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. 

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9 thoughts on “Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before A-100

  1. wow sounds pretty busy over there! I’m still in college, but when I’m eventually done with graduate school, I also want to head into foreign service 🙂

      • sounds good! 🙂 I’ll probably work for a few years. My family would probably throw a fit if I joined Peace Corps.

  2. I start my A-100 in September. NERVOUS doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel. Even though there are a million blogs out there and links to everywhere else and emails and packets, etc. I still feel like I haven’t got a clue what is going on. I’m afraid to be that pesky little person that calls every day with a new (and proportionately more annoying) question to my HR Tech hahaha, so instead I’m chewing my fingernails to the quick and reading FS blogs until my eyes dry up!

    • Congrats on getting invited to the September class! I have two friends with the same name who will also be joining you! If you have legitimate HR questions, give your tech or the registrar a call! Trust me there are so many of us, unless you are calling twice a week, they won’t think you are pesky!

      • Same name as me or same as yourself? Cool either way! I will cave and start calling next week. It feels like I’m getting ready for a trip more than an actual move, I just know I’ll forget something…but hopefully in Sep it won’t be so hot as it is for you now.

      • They have the same name, Robert and Robert. I still feel like I just packed for a trip. I get my UAB on Saturday (hopefully) and I can’t wait to see what I put in there. Even though it has only been 3 weeks, I can’t remember what I put in that giant box!

  3. Nice post and I agree with everything. Moderation is certainly key. The happy hours are very important, but don’t feel bad about skipping occasionally or ducking out early to recharge.

    By the way, if you think 3 weeks is a while waiting for your UAB, wait until your stuff has been in storage for a few years and then you get to open it. It is 10% Christmas and 90% “What in the world was I thinking keeping this in storage?!”

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