Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tiny Victories

Subtitle: Confessions of a Freshman OMS

Today was an anniversary of sorts: it has been exactly 12 weeks since I first took my seat in the Economic Section at Embassy Bogota. It has also been about two months since I came home and cried in frustration, feeling like a total idiot for not knowing what the heck I was doing. So I'd like to take this time, if you don't mind, to celebrate some really tiny victories that came to me today. I will do this by way of before and after descriptions:

1. Task: Boss says, "Find me that cable I drafted in either 2009 or 2010 that had the words 'US Company' in the title."

Before: Stare at him blankly. Consult deepest darkest memory from OMS training (last April) about running advanced searches on our cable system. Start to hyperventilate when search result turns up 43,671 hits. Try not to cry.

After: Repeat same steps above with blank stare replaced by confident nod, and with only minor frustration at seeing the number of hits. Blame stupid search program instead of stupid self. Recall that previous OMS cross-referenced all cables since 2009 in handy Excel sheet; actually locate said Excel sheet and in one minute, find the requested cable. Print and send electronically to boss, feel like hero deserving of medal.

2. Task: Invitational traveler who we are bringing to Colombia for a conference will not divulge the personal information necessary for me to make hotel and airline reservations and arrange for electronic funds transfer for her travel advance.

Before: Panic. Pester co-workers with questions and start to hyperventilate (again) as they describe one possible Herculean work-around after another for my predicament.

After: No social security number for her new travel account? We'll make one up!
No bank account information? We'll bring her to the embassy cashier for a cash advance when she arrives!
No visa card number? We'll use her co-worker's to hold her hotel reservation!
Bring it on sister - is that the worst you can throw at me? Ha!

3. Task: Co-worker is out sick and that important letter from Secretary Clinton and corresponding Diplomatic Note (aka DipNote) have to go the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Before: Look terrified at boss as he casually lobs the task into my court. Frantically search office for other possible victim to assist and realize I'm the only one in today. Panic (again).

After: Feel - but don't show - terror (bosses can smell fear; this deception is an art you must master quickly). Consult electronic files of previous DipNotes for samples; realize that none match the requirements and start to sweat. Remember the nice lady from Protocol who I met months ago who does these things all the time and beg for help with the very, very formal and traditional formatting and wording. Semi-stifle a few "argh!"s as the formatting goes haywire, and by five minutes to five - have her return my latest version with only "a few small changes." Remember that these need to be sent via courier with a returned proof of delivery. Relish the knowledge that I know how to request a courier via eServices and how to say, "proof of delivery" in Spanish.

4. Very Big Deal Conference coming in three weeks needs interpreters for complicated technological topics for multiple days and in two cities: Bogota and Medellin.

Before: Consider new line of work and pull suitcase off shelf.

After: Breathe in. Start to break huge task into small chronological steps on notepad. Remember how to use ARIBA procurement system that made me cry just two months ago (there's a lot of that going around!). Write very detailed notes in ARIBA to overworked procurement staff regarding our needs (first, smile in the knowledge that we HAVE procurement staff and that I know their names and where they sit), attach funding information, list dates and technical requirements. Enjoy sense of relief knowing that when I have to contact these interpreters to finalize the details... they will be bilingual!

All these things happened today, and I'm still here alive and willing to share them all with you. In fact, most of them happened after lunch. I must admit that I still feel trepidation starting up the computer in the morning, wondering what fire will need to be put out, or what nasty knot in need of untangling will pounce on me via a casual e-mail. There are a LOT of things I do not know how to do still. A LOT. But there are now a few things I do know how to do, and that's what I'm happy about today.

Wish me luck tomorrow.


  1. You know I have to wonder what they teach you in OMS school. Just because I've been hearing similar stories from other first tour OMS's. I must admit the IMS training could have been different...I didn't know what a dipnote was when I got to post either... But like you things are shaping up and it doesn't bother me to be the only one in the office. Keep your chin up ;)

  2. Thanks Yellow Flower! Your blog was very inspirational to me when I was in the OMS process. Where are you headed next?

  3. Caitlin, what advice would you give some who currently works as an admin and supports a team of 13, but does have a lot of slow days. I'd like to practice more, train more, and basically be as up to date as possible in case my candidacy moves forward. Anything you do now that you wish you'd done a lot more of before you started? Is that even possible?

  4. Hello Tea Gal - I seem to recall you're awaiting a security clearance, and therefore have already passed all you orals etc...? If that's the case, and you're asking for career prep, I would definitely buy the Inside the Embassy editions and start reading about what each type of job does, and how each region where they do that thing differs around the world. Then I'd take more interest in the Economist or the Wall St Journal and be somewhat more abreast of current political affairs. Maybe do a MS Office certification program and test? I think they're required for advancement as an OMS, but it's been a while since I heard that. Then I'd join the OMS Hopeful Yahoo group (if you haven't already) and start getting to know folks who might be your peers. By the time I went to Specialist Orientation - I had a handful of friends. Then I'd start clearing out your house of stuff you don't need. THIS took me a while! Good luck.