Surreal isn’t Strong Enough

I still pinch myself. Is this really happening? Am I moving to DC next week? Did I really land my dream job or is this some elaborate ruse being orchestrated by Secretary Kerry because his initials are JK? My fellow classmates and I have begun filling out a spreadsheet with a few details about ourselves. I have affectionately renamed this spreadsheet to: the “wow, everyone is way cooler than me” list. We have people who’ve worked for the UN, survived multiple Afghanistan deployments, practiced law all over the world, and someone who has published a book. So far only 13% of us do NOT have a graduate degree. The people with graduate degrees have graduated from universities I’d be afraid to even step on the campus. It’s all a little intimidating and still surreal. Who are these people and why on Earth am I in the same class as them. Surely there must be a mistake.

And then I snap out of it and remember that, damnit I’m cool too! I may not have the credentials like everyone else, but I worked as a cashier at Whole Foods. They don’t let uncool people work there, clearly, have you ever shopped there? We all had to pass the same tests to get into the Foreign Service. I just hope that I can scrap my fluency in Redneck before class starts, so no one will question how I passed with this piss poor English. Luckily, part of the training is how to write like a diplomat. Then after those six weeks, I’ll be learning a new language anyway. Come on English, don’t fail me now!

I do still wonder how I managed to do this. The sheer odds of getting into the Foreign Service are incredible. You want to be president? You have better odds than joining the Foreign Service. Of the 20,000 who apply each year to be a Foreign Service Officer, only 2% make it. In 2012, there were 12 Republican candidates for President. Tack on President Obama and that gives you a 7.7% chance of scoring a seat in the White House. Yes, I understand I’m just manipulating numbers which are far too variable to really provide a strong comparison, but whatever, 2% makes me feel better when I go to sleep at night.

Part of me wants to prove that I deserve to be in that class, but the other part knows that I’ve already proven I deserve to be there. Ain’t no use in bragging about my accomplishments when everyone surrounding me has pretty awesome ones too. (Oh dear lord my English! Heaven help me.) I’ve just got to wrap my head around the idea that I’m not just coming to learn about the Foreign Service, I’m coming to learn from my fellow classmates. My two study buddies from the Oral Assessment have credentials that would make any resume instantly turn into gold, but they don’t intimidate me. They are just normal men who’ve done pretty fantastic things. I’ve learned a lot from them, clearly, they helped me pass my oral assessment! And I think I’ve taught them some things too.

Now I’ve just got to figure out a good mingling opening line:
”Hi, I’m not anywhere as cool as you. Please tell me all about yourself.”
“I read your bio online and know that you went to Johns Hopkins and love yoga. Can we be friends?”
”Hi, I spent two years in a town in West Africa eating with my hands and learning how to hand wash my clothes like a pro, please tell me more about your experience working on refugee and immigration issues.”
“Woot! Another Peace Corps Volunteer, so tell me, worst disease you got. Go! Also, do you feel like no one understands you anymore? Can we talk about our readjustment feelings?”

Suddenly the clock starts ticking

All the projects I’ve had saved for a rainy day or when I felt like it, are now at Defcon 1. Why? Because ain’t nobody got time for that in approximately 4-12 months when I am at post and finally get my shipment. Everything suddenly feels urgent. But I’m also that person. You know, the one that likes to get stuff done early, that way I have more free time afterwards. I’m the person that likes to have everything set and ready to go before I start something. Like packing. And I feel like I am finally there. I have everything I wanted to get now. The weird living essentials that I didn’t have, but needed. You know like the plates and spices I bought. Or the blank notebook for my A-100 class. The details. Because when I freak out about something major happening in my life I focus on the details.

And there are so many to keep up with. Which documents do I mail in prior to class starting versus bringing the day of? Did I fill out all the paperwork right? What will I put in my suitcases and what will I put in storage? What am I going to eat for the next month? I will not gain back the weight I lost working for Whole Foods. No way. Even if I don’t have a paycheck for the next month or two, I will still find a way to eat healthy, because it was amazing. Okay, back to my main point. The details. This is what happens. I think of something else I need to remember, write it down and add it to the list. I’ve been good about adding things to the list and marking them off quickly. Let’s do this. Let’s get this done. Because things aren’t going to stop piling up. This is a life changing event. My to do list should be long. Once I leave, I’m not coming back. It’s not like Peace Corps, this is my new forever life.

In the past week, I’ve been very productive. I picked out the car I want to buy if I need to buy one at some point, because yeah. I’m just going to say that’s being prepared and not I’ve got the itch for my own wheels. I got a haircut, and the first thing I thought when I got home was: “oh no, it’s not at cute as my last one! I’m not going to look anywhere near as good in my government ID picture!” But that’s why I did it a month before, so it would have time to grow out just a little. It’s not terrible, it’s just not my style, nor what I asked for. Plus it is a little shorter than I would have liked. Okay, I’ll say it. It makes me look old. I said conservative, but not Mary Fallin or Sarah Palin. I meant, I don’t want hair spikes. Just another shining example of why communication is key.

