Friday, January 25, 2013


Spanish definition of "exito" = success.

Spanglish definition of "exito" = the way out, a way to leave somewhere* 

Therefore, I'm happy to note the equation: exito = exito

Yup, the 3/3 is in the can. More than just the culmination of over a year of Spanish training and immersion, this also means that I'll be off language probation, a requisite for making tenure as a FS Officer and being able to keep my job. Therefore, the relief is enormous.

Honestly, most of the test is a blur, and the details are protected under the "don't tell anyone" clause I had to sign before stepping into the testing chamber, I mean, suite. However, I can offer some general impressions:

In retrospect, I spoke to about 75% of my abilities, with the other 25% swept out the window in a wave of adrenaline and nervous chattering. I think this is normal, as it seems a rare few of us perform better than normal under one-shot-at-the-goal pressure. Bunches of silly errors went unnoticed by me, and the testers were kind enough not to visibly cringe as I made them (but clearly noted them in our post-test review). Other times, I self-corrected or found second or third ways to say what I was stumbling for. They gave me credit for that under the umbrella of "you can make yourself be understood," which was kind. Fortunately, my nervous-talking-thing also played a somewhat positive role, as the testers told me they enjoyed my energy and enthusiasm and the fact that I really wanted to make myself understood. Yes, I do! Thank you for noticing that, kind tester guys. 

By the time I got to the reading portion, fatigue was setting in was making it hard to focus my eyes and the pages were getting a bit blurry. (Oh, by the way, this has nothing to do with being over 40. Nope, nothing at all, so just stop that crazy talk right now, 'kay?) Besides, I'm kind of a "big picture" gal, meaning, for example I may remember that I saw a bunch of friends at lunch and they seemed happy. Don't ask me to name each one, or who was wearing the blue sweater, Officer. I like to refer to my memory and understanding of what I perceive as "impressionistic." But for the reading section, they are looking for more, shall we say, pointillism? We have to note not only the main gist of the piece we're reading: "The author writes about having lunch with friends," but also all the supporting details:

"One was eating soup, but she didn't seem to like it and tried to pass it on to someone else. There was also a man in his early 30s who was eating a greasy pizza, and while he was enjoying it, it was obvious that he was feeling a deep sense of guilt for not having ordered a salad instead. This was evident by the furrow of his brow and his occasional glancing around the table to compare his lunch to what others had chosen. A tone of general conviviality was present, as the conversation was lighthearted and exhibited occasional bursts of laughter or good-natured teasing among those seated at the table."  

See what I mean? 

After giving my big-picture regurgitation, they then asked for this level of detail, and that was tough. Because you can't use the same words that the author uses; you have to put them into your own words - in English, thankfully. So "friends having lunch" becomes, "a casual group of peers, perhaps neighbors or coworkers, are sharing a noontime meal." Paragraph by paragraph, this went on for at least an hour. 

After the reading section, the examiners released the victim, uh, me to the waiting room to, well, wait. And wait. One woman was told that after quite a wait, they would email her at the end of the day with the results. My guess was that they were having to review the tape (yes, it's recorded) to come to a conclusion. Poor thing. My wait was only about ten minutes, fortunately, and then they ushered me back into the room for the results. I saw their noted score on the page before they could tell it to me and it was all I could do to keep from kissing them, or crying. I imagine crying frequently happens in these rooms; and I doubt they'd have been too surprised. 

So that's that. I celebrated with homemade cookies from my classmate. She had written a congratulations message on the baggie even before hearing the results, and promised that she didn't have a consolation baggie stashed away in her purse somewhere. 

We'll point the car for the border late next week after completing our pack-out and the lengthy check-out process from FSI. Then I have to say goodbye to friends and teachers and Hogwarts.

Yikes - it's all coming.

*You know I just made this up, right? I don't think there is a Spanglish dictionary. Yet.

Next: The Long Drive South

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Terminal (again)

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...)

Just kidding. 

It's finally time.