Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fourth Tour in the Bag

Back in October 2012, in the middle of the requisite six-week consular training course known as ConGen, a woman came to speak to the class from the Consular Integrity Division (CID).  She explained what happens to malfeasant consular employees (e.g. sell visas = go to jail) and her presentation was chock full of real-life examples complete with photos, names and salacious details of their crimes.  At the end of the 90 minutes, I knew I wanted her job.  Before joining the Department, I worked in an urban police professional standards - that's the nice way of saying "internal affairs" - unit.  Before that, I taught riding for over a dozen years, and now I was a consular officer.  Teaching + consular stuff + internal investigations = the perfect equation and I vowed I'd have her job some day. 

As I wrote in November 2016, it wasn't our first choice to come to DC for an assignment; we're here for the overseas adventure after all.  But when I saw the CID training coordinator position open on my bid list - I couldn't resist.  In July 2017 my five-year-old vow was realized and "her job" became my job.  

Last Wednesday I walked out of my last ConGen classroom.  Fortunately, my final hurrah was a great group: very engaged, interacting with me and each other, full of questions, gasps of surprise, and a lot of laughs even with such a serious topic.  When I started this job nearly two years ago I got to overlap with my predecessor for a week and she told me the story of her first week in the classroom.  While teaching a manager-level class, a presenter's basic nightmare came true.  A more senior member of the class challenged her, "What do YOU know about this?" and she was left to scramble for an appropriate response.  She warned me to have something tucked up my sleeve should I also be faced with such a Doubting Thomas. Since then, before each presentation I scan the room full of faces and ask myself, "Is this the day?"  I'm happy to report that I'll complete my assignment at the end of this week and that day never came.  

So what DID I learn from a domestic Consular Affairs tour?

Let's start with the "domestic" part:  We learned it's really expensive to live in the DC Metro area!  (Yeah, yeah - I heard the chorus of "Welcome to the real world, sister!" from you all. There's little pity for someone who didn't pay rent for six years.  I get it.) Our shopping sticker shock wore off after the first few months and now a trip to the grocery store that comes in under $100 is considered a screaming success. We adapted just fine to small apartment life by not living in a small apartment, and choosing to live in northern Virginia instead where rents are lower than DC.  In fact, our neighborhood is likely the most diverse zip code we've ever lived in, surrounded by what I refer to as "my first immigrant apartment" and brimming with folks establishing their new lives, families and businesses.  Within blocks of our apartment, we devoured Salvadoran pupusas and Ethiopian enjera. We enjoyed the music and merengue'd our cart down the aisle at the nearby Latino Supermercado, and we spent Christmas Eve at an Eritrean-Lutheran church service - now that's diversity!  We explored lots of Virginia, picking out favorite parks and arboretums to visit and re-visit all the while complaining about the humidity and traffic.  We barely took advantage of DC - something I regret - but we did have lots of family visits "while we're closer."

My husband was able to work in his field teaching English to international students.  He started at a small language institute for the first year before graduating to teach at a marquis-name university for our second year.  He gained great experience for the resume and brought home often funny, and frequently enlightening, stories about his students and their particular cultures.  

And we adopted our two non-tabbies who just turned one year old and one of whom is now on my lap.  They're still blissfully ignorant of the adventure this summer will bring.  Shhhhh....

Seamus says, "What do you mean? We're not living here FOREVER?"
Professionally, two years of reading about malfeasance incidences by domestic and overseas employees has served me as a master class in consular management do's and don'ts.  It's true what they say about the value of coming to DC is getting to know the Department.  Let me clarify that a bit - I feel I know my bureau within the Department, Consular Affairs, far better than I ever did.  In fact, I've become so immersed in all-things-consular-all-the-time that sometimes I forget there's a whole other building just down the road (that would be the actual DEPARTMENT OF STATE).  I'm satisfied that I'll leave with a better understanding of the sausage-making and what office does generally what thing, and maybe even why they do it.  I trust that when I'm a manager myself - I'll know who to ask about how to do that thing.  And perhaps I'll even know who that person is.  

The most valuable thing I will take from this tour, however, is that I was able to meet, work with and hear from colleagues from around the world.  I presented in over a dozen different consular classes with all range of students: from the bright, shiny pennies in Con-Gen, to the experienced mid-level managers, and particularly to our dedicated local employees. Two years ago I could not have predicted what incredible opportunities to learn each class would be.  And it's me who was doing the learning, as I may have taught them a yard, but listening to them taught me a mile.  This is the part I'll truly miss. 

We made it. Eight years and four tours down.  How many more to go?

Next stop: a short vacation and then back to FSI, but this time I won't be in front of the class.