Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's Official

"The bearer is abroad on a diplomatic assignment for the United States Government."

These are the words printed on a back page of my new black diplomatic passport. And even more "real" is the fact that it was returned to me via FedEx today with my Colombian visa affixed. No rubber stamp this; it's a very official-looking sticker that covers an entire page and has a forgery-foiling background pattern.

It even has a photo.

Clase: "Diplomatico" 
Ocupacion: "Funcionario"(Okay, I thought it should be "Funcionaria" but I'm not going to get all fussy now.)
Entidad: "Dpto. De Estado"


Saturday, May 21, 2011

FSO vs FSS: A Love Story

What? Why are you talking about FSO again? I thought you were already an FSS? Didn't I read something about Flag Day and Orientation and good friends and some South American country already?

Yes, yes - I know I have some 'splaining to do.

I'll say! I don't know why anyone would want to put themselves through that ordeal twice!

Well, with any luck, this will be the LAST time. But if you've got a sec, here's my story. It's a long story, but a common enough one that makes it worth sharing:

Okay, exactly two years ago I decided that the Foreign Service was a life for me, and specifically that I wanted to hook my star to becoming a FS Consular Officer. In preparation for the FS Officer's Test (FSOT), I dedicated four months to studying, every day after work and all day on the weekends...

Oh, was that the summer when we actually had four brilliant months of sunshine? Didn't you want to go camping and hiking and river tubing instead of reading all about the Constitution and Economics and...?

Yes, yes that was the summer... Geez, just hush up and let me tell the story already!
So, I spent four months preparing: writing timed essays with a group, reading about all sorts of things that I'm fairly certain I slept through in US History in high school and certainly other things I never learned in the first place. But I took the FSOT in October and passed. Yippeeee!! But then the next stage, the Personal Narrative Questions (PNQs), reared its ugly head and required that I submit five simple essays on general topics from my life experience. In 1300 characters or less - including spaces. Easy right? Each word was chosen like a ripe peach, each sentence double and triple checked for meaning, clarity, descriptiveness - you get the idea. The whole package was carefully, lovingly even, submitted before the deadline. For the following months I read everything I could about life in the Foreign Service. I tried on this potential new life like a prom dress, examining it for fit from every angle and making sure that it matched well with Tim's tuxedo and cummerbund. I practiced my new signature: Caitlin - Foreign Service Officer. Where did we most want to go? Would we ever have a house with two bathrooms? Day dreams, night dreams and conversations with friends and family ad nauseum.

We get the picture. Well...what happened? Did you get past the PNQ stage? Did you get that golden ticket invitation to the Oral Assessment?

In keeping with my prom theme - just picture me crying in the ladies' room as my date flirted across the room with the smarter, prettier girl.
Yeah, I got dumped.
Hard. And it wasn't pretty.
But as in life, I met someone new shortly thereafter. Someone friendly, kind. Not quite as popular or flashy as my first love - but a great fit for my personality nonetheless. And his name was OMS - the Office Management Specialist. We had a lot in common, and so in early 2010, I decided to make it official and pursue this new suitor. By late August he responded positively and invited me to DC to meet his parents - things were really getting serious!

I think we can guess what happened...

Right, so I passed muster with OMS and his family and, well, yadda yadda I'm at FSI learning Spanish.

So what does this have to do with the one who scorned you, the FSO Consular Officer? You didn't call him did you?

Yeah, it's been kinda' hard seeing him around FSI now. But here's the funny part, as soon as I didn't "need" him anymore - didn't he come crawling back?
"Oh will you forgive me? I'm so sorry; I didn't mean to hurt you. You're looking good, did you cut your hair or something? Who's this OMS person you've been hanging around with anyway? And who are all these new friends you're always going on and on about?"

I think you know what it's like. I'm human. I have memories of "how it all was..." before. I got weak and I gave in. I never threw away his number, and when he called out of the blue, asking me to come meet HIS parents yesterday... well, I went. Am I bad? I mean I LOVE OMS. We're such a great fit. My friends like him; he offers me so much choice, adventure. He's safe, he is friendly. But, but, but... maybe I just wanted to see that I could get FSO Consular Officer back. You know, even if I never even dated him again - just knowing that he wanted me and I could, if I wanted. Perhaps that's it. So yesterday found me all dressed up, telling my stories all over again. "Yeah, then I did this, and then I did that... blah blah blah." It was a long day, but in the end - he asked me back.

Well, do you feel satisfied with yourself now? How does OMS feel? Did you ever stop to think about someone other than yourself?

