Saturday, September 5, 2015

End of Training and Heading to Post Part III

I recently took an online stress indicator survey where I answered a long list of questions about recent changes in my life. My score resulted in the pronouncement that: "You have a high or very high risk of becoming ill in the near future."  

As if that's not going to now make me MORE stressed.

Let me explain what happens at the EOT and what comes next, and I think you'll understand my stress level. And yes, the Foreign Service Institute uses that acronym. It means "end of training" which apparently is a lot harder to say than E-O-T. 

First - there's the language training test.  
There is no greater equalizer among men and women of all ages and career lengths than the dreaded EOT exam. I've yet to meet anyone who says it was a breeze, a pleasant experience, something they'd consider doing in their spare time, something to look forward to or even something that "really wasn't that bad."  Even those who  scored above their expectations have come out of the testing suite (that's what they're called, the video-taped, painted-blue-to-sooth-the-tester torture chambers) feeling like they really screwed the pooch. 

I went into my test fairly, well fairly "okay" is about the strongest adjective I can use here, and left almost cancelling our airline reservations. See, if you don't pass - you get six more weeks of language, you get to make the call of shame to your post and tell them you won't be arriving on time, cancel all travel reservations, extend your housing reservation, cancel your pack-out etc... It's insult, injury and major inconvenience with some embarrassment added for good measure. 

Somewhere during the test, even faced with my familiar and friendly teacher and language consultant as examiners - it dawned on me that perhaps my grasp on Romanian above the very basic level, was purely based on short-term memory and under stress it crumbled like an old aspirin found under the sink. 

At about the 90 second mark, I started to forget really simple words. Specifically, the verb "to work" ("lucra") and found myself holding my Spanish vocabulary away with a whip and a chair. Let me tell you, there's nothing like that little internal voice saying "Don't say 'trabajar'!" that will make you say "trabajar".  In the end, I was successful; however, I'm fairly confident I earned my 3/3 due to my prior demonstrated work in the classroom, and nothing to do with that two hour sample I provided in the exam suite.  And by "sample," please think of other samples one has to give in life... like in a medical setting. 

Now having passed the exam, the brain cues the little Zamboni that comes in and wipes clean your short term memory. Just watch that new language disappear!  Because now, you've got other hurdles to tackle: namely pack-out.  I will just refer you to this blog post about what that entails. True, the experience is physically demanding in the sense that you have to sort through and separate all your belongings. But mostly it's mentally draining due to the amount of decisions you have to make, the planning of what will be needed when, how much space you'll have etc... It can also often entail multiple trips to the post office to pre-ship things you'll need on Day One that won't fit in the suitcases. In our case, a litterbox, cat food and cat litter.  

It bears mentioning that if you're shipping your car to post, you'll be doing all this running around last-minute junk without personal transportation because the car is already en route, sitting on the deck of some carrier ship headed to the Black Sea (or so our shipping folks told us). There's another itty-bitty stress.

Now it's moving day and there's the worry about clearing out of the apartment, putting out the bag of FREE stuff in the building lobby, hoping your favorite houseplant will find a good home, and making sure you don't leave something in a cubby somewhere.  My clever husband puts that blue tape over all the drawers and cupboards once we've cleared them out so that the obsessive-compulsive one among us won't continually open and check for stray items.  (That would be me.)

Then comes the final shoving of stuff into your suitcases, followed by the hauling of them down to the workout room in the building to use their scale (you've already sent yours away) to make sure the bags aren't over the 50 lb airline limit. But what'll you do if they are? Wear the heavier shoes and tie a sweater or two around your waist, I guess. 

The Tabbies by now have definitely figured out what's going on and will probably be under the bed.  Unfortunately, their stress started a few weeks ago when the movers came. AGAIN with these guys?! was the look on their little faces. One Tabby stopped eating and beyond the multiple vet visits to get their international travel health certificates, she required more visits and blood draws to figure out what was wrong. Conclusion? We don't know, but here are some prescriptions to help get her to your destination. At least she'll be in cabin with us and in reach the whole time.  The third Tabby however, has to go under the plane because there is a strict limit to the number of pets allowed inside the cabin - and that limit is two.  I made their travel reservations six months in advance to be sure to grab the two allowed in-cabin spots.  I'm sure there's a European woman with a purse-sized dog cursing my name as she is unable to book her little amour on the same flight with her. Sorry sis, it's a harsh world out there. And did you know with pets you should check in three hours in advance? Yeah, that makes for a long day to be in a little carrier.

Finally we're on the plane for the long slog east. My husband and I haven't traveled horizontally across time zones like this since 2002.  Moving to Juarez meant a five day drive to gently acclimate us to the two hour change that is Mountain Time - how civilized! Jet lag is a very real thing when you're moving across seven time zones. Don't want to think about moving to Asia. (It took about a week for me to stop waking up at 2:00 am, bright eyed and thinking that a game of Scrabble sounded like a good idea.) 

So now you arrive at your destination - success! With luck there's a sponsor, a friendly Embassy/Consulate driver holding a sign with your name and a nice welcome to your new city. That has been our experience so far, at least.  Next comes my favorite part of all -checking out the new digs. I think it's one of the main reasons I joined the Foreign Service, truth be told.  As the instant excitement over seeing your new home begins to wane, you can't help but start mentally sizing up the storage space.  

Sponsor: "And here is the balcony with a view over the park" 

My Inside Voice: Yes, yes, very nice, but where will we put the Kitchen Aid on that counter?

Sponsor: "You'll find the central AC controls here, very convenient."

My Inside Voice:  Yes, yes, convenient, but I only see this non-walk-in closet in the master bedroom! What about the shoes?!

Sponsor: "And there are two darling restaurants just down the block."

My Inside Voice:  Fercrissake, be quiet woman, WHAT ABOUT THE TREADMILL?!

Truly first world problems for which I have no excuse and only shame, but they need to be expressed as I think just about everyone goes through them.

Your sponsor then tells you to just relax and settle in (sorry, still sizing up closet space), rest up (not happening) and the van will be here at 07:30 to pick you up for your first day of work tomorrow!  If you're lucky, this conversation isn't happening at 10:30 pm, but sometimes it is. 

The van comes on time the next morning, as it always does, and ready or not whisks you off to work. The following days are a blur of meeting new coworkers (only 10% of whose names you'll remember and only because they were kind enough to have nameplates on their cubicles), learning new regulations, new passwords and building codes, where the bathroom and cafeteria are and how to get back to your office after lunch.  

And on top of all that - now you have to do your JOB. The job for which the USG has just paid perhaps more than your annual salary to train you and move you, your family and your too much stuff. 

So THAT'S why my stress meter is in the red.  

My current mantra is something a coworker in Juarez used to say as I was training her on the heavy details of immigrant visa work: Poco a poco, or here, puțin câte puținlittle by little. 

It's all we can do.