And to cap off my productive week, since the past three days were my Memorial Day weekend (I’m working Saturday and Sunday), I finally finished a project I’ve been meaning to do since I got back to America.

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I turned my fabric scraps into wall art! When I get to post, whenever that may be I will have 9 lovely pieces of fabric art to hang on my walls. Just a lovely reminder of where I came from and my second home.

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Preparations Have Begun

Everything is moving so fast now. Well, sort of. Tasks are moving along quickly, but it is as if time has come to a stand still. Luckily, I experienced this phenomenon many times during my Peace Corps service. Sunday will be my last day working at Whole Foods. I decided to spend my last month before I join the Foreign Service with friends, family, and relaxing. Let’s be honest, when am I going to have that chance again? I’m going to take the time to pack at my own pace and go into my A-100 class stress-free. As far as that’s possible.

I still can’t believe this is happening. I realized the other day that I feel lighter. Simply lighter. Not only has this great weight been lifted off my shoulders, but my heart just feels whole. Like I was missing something for so long and now it beats at full strength. Like I just leveled up and achieved all the max hit and talent points. I’m adding this as a major gold star in my achievement list. But I thought about it a bit and realized, now what? What’s my next dream going to be? What’s going to push me for the next 10 years? I think I’ll use the A-100 class and training to help develop that goal further. Because you know, never stop aiming for the top, a dream is a wish your heart makes, hold fast to dreams, the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams, and all that jazz. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

And back to preparations…

I’ve started collecting a few things that I know I’ll need to make my future government-provided, fully furnished house a home. I know two things are for certain: I like to feel comfortable in my space and I want to entertain. There are little comforts that make a huge difference when it comes to making your space feel like yours. For me that includes my Ghana collections and scents. Alright let me explain. Everything I brought back from Ghana has a story. And many of those stories instantly whisk me away to an experience that either makes me cry tears of happiness or swell with smiles of crazy memories. These are my artifacts. And then scents. For me, I remember the smell of places. My aunt’s house always smelled like what a house should smell like, welcoming, inviting, and friendly. So I bought some candles, just a few that smell like home to me: beets and honeysuckle. Not together. Beets sounds weird, but I grew up eating pickled herring and eel on a stick. The smell of beets just smells like a kitchen to me. And if I’m posted in some far off land that looks and feels as far from home as possible, at least I’ll have a few things that will make me feel like my house truly is my home.

That’s how I romantically justify my trip to Anthropolgie.

Additionally, I made use of my Whole Foods Team Member discount to stock up on spices. The elusive little ingredients that make all things better.

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And to add to my kitchen, I finally bought plates. Real plates. Plates that are not made from plastic and found in the dollar section at Target. I’m officially an adult now.

 

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So basically, the summarize this post: I’m obsessing over the small details of this big move, because that’s what I do. Details are my thing. And I’m sure next year when I am having colleagues over for wine and cheese they will appreciate the fact that I have 12 salad plates. I aim to please.

Foreign Service FAQs

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what comes next. I’m sure many of my friends and family are anxious to find out where I will be posted. Mainly, will she be somewhere that is worth visiting? Someone promised a bunch of people a free place to stay if they want to visit, but will anyone actually want to come see me, especially if I am in Djibouti or the Congo?
So what does come next for this intrepid traveler? Training. June 30th I will start my six week training course at the Foreign Service Institute. Think of it as basic training for diplomats, but instead of ropes courses and running drills, we’ll be doing well, I’m not quite sure actually. Probably learning the ropes of the State Department rather than dangling from them over a dirty pond. That’s my hope anyway.

Here are some frequently asked questions:

1. When will you find out where you are going?

During the second week of training, the bid list is given out to everyone. The bid list is a list (shocker!) of all the posts available to members of my training class. Everyone then spends time ranking their bids high, middle, and low. We meet with a Career Development Officer to discuss our goals and post desires. They determine where everyone will go. During the fifth week, we have a ceremony called Flag Day. This is when everyone gets their assignments and a corresponding little flag, because you know Fun With Flags.

So the short answer: early August.

2. How long is your training?

The A-100 training class is six weeks long. If I have to learn a language, which it is likely I will, then my training will be extended. Odds are language training will be an additional six months. Sprinkle in some consular tradecraft and area studies too. So unless the bid list consists of all English speaking posts, I’ll be in DC for a while.

3. But what does all this Foreign Service stuff mean? What will you actually do?

Foreign Service and diplomat are one in the same. I will serve in an Embassy or Consulate abroad doing many different things, which will all depend on my position at that location for those two years. During the first one or two tours I will probably be doing consular work. That means I’ll be that person you see behind the visa window at an Embassy.

