Last year, a few days before my Spanish exam, I was pulled out of my regular class and given a private instructor instead. My teacher had explained that it was because I was, "terminal," which didn't quite have the same connotation as he'd probably intended, but I understood what he meant nonetheless.
That time has come again. I have only three days of class left before taking my exam and not only are my studies here terminal, so is my life as a professional student. Because that's technically what we are at FSI. In fact, we're more like middle school than university students. We arrive at FSI from the various Oakwood apartment complexes (where the majority of us stay during training), shuttled to and from each morning and evening, carrying our backpacks and neoprene lunch bags. We cluster at the long cafeteria tables by like kind, and on the bus rides home, we chat, fiddle with our i-devices or cell phones, look at homework, or complain about the aches and pains of learning in general or teachers in specific. We refer to evenings as being "school nights" when giving reasons for not wanting to stay out late. Most of the time I don't know if I should say I'm going to "work" or "school." The only difference between FSI and any busy middle school is that we don't have to take gym (although there is one), we won't get expelled for smoking, the TVs are tuned to CNN and, naturally, the subject matter of our conversations differs just slightly from that of the average 14 year-old. Instead of griping about restrictive parents, boy/girlfriends, or homework - we gripe about not receiving our travel orders, arranging pack-outs or vaccinations, airline restrictions about getting Fluffy or Fido to Mongolia, and homework. If one of us mentions doing something that another person hadn't heard of, like filling out some form or requesting some type of salary advance, the others at the lunch table prick up their ears and start questioning, "Do I need to do that, too?" "Where did you get that form?" "Who told you that? Do you think I could get that, too?" In fact, in my (nearly) two years with the State Department, I think my best source of information on ANY topic has been either the shuttle bus or the lunch room. Those who eat at their desks or drive to work are truly missing out!
Being terminal again is a very sentimental time for me. It's made all the worse/better (depending on my mood in the moment) by the fact that it's a new year, with all the hope and expectation of starting afresh ingrained in that image. We have an inauguration less than 24 hours and a handful of miles away, steeped in the same images of hope and expectation. It's also gloriously sunny, with light-blue January skies and wide-open horizons. If it were oppressively gray with low, cloudy ceilings, perhaps I'd be saying, "Good riddance; let's head south!" but it's not.
After over six months with my A-100 classmates, watching the herd thin to a hardy core group left here to over-winter, as in Antarctica, I'm sad to leave. And differing from the last time I left, I don't have the hope of returning soon to do this again in my back pocket. Last time, I left as an OMS, all the while knowing there existed the possibility of returning as an FSO. This is it; the end zone is in sight. When we leave in a few weeks with the car loaded and the Tabbies in their carriers - it's for the long-haul. Two years in Juarez to learn about being a Consular Officer in one of our flagship consulates. Two years to meet another core group of friends, many of whom we're already enjoying here, only to leave again and be thrown into the salad spinner once more. That's how I see it: we're just in this big salad spinner called the Foreign Service. We're bound to work with each other again (for better or worse), to see each other in the FSI hallways and shuttle vans, to see each other's names on cables or promotion lists, to call on each other for opinions about places we're considering when bid lists come out again.
They say it's a small town that lives in the entire world.
Meanwhile, the 168th A-100 class just welcomed the 170th A-100 class last weekend. As part of their welcoming committee who arranged their receptions, I am included in their group emails. Their bid lists just came out and they're busy arranging post video-viewing parties to help them learn about the corners of the world where they'll be dispatched. They're organizing running groups and happy hours and exchanging tickets to events. They're sizing each other up, sharing stories of personal and professional backgrounds, and trying to remember each other's names. The natural process of bonding as friends is beginning. Just exactly like we did.
So, please pardon the sentimentality that I'm frequently prone to indulging in. Please also wish me clear thinking (in Spanish) and dry palms next week as I take my exam. If I'm unsuccessful, I'll be back in the van with my buddies on Monday instead of organizing piles of belongings for the movers.
(Hey wait a minute... there's an option...)
It's finally time.