Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The FAM: Who'd Have Thought It Would Be My New Best Friend?

It appears I've made a few new friends in ConGen who I never thought I'd find myself spending so much time with. Sure, I knew I'd meet them, and I'd certainly get to know them during these intensive six weeks of training on US immigration law, but I thought I'd just have to put up with them, if you know what I mean. Like coworkers who make you suddenly stop and take a drink from the water fountain to avoid having to make small talk with them when you see them coming down the hallway. You know - the bores who just don't get it when people aren't that interested in their long-winded stories. Not bad folks, just not the types you'd invite to spend a holiday with (or even a nice dinner, for that matter). 

I'm sure you know that I'm speaking of the FAM, the Foreign Affairs Manual, right? Specifically, the 9 FAM and the 7 FAM, my two new best friends. Yeah - it surprised me, too, but really, they're so useful! And interesting! We have a lot more in common than I thought, actually. I mean I wouldn't go so far as to say they have great senses of humor or anything, but they do have a certain way of describing things that just makes sense. Oh, and with all those cross-references and citations of the INA (Immigration and Nationality Act) - who knew they could be so deep, too? 

After four weeks of ConGen, with three exams successfully passed due to being able to access my new bud, FAM, I think we've gotten pretty close. FAM has told me some really cool things, actually. Like just the other day we were chatting about foreign airline employees and FAM was all, "Well did you know that certain executives or specialized technical workers who cannot be classified as E visas can come in as B1?" 
Well naturally that piqued my curiosity, so then FAM goes, "Yeah, not only that, but a medical doctor otherwise classifiable H-1 as a member of a profession whose purpose for coming to the United States is to observe U.S. medical practices and consult with colleagues on latest techniques, provided no remuneration is received from a U.S. source and no patient care is involved...can also be classified as B1!" (9 FAM 41.31 N11.8 emphasis added). Who knew, right? 

But FAM's not just brains - FAM also knows arts, sports and popular culture, too. Last weekend we started talking about the weather, and what games were going to be broadcast on Sunday and all, and FAM goes, "Speaking of which, did you know that professional athletes, such as golfers and auto racers, who receive no salary or payment other than prize money for his or her participation in a tournament or sporting event can also use a B1 visa?" (9 FAM 41.31 N9.4). Well no, I did not know that!  We laughed and then started talking about our favorite Os and Ps (Aliens of Extraordinary Ability - you know, celebrities!).

Sure, I tease FAM for showing such geeky roots sometimes. Like when FAM talks about family, well, it can get a bit dry. I keep telling FAM to keep the descriptions lively, but I'm scolded for being frivolous and that a good solid definition of family is what we really need instead. I guess FAM's right, as truly who could argue with: "For purposes of this subsection, the term “immediate relatives” means the children, spouses, and parents of a citizen of the United States, except that, in the case of parents, such citizens shall be at least 21 years of age." (9 FAM 42.12) 

These days I find myself talking about things that I never thought I'd say, and all because of FAM and best-pal INA. I'm tossing out verbs like, to "g" or to "214 b," and chewing the fat on chargeability, ineligibility, or waiveability. FAM does have a dark side - I won't lie - and when the conversation gets gritty, FAM's right in there with full descriptions of CIMTs (Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude) like arson, receiving stolen goods (with guilty knowledge) and gross indecency (9 FAM 40.21), just to start.

So yeah, I guess you could call me a bit of a nerd. But it's the crowd I've been hanging with, peer pressure - you know? I know that FAM comes from good stock and I'm sure by following FAM's advice, I can't go wrong. 


Thursday, September 13, 2012


I don't know what to say that could adequately express how the FS family is feeling today.
Please see this posting from another FS blogger, and particularly take a moment to know something about Ambassador Chris Stevens:


All I can think to say is: Why?

Please also see the Secretary's comments, and I hope you feel the generous opinion she maintains towards the Libyan people, not painting the country with a broad brush for the actions of a few. Just as I hope that Americans won't be painted with the single dirty brush of our own extremists, people whose actions perhaps helped fuel these attacks.  


My favorite excerpt, taken from this speech:

"But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group – not the people or Government of Libya. Everywhere Chris and his team went in Libya, in a country scarred by war and tyranny, they were hailed as friends and partners. And when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris’ body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. And last night, when I spoke with the President of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible."

I'll leave you with that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

FS Over 40

Today FSI welcomed the 127th Specialist Class and the 169th A-100 class and as I stood at the balcony above the Wood Lobby, overlooking the traditional spot for the welcome breakfast of the incoming classes, I noticed that many of my new colleagues-to-be were, well, my age. It wasn't a surprise, as my own A-100 had maybe a dozen new FSOs who fit this demographic, but it made me think of how starting such a career and all the training and life changes it entails might be a totally different experience for those over 40, as opposed to those who are 25, or even 32.