Like this photo I grabbed from the interwebs:

 

My official track/cone is management though. That means after my first one or two tours, I will be focusing primarily on the management side of the Embassy. Keeping an Embassy running requires a lot of work and coordination of US and local staff, plus overseeing housing, our properties, and vehicles. I’ll like spend quite a few tours (maybe, this is all hearsay) as a General Services Officer. This is the person who fixes everything and makes all the other FSOs either miserable or happy. My goal is to keep the vast majority happy. Some people just chose to be miserable and I’ll try to make them happy, but attitude is everything.

Eventually I’d like to be a Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM). This person is essentially No.2 at the Embassy. I’d rather not spend years waiting to be confirmed by the Senate for Ambassadorship. I mean if a certain President offers it, of course I will serve at the President’s pleasure, but DCM is more my style.

5. What’s your training like?

Good question. I’ll let you know when I find out.

6. So who is your boss?

The President of the United States and the Secretary of State, plus a few other people too.

7. Are you in the CIA now?

I will not be allowed to discuss many aspects of my job, for security purposes and because I will be bound by a non-disclosure agreement. However, this does not mean I am in the CIA. Nor am I a new character on House of Cards, Scandal, or 24.

8. Where do you want to go?

I have my preferences, but at the end of the day I have signed up to be available to go worldwide, wherever the Department of State thinks I need to go. Africa has a special place in my heart and I would like to serve another few tours throughout the continent. If that’s where I’m meant to go.

9. Will you be allowed to come home and visit?

Yes, I will accrue leave annually, but let’s be honest, go on vacation to somewhere amazing or come back to Oklahoma? I’m going to use my vacation to see the world. After each tour, we are expected to spend four weeks back in America doing American stuff – like going to Target, seeing a baseball game, and overeating. It is mandated by Congress that all FSOs spend this time acclimating to the US. I’ll use that time to visit friends and family.

10. Do you have to wear a suit everyday?

Yep. Good thing I like pencil skirts. J Crew is going to love me.

11. Can we come visit you?

Sure! If I know you, like you, and you don’t have too many expectations of me entertaining you. The Foreign Service is one of those jobs that you stay until the work is done, there is no clock-out at 5:00pm.

Will it and it will

Last week a billboard popped up on my way to work. In big bold letters it says: “Will it and it will.” And then it has a bottle of Crown Royal next to it. No matter, the message still holds true. As I passed this billboard for the past 6 days, I would stare at it and think “come on security clearance!” Monday morning, I looked at the billboard, kissed my lucky pendant, and thought “you will get this.” Yesterday morning, I took one hard look at the ad and thought to myself: “please please please.” I may have closed my eyes for a second as well, which I don’t recommend, as I was driving.

Later in the day, something triggered a memory. I thought about my fortune cookie from three years ago. The cookie that told me “soon you will be on top of the world.” Two hours later I received my invitation to join the Peace Corps.

I’m not allowed to check my phone work, so as soon as I sat down for lunch I pulled out my phone. I wanted to see if my friend got back to me about getting together after work. I saw an email notification and quickly opened it. And that’s when I went into shock. Full blown hysterics ensued and the dry sobs began. I was shaking violently, tears were trying to peek out of my eyes, and my appetite quickly disappeared (very disappointed about this, I had an excellent lunch in front of me). At first I only saw that I had been added to the Foreign Service register. And then I read the rest of the sentence. And if I wasn’t already losing it before, that’s when I officially made a scene. Sitting there right in front of me, an offer to join the June 30th Foreign Service class. My official appointment letter.

And in that very moment all my dreams came true. Since I was 16 years old, everything I’ve done has lead me to that moment. I took my first Foreign Service Test in February 2010. I made a promise to myself when I was 16 that I would take the exam every year until I made it. Even at 16 I wasn’t ready to let anything stop me from achieving my goal.

I burst into tears every few miles on the drive home last night. When I got home, I knew this was it. I had to take the offer, of course I did. My fellow foreign service hopeful friends assured me I wasn’t being selfish taking a class before we could all take one together. Rather, I’m doing reconnaissance for them and letting them know what A-100 is really like. I replied to my contact and accepted the offer to join the 178th A-100 Foreign Service Generalist class.

Today, I scheduled my move (movers come and pack everything away June 25) and became an official USAA member. I sent in my resume, so they can provide me with my salary information (I already know it will be more than I currently make – $10/hr).  I sent a request for availability for State provided housing in Arlington today too. And then I made lists, lots and lots of lists.

Yesterday couldn’t have been more perfect. You see I have this odd little OCD quirk and it has to do with prime numbers and me being superstitious. And honestly, it really just goes back to my love of the movie/book Contact by Carl Sagan. I scheduled my oral assessment for January 23, because 23 is the prime number to end all prime numbers. My hotel room number during my oral assessment was 719, another prime number. My score is a prime number. Yesterday, 5/13, again prime numbers. The time I got my actual offer? 11:19 – prime numbers. Call me crazy, superstitious, or just plain wackadoodle, but yesterday the universe told me one thing is for certain:

Will it and it will.