Mini Goal Accomplished! Paying it Forward

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I stayed with a lovely couple in the capital whenever I visited. They just so happened to be USAID Foreign Service Officers. I also made good friends with one of the Treasury’s version of Foreign Service Officers. They fed me, housed me, and helped me keep my sanity by offering the occasional comfort from home. I’ve been waiting to pay it forward and help another PCV feel loved. Last night I had that chance and better yet, it was one of my best friends who is on home leave! His fellow PCV and friend was also in town, so I treated them to a delicious dinner. I can’t tell you how much it made me feel comforted though, especially to hear the latest news from Ghana. It was like I was getting a taste of home. It made me feel connected again. Connected to something I miss so dearly. I’m still in reverse culture shock being in America, and I’m still readjusting. I loved being able to hug my best friend and pick back up where we left off, but I also loved feeling reconnected to the world I left behind.

Sometimes all it takes is picking up the tab to show someone you value their service and their sacrifice. All Peace Corps Volunteers just want someone to appreciate their efforts and acknowledge that they too are doing a service to their country. No matter where I go, my goal is to keep paying it forward.

Back on track

Even though I didn’t feel well last Friday, I still took one giant swing at my public speaking exercise and knocked it out of the park. I tend to be very hard on myself (hence the last heavy post), but public speaking is something I’m good at. Really good. I never get nervous and I can write a speech while standing in front of the mirror getting ready in the morning. I was so excited when I got positive feedback from my speech. Alas! I am awesome at something in this class! Last week was difficult and draining, but after I nailed my speech I felt so much better. Well that and I had so many wonderful messages and comments of support after my last post, it put some of the air back into me. I did well on my speech for a few reasons, but one of the big ones? Peace Corps. Oh yeah, that’s right my favorite thing to reference when I learn something. I did a lot of presentations in college and I did pretty well back then, but Peace Corps solidified my public speaking nack. Every time I did a training, I felt energized. I loved standing in front of a group of farmers and sharing ideas with them.

My strengths are definitely different from my classmates. Most of those are from my Peace Corps experience. Thinking outside the box – I don’t believe in boxes, there is no box. Maybe it’s a triangle? Critical of assumptions – I never trust assumptions, because I believe they are right next to communication in the root of all problems. Communication – I’m direct and concise. I’m not afraid to ask questions, even if the answer won’t be pretty. While many of my classmates are incredibly knowledgeable about policy and economics, I’m pretty good at customer service. Which is what’s critical for my cone. So there we go, I’m back on track and ready to go. Which is a good thing because something incredible is happening this week.

Flag Day.

Friday I will find out where in the world I’m going. I had a dream that I was posted to Bengali, that’s not a real place. That’s a language. But the jokes my dad made were pretty funny in my dream – Bengali gee we won’t be visiting you. Who knows where I will go, but wherever it is I’ll be happy. I feel like I should be more excited for the big reveal, but I guess it still doesn’t feel real. When I get my flag I’ll probably be like this:

 

Confessions of an Oklahoman in the Foreign Service

The Oklahoma Education System has failed me. What history did I learn in middle school? Oklahoma history. What history did I learn in high school? Well, we watched the musical 1776 a few times and I self taught myself enough to get a 6 in Higher Level International Baccalaureate History. A 6 in HL History is a pretty good score. How did I pull it off? I studied for the test. I knew what types of questions they always ask. And then I got lucky. Incredibly, incredibly lucky. My history paper during the IB test had one big question on a quote from Robert McNamara. One week before, I just so happened to randomly watch the documentary where the quote was pulled from. Luck. To study for the Foreign Service Test, I had to reread basic history books three times.

Maybe history just isn’t my strong suit. Or maybe my education should have left a more lasting impression. Yesterday, this could not have been more evident. Our first class in the morning was the third part of our Diplomatic History module. The speaker seemed entertaining, but he used words I didn’t even know what they meant. He completely lost me when he said bifurcate. After that all I could think of was bifrost and Thor.  Why did he lose me so quickly though? Because I had no idea what he was even remotely talking about. He was referencing things I should have learned in school. He was alluding to times in history I should have been aware of. But I wasn’t. I had no idea. That history class and our previous offsite activities really struck a chord with me. A very out of tune and sad chord. They ferreted out my insecurities and put them on display.

