The Beginning of a Journey

My friend and co-worker mentioned at work one day that he was signing up for the Foreign Service Officer Test. I had heard this test mentioned by other folks in my circle, and asked him a little bit more about it. I decided to go home that night and sign up. Why not? It was free to take, and if I didn’t pass, no big deal.

My education history is not remotely related to diplomatic relations of any sort. I am a scientist by nature, a conservationist who got burnt out by academia and the conservation world after spending a few years in Africa. I was looking for the next step, but not sure what that step would be. I knew I still wanted to live abroad and be in public service, and this seemed to fit the bill fairly well. Never in a million years did I think I would actually get through the process when I signed up on the Pearson website.

To prepare, I looked over the Articles of the Constitution, Wikipedia-ed some top U.S. history topics, and caught up on Jon Stewart. I took the practice test and did not do so well, but figured I would try anyway.

June 2014 rolled around and the test date arrived. My friend and I carpooled, and gave each other a smile as we walked into the room to take our place at computers. The next few hours were a blur as I answered the questions, but it was kind of fun. Like a trivia night, only I knew more of the questions. Then the essay prompt came up and I was stumped on the content. I had no idea what to write, so I did the best I could with my limited knowledge. I left confident that I’d done well on the test questions, and afraid that I’d blown it on the essay.

The scores came later in June and I was pleasantly surprised to see a 176.48, with 154 being the cut-off passing score. My essay did indeed squeak by with a 6. The next step was the PNQs, a series of essays to assess whether we embodied the 13 Dimensions.

Now a little bit more serious, I hunkered down and wrote my essays, asking friends for advice and acquiring quite a few edits along the way. I submitted, hoping I would pass this round, but not sure. I received notice in September that I had passed, and I was invited to take the Oral Assessment in Washington D.C.

Now that I had passed the first 2 hurdles, the next, and biggest, hurdle would be to survive a day-long ordeal called the Oral Assessment. I knew virtually nothing about what would happen, so I did some research. I decided to schedule my OA about 3 months out to give myself time to prepare. I found two other people to form a study group, and we met about 4 times to practice. The OA consists of 3 parts: the Group Exercise, the Case Management and the Structured Interview. Each last about an hour and a half, and assess whether you embody those 13 Dimensions. My study buddies helped me a lot, especially since we all came from different backgrounds and had different ways of seeing problems and those solutions.

My Oral Assessment summary (Non-Disclosure Agreement Compliant) will be posted in my next blog post, but suffice it to say that I passed, and made a score that was fairly exceptional. I interviewed with a Security Investigator a month and a half after my OA, and was cleared medically about a month after. On March 30th, I received notice that I was on the register. Two days later, I received an offer for the May training class. I immediately put in my notice to my current job, and began looking towards the next steps.

My next few weeks will be a blur, I am sure, trying to get everything sorted, figuring out how to move my stuff halfway across the nation in preparation to be sent anywhere in the world. I am excited, and nervous, and ready. I may have begun the process on a whim, but now I am in it for the long haul. I can’t wait to see where this new opportunity takes me.

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