Here is one person's perspective, some postives and some (what are we supposed to call them now?), oh yeah - "challenges." I suppose I could have interviewed my classmates and presented a truly well-rounded point of view, but frankly I've had a bunch of homework lately and I'm tired. And it's Tuesday, and except for the weekly BBQ here at our Oakwood - I don't do anything on work nights. So with that preamble, you just get my opinion. And it brings me to my first point:

1. It's TIRING!
Being in A-100, Specialist Orientation, language training, ConGen or any of the other permutations of FSI training is truly draining. Because I don't like it? No way! Quite the opposite! Because we all worked so hard to get here, sometimes after years of efforts, we just want to do well. We want to be successful in our new careers and they are giving us a LOT of new information. And for the most part, we have to be seated in too-stuffy or too-air-conditioned classrooms to receive it. Or basically immobile recipients of lectures for hours at a time. It's just plain tiring to one's brain to be on the receiving end of this much important information for an extended period of time. And not only are we learning about our new jobs, but also our new lives. Which brings me to...

2. It's harder to pack up and move all your stuff when you're no longer 25 because, frankly, there is simply more of it to move!
Before joining the FS last year, I had to go through an attic and a garage full of my childhood. Boxes of childhood "treasures" that were packed when I moved away to college had to be opened and each item had to have a decision made as to its fate. Decades worth of worldly possessions had to be sorted. For some of us, houses had to be sold or prepared for rental. All this is far more mentally and physically taxing than for those of us who merely had to not renew a rental agreement, drop off a few boxes of text books at mom's house and get on a plane.

3. What about the significant other?
I see two sides to this situation: over 40 and attached, you're either asking them to leave a career at its peak - or if you're lucky - they're on the nearing-retirement side and can easily make the graceful slide into probable unemployment. Do the family members try to continue growing their career, or accept that this new phase in life is going to be about valuing different types of rewards? Of my classmates, many have chosen the semi-retirement route and seem to be far less stressed and more excited about accepting options that take them waaay off the beaten path.

3. But what about your kids?
The over-40s could easily have to support college tuitions about now - harder to do on suddenly one income. Or the teenagers are still in school and you're faced with explaining to them why they're learning French (to move to the Congo) and how great it is that they'll meet so many new friends (that they'll leave in two years). Our solution: I waited to apply for a FS career until my youngest step-child was about to graduate from high school and head for college dorm life, only then did we feel "available" to leave the country.

4. Let's add some advantages:
In my brain right now, alongside all the new material I've been shoving in under the cushions, are decades of memories and experiences from many different careers, jobs, travels, accidental learning moments and lessons from watching others. I can honestly say that my five years in an urban police department has prepared me far better for this work than if I'd chosen to study International Business somewhere. And being self-employed as a riding instructor taught me about customer service, managing my own schedule and handling crises. I wouldn't have all that if I chose this path fresh from college. And I wouldn't have all the role models of great managers and co-workers that have been picked up along the way (and their opposites).

5. And on the other side of that coin...
Next to the aforementioned experiences come 40-something years of memories taking up vital gray matter byte space. Things like the lyrics to 1970s pop hits ("Sky rockets in flight...afternoon delight!"), every Brady Bunch episode ever filmed, the Denevi Camera commerical from the San Francisco Bay Area circa 1976, what Bubble Yum gum tastes like and how much a pair of jeans cost in junior high. This stuff is taking up a lot of room that I could be using to store all this new information! Is it physically possible to be 56 years old (I'm not - I'm jus' asking) and absorb six weeks of A-100,  six weeks of ConGen, ten weeks of GSO training with its 2000 page procurement regulations guide and a full course of Arabic? This is not a rhetorical question - there is a real possibility that this could happen to you!

To summarize: while I know that I gain from my experience and history and general life knowledge and have the more relaxed demeanor of someone who doesn't feel they need to go out and conquer life, I do feel at a disadvantage in terms of stamina. Let's face it, it's a lot harder to get up off the carpet after tying my shoes in the morning and I'm just not up for Wednesday night Happy Hours and going out clubbing on ladies' nights ("but it's only $5!" isn't such a draw anymore). We just get tired faster, and that's okay.

Next up: I'll see if I can wrangle some classmates to help me with FS at 25.

I'm sure I'll find them in the gym.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

From the EFMs (Eligible Furry Members)

The Tabbies have asked if they can have a word with you all this morning.
Actually, they would like to use some pictures and therefore (they reminded me), have 3000 words:

From Bogato to Mexicat, Dodger's remains our color guard.

Daphne contemplates our new situation from her secure balcony: "House with yard? I believe that will be adequate. Scorpions? Not sure what those are, but I'm sure I can eat them. Four days' drive to get there? I call shotgun."
Always the Diplocat, she never loses her composure.
Toby is fitting into FS life just fine (so long as there's a new cat tower with each post, he adds.)

Next: Starting the Foreign Service After 40