During offsite, I was the black sheep in our group. During one of the activities, I had to rely on part of my team to give me direction. I had to trust them. I could not for the life of me figure out what they were trying to tell me. So I took a big misstep and I felt shattered. I felt like I let my team down and I felt so alone and isolated. I was exposed. Later in the day, we were blindfolded and put through another exercise. While everyone else quickly figured out the puzzle we were trying to solve, I was sitting there trying to speak up. But the loud people in our group kept talking over me. When I did have a chance to speak, I questioned the assumptions everyone else made so quickly. But they laughed at me. Later, a few people told me I must have trust issues. Damn straight I have trust issues when I’m blindfolded. Throughout the offsite, I felt exposed. This past week has been the most insecure I’ve felt in many years.

I’m constantly surrounded by people who are smarter, more educated, and more experienced than I am. It is hard to not feel insecure about my own shortcomings. I don’t feel like I need to prove myself, because I feel so insignificant that it isn’t necessary. I know that everyone in my class has strengths and weaknesses. I know that for the management track, that I’m going to do great. But throw me into the ring with my peers and I start to question that. People keep reassuring me that I’m going to do fine, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking I’m not supposed to be here.

I’m just a lost girl from Oklahoma trying to play dress up as a diplomat.

Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before A-100

A-100 or as I like to call it “Diplomat Training: or how to look awkward in a suit” is the 6 week training course all U.S. diplomats take. A-100 was a mystery to me before I stepped foot in Arlington. I still have no idea what I will look like in 4 weeks when I’m sworn in (bags under my eyes are a given though). But in the past two weeks, I’ve discovered a few things that I wish I would have known beforehand. So, as I often do, here is a list:

1. Suits are hot. Long sleeves under suits are hot. Pants are hot. Skirts obtain optimal airflow. When you are packed in like sardines into a small room with everyone wearing a suit, it gets hot. Somehow, I’m still cold though, sometimes. The Ghanaian in me still has a firm distaste for air conditioning. Lesson learnt: wear skirts and deodorant. 

2. You will never sleep during the week. On the weekends, you will sleep like a teenager. My shuttle to the Foreign Service Institute leaves at 7:15am, even though classes are generally at 8:15am. After work, there are happy hour events, trivia nights, and socializing up the wazoo. You get home after an event and still have to check email, do homework, and make sure everything is ready for the next day (read: ironing). The adrenaline and whatever else is making my body still function seems to not turn off when I get home. I’m often up till 11pm or midnight just because I can’t fall asleep. The sun blasts in around 5:30am and it is time for round two. Lesson learnt: caffeine is your friend until you build up a tolerance in the second week. 

3. Your health is important. Okay, I was smart enough to get into the Foreign Service, but seriously it took me two weeks to figure this out. You don’t have to go to every social event. You don’t have to drink. You don’t have to guzzle coffee (especially after your tolerance builds up too high). You don’t have to eat take out. You can choose to do any of these things, but moderation is key. As annoying as it is, getting regular exercise and drinking plenty of water is incredibly important to maintaining your sanity. I converted my spare dining room (isn’t that a nice thing to say in DC) into a yoga room. Now I don’t have an excuse to not work out. After 45 minutes of yoga and 20 minutes of meditation I feel completely recharged and ready to take on the coming week. Plus, how cool is it to have a sunroom/yoga room in your free apartment?! Lesson learnt: take care of yourself first. 

4. FSI cafeteria food is, hmmm how do I put this diplomatically…lacking in originality and finesse. I tolerate the sushi, just because it is the right balance between carbs and protein to keep me awake in the afternoons. Generally, the food is not so tasty and expensive. The iced coffee is pretty good though. Don’t eat the sandwiches if you plan on staying awake in the afternoon. The insane amount of bread hits your stomach and BAM, your eyelids start to droop and your neighbor is elbowing you. Lesson learnt: bring your own lunch. 

5. This experience is everything you want to take from it. I spend half the day in awe that I made it and that this is real. I spend a few minutes choking up, as I am now, and embracing the duty. Yes, some of the sessions are long and sometimes exhausting, but guess what YOU JUST LANDED YOUR DREAM JOB. They are teaching us the skills and knowledge to be real bona fide diplomats, ready to represent and serve our country. Do you know who else was a diplomat? Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Jefferson. Madeleine Albright. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Lesson learnt: It is okay to be humbled. 