Actually, I think OMS understands. I mean, it was just an offer. I haven't accepted anything yet. I still have plans with OMS to go to Bogota and all. Heck, I'm excited to be with OMS! But, there's just that lingering feeling that maybe we'll eventually grow out of each other, and so, well, it's just good to know that I've got options. That's natural, right?


So, that's my story. Things worked out as they were meant to, and in the timing they were meant to have. I have the security of great OMS by my side and we're a good fit. But meanwhile, it feels good to know that Consular Officer hasn't forgotten about me and is still out there as a misty possibility. My story is not a unique one; I'm sure there are many of you out there who've been scorned by the dashing Mr/Ms FSO and who are hesitant about putting themself "out there" again. I hope that you do try again. If you ever want to swap stories - drop me a line and I'd be happy to share.

Meanwhile - take care and remember that it's all worth it in the end.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


One can't live on studying alone; therefore, with the help of my specialist classmates, I'd like to take a short detour from all things related to verb conjugation and consider another important aspect of my diplomatic career: what to wear to the Marine Ball and any schmancy representation event we might be invited to. 

(Sidebar: I spent all day Saturday last weekend learning about "Protocol and US Representation Abroad" subtitled "How Not To Embarrass Yourself And Your Country By Sipping From The Finger Bowl Abroad." Although I struggled a bit in the Soup Course, I now feel ready to tackle a six-course meal.)

Besides dreaming of a house/apartment with more than one bathroom, I'm also relishing the notion of a life requiring a new wardrobe. Does this make me sound superficial? Well I hope not, after all, I spent twelve years in muddy riding boots and breeches; I think I owe it to myself to dress like a girl now and again. And besides, the woman whose place I'll be taking in Bogota has let me know that the embassy staff tends to dress "pretty fancy," and the Ambassador's OMS said I should probably pick up, "a cocktail dress or two." So is it my place to disagree with these women?

Certainly not.

In fact, in the interest of putting my new career on the best footing, I believe I have some shopping to do.

November 10: Marine Ball. What do you think of these options? (Thank you Heidi and Agnes for this website)

Okay, I have to say that I'm a little upset that the first two dresses that caught my eye were considered "Mother of the Bride" dresses. Really? Is that what I'm attracted to? Is that my age range now? Unfortunately the fine print noted that "figure and hairstyle not included with dress."


So thank  you for letting me have this silly diversion, even if only temporarily. Heck, I'm going to Latin America; I have some seriously spiky, strappy shoes to fill!

Disclaimer: just in case some horrible world event occurs while I'm writing and thinking about this totally "flauschig" topic: I haven't watched the news yet tonight; I cannot be responsible for feeling outraged right now. Allow me some day dreaming, 'kay?

Now back to the conjugating...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Evolution of the Fox

Caddyshack Revisited?

Although I haven't yet laid eyes on him, I'm certain that Bill Murray's "Carl Spackler" from Caddyshack has left his golf-course tending duties and is currently employed as a groundskeeper at FSI. Where is my proof of such a bold statement you ask?

Please examine the evidence and decide for yourself.

Exhibit A:
Name:  Fox
Mission:     Strike fear in the hearts of all Canada Geese and prevent them from spoiling the manicured grounds of FSI with copious amounts of goose poop.
Date Deployed: March 21, 2011


Exhibit B:

Name: Fox 3-D - with life-like fur tail (but no legs)
Mission: To do the work that Exhibit A was too 2-D to accomplish
Date Deployed: May 9, 2011

Outcome thus far:

Now just try to tell me that there is not an astute mastermind such as Mr. Spackler, bedevilied daily by the Canada Goose, behind this cunning plan.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Oh The Mistakes We Make In Language Class!

In order to get hired into the Foreign Service, one has to prove that every ounce of their being embodies the 12 (for Specialists) or 13 (for Generalists) Dimensions. The 12/13 Dimensions are things like Oral and Written Communication, Cultural Adaptability, Working With Others, Resourcefulness, Composure, Judgment etc... Things that we all have to greater or lesser degrees. Specialists - for some reason, thanks be to God - don't have to prove their Quantitative Analysis skills, hence the difference in the 12 vs. 13 Dimensions. But anyway, the point of this preamble is that there are a few personality dimensions that the State Department has chosen NOT to require, and for this I am enternally grateful. Because if Maturity, Ability Not To Laugh Out Loud In Class and Ability To Ignore a Corny or Dirty Joke were among the final three dimensions, well, I'd still be in Snohomish right now.

