made plans for every single night of the week to get dinner, desserts, or whatever with different people, including friends from college and current and former coworkers. Suffice it to say that I was almost constantly surrounded by friends, and it was so incredibly enjoyable to have a social life again.

It really is astounding how you don't realize something is important to you until you don't have that something. For me, that something is community. In Matamoros, I have my work community, but I don't have much of that outside of my job. Much of this is due to the circumstances in which I live, including security concerns and the location itself.  I often find myself lonely and bored. I can confidently say, however, that I was never once bored in Washington. Being with people my age and who are interested in the same things that I am is truly a beautiful thing, and I have learned that this is something very important for me. I was not made to be an introvert or a loner.

I was made to live in community.

Which is ironic, really, when you consider the nature of my job. Every two years I'm moving to a different country, doing a different job with different people. Of course, everyone else I work with is constantly in motion as well. As a result, community seems to be slightly difficult to develop. Just when you get to know someone well, either that person or you are moving on to your next assignment. I'm wondering how I'll be able to cope with this as I continue down my career path. Clearly, people have been doing this for decades, so I know it's possible. I just need to find out how I will deal with it.

Do you feel the same? What were you made for, so to speak? What things have you learned about yourself recently? If you're already in the Foreign Service, have you experienced these same feelings? What did you do to cope?

Until next time...peace.


  1. Honestly, I think community is what you make of it. My best advice is to live today as if tomorrow doesn't exist. Don't worry about the fact that everyone will eventually move on. A lesson I learned as a kid is that nothing is permanent and you never know who you'll run into again in the future. The friendships that you build now can last through a career of movement, they are built on a bond of commonality in adversity.
    I was an exchange student 14 years ago, and I still have a stronger bond/friendship with some of the people I met that year than kids I was in school with k-12. And I found when I was alone traveling through europe a lot can be said to a random conversation with a stranger on the train to take the edge off loneliness.
    It is also important for you to be learning what is important to you. It will help you know your priorities on your future assignments, and what you don't want. Hopefully things will get better. Good luck.

  2. I think one of the biggest benefits of a first post is learning what you don't want in a second post, and I absolutely believe that personal considerations are just as important as professional ones. I don't think there's any way to avoid the difficulty of the first few months or of the goodbyes, but there are definitely posts with both interesting work and with a more active social scene (even surprisingly, some with intense security restrictions). I feel lucky to be at a post with a lot of people in my age group who are single and up for adventure, and as much as I like a challenge, I don't think I'm up for learning about how I live in isolation.

  3. As a college student really keen on joining the foreign service of my own country (New Zealand), I'm really not looking forward to learning how to deal with the social side of life.

    You're extroverted too; once you find out how to create lasting community around you on an international scale, please give us a heads up!

    Oh yeah, how difficult is it to keep in touch with pre-existing friends once overseas? It's hard enough in college, does it get much worse being a diplomat?

  4. Tom - it is as difficult as you let it be. I'm still in touch with many of my friends, thanks to the wonders of the internet. Skype, Facebook, and GChat conversations constitute the majority of my internet usage, with a few "old-school" phone calls sprinkled in for good measure! ;)

  5. Hi Andrew- My experience living abroad taught me that when you don't have a big expat and social community, it is helpful to reach out to locals that share the same hobbies or passions as you (art/ music, etc) staff may introduce you,but keep asking for intro's you just need to keep reaching out. My most important and healthy friendships outside the community came from locals whom I shared passions in common, but were not even close to my age or what I thought friends would be like.