6. This is way cooler than I thought it would be. Lesson learnt: I picked the right career. 

Not what I was expecting, but I had no expectations

I really had no idea what A-100 would be like, to be honest. Each day is a mix of fascination and exhaustion. The  motto of the class is “setting us up for success.” I think the real motto should be: “I hope y’all like to tread water!” You know it is a lot like this:

The introverted side of me wants to go home every night and hide. The realistic side of me realizes socialising is an expected job function. It’s all a little overwhelming. Combine lack of sleep with overeating with too much caffeine and the end result is patient zero in our soon to be zombie land. I am struggling to keep up already. I feel so inundated with information, people, and obligations. I’ve never had a job that required so much umph. I knew that this class would be a challenge going in, but I guess I wasn’t physically prepared for the beat down. My whole body aches from being squeezed into a jam packed room with no space to spread out. My shoulders and knees are sore from sitting constantly. My feet are blistered like I ran a marathon with no socks on. I am just straight exhausted. I am still grappling with my own insecurities about being a sorely under educated young’in with barely any experience directly related to my track – management. I worry about exposing my pitfalls for all to see: lack of confidence, tendency to over communicate, poor English skills, and propensity for doing something stupid. Like I did yesterday in class, but at least I know what everyone will mock for years to come.

But, I am also the happiest I’ve been in my life. I didn’t expect much from this class, simply because I had no idea what it would be like. I’ve been delighted to absorb advice from the older and wiser folks in my class. The ideas and quotes are growing exponentially, such as “manage time, lead people.” I shared some of my Whole Foods experience with the class today and it was well received. I’ve barely noticed any chest puffing in or out of class, everyone seems so down to earth, for the most part. As a class, we are a unique blend of over achievers and humble servants. Our sessions have been enlightening. I leave each day with a greater sense of pride and community than I did the day before. I still can’t believe I get to do this for the rest of my life.

But please, for the love of all that is holy, get this girl a grammar guide and a nap.

 

Of secret gardens

Think of a dream you have or had. Did you want to be a firefighter or rocket scientist? Did you dream you could fly? Did you want to become a superstar or win the lottery? Everyone has dreams, whether they are just dreams or real goals. I had a dream for 10 years; I wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer. This past week that dream came true. Though it has only been a week, it is everything I wanted and more. It is truly a dream come true.

I’ve worked for so long with this goal in mind. Since I was 16, I’ve had a path laid out in front of me, by my own choice.  I’ve seen the path in front of me with one giant gate at the end. Though the path was often overgrown with weeds and rocky, I never gave up my trek. For a while, I lost sight of the path, but it turned out I was just walking parallel, my view was blocked by a wall. As soon as I could I found the path again I continued on my journey. I had to walk through muddy puddles, infested with mosquitos, and hack down the tall grass blocking my way, but I soldiered on, always with view of the gate ahead. When I returned to America, I saw the gate get closer and closer, while still seeming so far away. But one day the path shortened quickly and the gate grew near. This week I had the distinct honor of turning the knob on that gate door. As I stepped through the gate and into the secret garden I’ve coveted for so long, I found the flowers and foliage even more beautiful than I could have imagined. Your dreams can only imagine so much, for we don’t know what we don’t know. Having spent just one week in the garden, I’ve discovered that there are over 200 paths leading from the garden. Each one has it’s own set of obstacles and beauty to enjoy. But, each path circles back to the same garden. The flowers may change from year to year, but the garden will always be there. But no matter which path I take, I will always stop to smell the roses.

Highlights from Day 2 and 3

First of all, let me say that A-100 is a fine line between brain overload, sleep deprivation, endurance, and barely containable excitement. Every single day I am near tears because something will come over me and I realize THIS IS REAL. I am actually here. I am actually doing this. Wednesday, I almost lost it when I found myself staring at the seal of the department. With this week being Fourth of July, I am feeling the service pride!

The past two days have touched on language, structure, history, and our career. I’ve jotted down some great quotes from the past two days:

Believe you have the power to change the world, don’t be cynical.
Whoever said you can’t buy love never had nieces and nephews.
This is the difference between having a job and having a calling. (This reminded me very much of Peace Corps)
We are hired not because we know something, but because we can learn something.
As a generalist we are like squirrels, every two years we say “who’s shiny? who’s shiny?”

And then we were tasked in our homework with creating our own maxim. Our own guiding mantra and here is mine:
Words are often the only tools we have.

We received our bid lists yesterday as well. Naturally, I already have mine in a draft stage. I am not allowed to disclose the list, but I am able to share tidbits. Right now, my highest ranking posts span 3 continents and 3 different languages. I’m glad I love tacos and dumplings.