Given the fact that I am no longer 13, and never was a juvenile male, there really is no reason that I should find the stupidest things absolutely flippin' hysterical. As of this week, there are only four of us in my Spanish class now and I'm the only female. My teacher sits with his back to the window, and I sit opposite him, facing out over a nice courtyard from the third floor. Do you think I could resist pointing out that there was a huge bumble bee behind him today? Is it my fault that he ducked and squirmed before I could remember the word for "outside"? (Answer: No, it's not and no,it was  nowhere near his ear, but he didn't know that 'cause I was laughing too hard to say "afuera.")

And how about the whole "quizas" thing? Yeah, that was pretty hysterical to me, too. (Just say it a few times and you'll see why Beavis - me - thought it was so funny when I asked my teacher how to say "maybe.")

Further, did you know that "lawyer" in Spanish is "abogado"? I have got to find away to remember that is NOT what I should order on a sandwich or smashed-up and seasoned with chips.

Finally, last night, during a Spanish-practice get-together, I listened to an entire story about a woman who had been posted in India who was commenting on how incredibly spicy the food in her region was, and how due to the fact that she was so "embarazada" - it was worse for her. It wasn't until later that I realized she wasn't telling us how she was "embarrassed" due to the after-effects of the hot food on her constitution, but rather that she was PREGNANT at the time!

Oh geez. So, the bottom line is that it's a darn good thing I wasn't hired for my maturity level, because each day in language training is an opportunity to make a fool of myself, and be the first one to laugh along the way!

Meanwhile, tonight most of our FSS 119th Orientation Class got together at our Oakwood complex for a send-off to those of us who are leaving soon: My OMS buddies will be first, followed by our friends in the white coats, the medical staff. We had pizza, snacks, and some really delish chocolate-covered strawberries. (Yes, I'll admit it, I ate five. Or six.) But more than that, we had a great time just hanging out and knowing that we now have 68 new friends (plus spouses!). Friends of all ages; friends from all corners of the country and the world; 68+ friends whom I never would have known otherwise. People far smarter than I; people who speak far more languages and some who speak fewer; people with far more children and far more dogs; and most importantly: people who can laugh just like I do at the most stupid joke. It's great to be among friends like that, so I'm glad the State Department had the good sense not to weed those of out with a silly little criteria like Maturity.

Until next time, I'm sure I'll be making stupid Spanish mistakes and laughing along with my new FS friends.

Hasta la vista amigos!

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Short-Circuit in the Language Sector?

From everything I've read and heard, language training can be a rather psychotic process, taking those involved from the highs of delivering that perfectly conjugated and complex sentence to the lows of saying, basically, "Uhhhhhhhh...." in front of your teacher and classmates when faced with answering the simplest of questions. I've even heard that there will be times of both loving and hating not only yourself, but also your teacher and your classmates.

So my question to you all is this: Is five days too soon to be feeling my first low? 'Cause I really like my language class; in fact, all my life I've wanted to be at least somewhat fluent in a language, any language and this is currently my singular J-O-B! So what's going on? Those of you who know me, know that being verbal is an intrinsic part of me; I rarely have an unexpressed thought, truth be told. I process information and organize my thoughts externally, verbally, and so to be shackled to my limited Spanish vocabulary is already turning out to be terribly frustrating. Mix in doses of stage fright and my overriding desire to excel at whatever I undertake and you get: "Uhhhhhhhh...."

But it seems to be worse than just Spanish failing me lately. I had my one-on-one with my teacher today after class and tried to explain to him that the blank expression he may enounter when he asks me a simple pregunta isn't so much due to my searching for the words in Spanish - I can't even think of anything to say in English either! Yes - I know - ME at a loss for words! I've concluded that there is a short in the language sector, probably a blown fuse. It works that way at home, right? You know, when you plug in the vacuum while the space heater is on and suddenly a fuse blows out all sorts of unrelated outlets and lights. What I'm getting at is that when the Spanish sector blew, it took with it some of my English vocabulary, and seemingly there was collateral damage in the intelligence and confidence quadrants, too.

I can't exactly call a technician to repare this problem, so I've turned on Caliente: Latin Tropical Music on TV and have settled onto the couch to watch some more episodes of Destinos, drill some verbs with Conjugemos and generally try to get back to at least vaguely functional en mi nuevo idioma.

I'm excited to think of what two years of living and working in this language will do for me. And later, maybe we can bid on a second post in the Spanish-speaking world and finally, triumphantly return to FSI as a 3/3!

(Only to be sent to Latvia for post three and have the fun begin anew, right?)

Okay, I think this is all I can muster tonight and besides, I need to hit the books.

Esa es vale la pena, verdad?