Today marks my 1 year anniversary of the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. Last year, about this time of the day, mid-afternoon, I was pretty sure I was failing miserably. I had completed the Group Exercise and Case Management portions, but still had the Structured Interview portion left.
It was my first time taking the Oral Assessment. I’d met with a study group in Texas who had also never taken the OA, and I mostly prepared alone using resources from the FSOA Yahoo Group. I had no markers for whether I was doing well or if the Examiners would laugh at me and tell me I didn’t belong. The beginning of the day is still so vivid – feeling like a child playing dress-up in a suit. Being intimidated by the people who were also taking the assessment that day. Even in the waiting room at the end of the day, I just wanted them to call me in and give me the bad news, so I could go commiserate with friends over dinner.
Luckily, I underestimated myself and received a very comfortable 5.9 score at the end of the day (out of 7.0). My medical and security clearances went with few hitches and here I am, studying Bangla heading to Bangladesh in a few months.
Having passed the Oral Assessment, I settled in for what I thought would be a long medical and security clearance process. I informed my supervisors that I had passed and that I would probably be invited sometime within the next year to start A-100. I gave them a projected start date of January 2016. I even considered applying for an open supervisory position in my office to tide me over.
On March 30th, I received notice that I was #2 on the hiring register. I informed my supervisor that I might be leaving them sooner than expected…
On April 2nd, I received an invite for the May Foreign Service A-100 class. I had spent a grand total of 3 days on the register. It took me a few hours to make the decision to accept; I’dnot even had time to adjust to the idea of passing clearances.
The next few weeks were a blur of packing, finishing up my work projects, training my replacement, seeing friends and saying goodbye to Dallas, Texas.
I sold my car to my parents and flew to D.C. in early May, my stomach in knots of nervousness and excitement. I had no idea where I would be ending up in the next year, no idea if I would even like this new path my life had unexpectedly taken, and I knew nobody in my new training class other than through our email correspondence.
My first day of A-100 was surreal. There was of course a lot of paperwork, and I expected at any moment that somebody would tell me there had been a mistake and that I should not be there. I made it through that first day intact, got a bona fide badge, and met some really nice cool people.
The rest of A-100 involved a lot of learning about life in the Foreign Service and bonding with my fellow classmates. I had a neat new apartment in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Life was good.
Flag Day. One of the more bizarre, terrifying and exciting days of my life. I had bid on a variety of locations, and was hoping for a warm country in Asia. My parents flew in for the occasion and were very supportive, although I know they were nearly as anxious as I was. When the flag for Dhaka, Bangladesh came up and my name was called, I was both thrilled and disappointed at the same time.
It was one of the weirder few seconds in my life. I was thrilled that I had received one of my highs (hurray warm country!), and disappointed that I couldn’t go simultaneously to all of my other highs as well. You try to imagine your life in a dozen different directions, and then suddenly the direction is chosen and the other possibilities are no longer there (for now).
I was also surprised that I would be learning a language for 7 months. I was happy to get more time to spend with friends and family in the States, but disappointed not to go abroad again quickly.
A-100 finished up the next week with Swear-In, which was a little anti-climactic after Flag Day, yet still much welcomed. I was ready to get on with the next part of my training.
July found me in ConGen, the general course for everyone who will be doing Consular work abroad. I learned about Immigration Law, Visa requirements, American Citizen Services, fraud and more in this class. I went in worrying that I would not like anything Consular, and was much relieved when I found myself loving everything about it. Especially good since I am a Consular-coned officer!
I enjoyed the outdoor film culture in DC and riding my bicycle all around the area. I also spent a lot of time with my A-100 classmates, some of whom were already preparing to leave for post.
Friends came to visit and I enjoyed the last bit of D.C. summer. I took a course in South Asian Area Studies and FACT (aka “Crash Bang). Also, I decided to adopt a Diplocat, who I eventually named Mus. For the first 3 weeks with me, he hid in my dresser and only came out for food. Then one day I sat on the floor, put some icky wet food in my hand, and made him eat from my hand. We’ve been besties ever since.
I also said farewell to many of my classmates, who headed off to post throughout the month. I don’t know when I will see them again, but hopefully we will be able to visit each other or even work in the same posts someday. For now, we’re scattered to the four corners of the globe.
September -November 2015
In September, I began a 7 month course in Bengali, or Bangla. Autumn in DC was magical – fall festivals, hiking in nearby parks, and biking in slightly cooler weather.
Plus, DiploCat also came out of his shell and promptly took over the apartment.
I had my first Bangla progress assessment before Thanksgiving, and was told I was on track (whew!). A friend invited me to see the National Tree Lighting ceremony, which was a true highlight. It was even better when we were chosen randomly to get seats, instead of staying the entire time in the standing-room-only area. I got to see Obama and his family. I could barely contain my delight.
I tried to do everything Christmassy possible in D.C. – the parade of lights in Alexandria, the National Tree Lighting, and Zoo Lights at the National Zoo. All were delightful and great times were had.
After a quick trip to Dallas to see my Texas friends, I went home to my parent’s house for Christmas, where we rode bicycles and visited a little safari park zoo. It was great to get away for a week from DC and to give my brain a rest.
Bangla has started up and so have the real preparations for departure. Applying for my diplomatic passport, figuring out travel arrangements, and everything else involved with moving abroad is keeping me busy. The next 3 months will fly by! I’m glad I have my fellow Bangla and A-100 classmates and Mus to keep me company throughout the process. A year later, I can still say that I have made the best decision of my life so far. This past year has been the best so far in my life. It will be tough to beat, but I’m open to the possibility.
I have a trip planned to California next week, and another trip to Seattle in February. My birthday is coming up quick and my family is coming to visit me here in D.C. Lots of fun times ahead to look forward to. And everything leading up to stepping on to that plane which will take me to the other side of the earth!
Happy 2016 everybody!