Category Archives: Post-College Life

Getting “The Call” for the Foreign Service!

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Or rather “the email”! I am so excited to finally share that I accepted an offer to join the Foreign Service!! A week ago from today, I got the email that is about to drastically change my life.

I will be a Public Diplomacy Officer in the 185th A-100 orientation class. On January 11, 2016, I start my first day as a Foreign Service Officer in Washington, DC! This still feels incredibly unreal. I feel like I waited so long for the State Department to finally hire me, and yet I know many people on the Yahoo groups have been waiting much, much longer. Still, it is a huge relief to know my future at last!

The way I found out is pretty hilarious in hindsight. I currently live and work as a teacher in Thailand, which is 12 hours exactly ahead of DC. Thus, when offers for several cones went out on Tuesday night (DC morning), I chose to stay up until 3AM here to see if PD offers would be extended..

Surprisingly they were not until the next day. This meant I planned to stay up until the wee morning hours again Wednesday night to await my fate! This time I couldn’t sleep from happiness though- at 9:30 pm here, I saw a PD offer for the January class in my inbox. I have honestly never been so happy in my entire life. I called my parents on FaceTime immediately to share the good news. The Foreign Service has been my dream for so long- since I discovered I love to travel, that I’m good at languages and history, and am passionate about helping Americans and sharing our diverse and rich culture.

Returning to DC will be all the more meaningful because last time I was there, it was as an intern. I worked during summer 2014 at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training located at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). This time when I head to FSI for training every day, it will be as a US diplomat. (!!!) I am so honored. My former supervisors from ADST and the US Embassy in Vienna currently work in DC, so I’ll be able to personally thank them for their support and mentorship when I start training.

I don’t really think it’ll hit me until the first day of training. Fingers crossed there will be a lot of formal oaths and inspiring speeches in A-100. I suspect I will be holding back tears often that this dream I had when I was 15 is finally real.

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On Teaching and Trains

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now. Having been here for a month, I feel a lot more settled in the Land of Smiles. Reading the blogs of fellow teachers in Thailand has made me super interested in how other teachers go about their daily routines. Here’s a snapshot of mine:

7:00 (approximately..) wake up to alarm, surf Facebook/email/Foreign Service forums for 5 minutes. Heat up some instant coffee and eat a very sugary breakfast plus maybe some yogurt if I’m feeling healthier that day

7:45 head out the door of my on-campus apartment, remembering to turn off the air conditioning or “they’ll never come and fix it!” (quote from school coordinators)

8:00 daily school assembly begins, aka 30 minutes of the Thai national anthem, school song, and long speeches in Thai that I understand none of.

11-12:40 pick an hour for a lunch break, the cafeteria food is ridiculously good and a mix of very authentic Thai/attempted Western food. 4/5 days this is followed by a trip to the best coffee shop in town right next to the school. Thais love their coffee strong and very sweet, so I’m in heaven!

8:30-4:30 are our official school working hours. I teach 20 classes of 50 minutes a week, though they are often way shorter due to “Thai time” and students arriving 10-15 minutes late. Each day I have 4 classes of English ranging from very beginner rowdy 9th graders to some intermediate-mid 12th graders who I love. This means I have in total over 900 students, who I see only once a week. (!!) They are much better at remembering my name “Teacher Becky!” and treating me like a celebrity whenever I walk on campus. We have several breaks throughout the day, during which I obsess over anything related to the Foreign Service and 2016 A-100 orientation classes.

4:30 wander back to my apartment, usually take a nap! Finding dinner is challenging as we are the only people who walk anywhere in our town, and there aren’t really nearby restaurants. Night markets are an option, but a scary walk across multiple streets without traffic lights. I bought a microwave which has been a great investment so far!

Things I love so far about Thailand: trains! Anyone who knows me gets that I’m a huge fan of public transport. Which we have very little of in Texas. The trains in Thailand are awesome and I have already taken them most weekends here. This weekend I’m visiting a beach (about time!!) only 2hrs away by train. Stations are clearly marked and visible, someone will speak English, people walk down the aisles to sell you cheap and plentiful food or drinks- none of this is available in a minivan or bus. Trains are definitely my preferred mode of transportation here. Check it out for yourself!

Things I don’t love: the language barrier and lack of time to really dedicate myself to learning more than survival Thai, being placed far from my friends at orientation, the very low English level of most of my students. Considering these alongside the positives of living here though, I don’t have much to complain about. Other teachers might have better locations in Thailand (mountains!), or higher level students, but no one’s placement seems perfect. Teaching overall has been incredibly meaningful for the students who do care. I am starting to really enjoy life in Thailand and the holidays are coming up, which should give me more of a chance to explore some of its most scenic sights!

 

 

 

Sawatdee from Thailand!

I have officially been living in Thailand for almost 2 weeks! Writing this in the middle of an afternoon thunderstorm, it’s clear that I still have tons to adjust to in my new home. After our orientation in Bangkok the first week, we have now moved to our placements throughout Thailand. I still wake up occasionally and forget where I am- even after flying 20 hours from Texas here, it’s all very new to me right now. Well, except maybe the heat and humidity I know so well from Texas 🙂 Also, my school hasn’t even started yet so that adventure is yet to come!

Here are some favorite moments of my time in the “Land of Smiles” so far. I’ve been able to explore Bangkok and my new province and city, Nakhon Pathom. So many exciting things have happened since arriving here, which makes me really look forward to the rest of this semester. Of course, there have been challenges as well such as getting “traveler’s tummy” on the first day of week #2 (I’m about 95% recovered, thankfully!). And the Thai language- Passaa Thai yaak! Thai is difficult! But also sanuk, fun. Today I bought a water bottle from a street vendor with my basic Thai and got a smile of understanding from her in the end. Moments like that make my time here absolutely worth it.

2015-10-22 10.03.162015-10-22 09.55.31Ayutthaya

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayutthaya has some of the most beautiful ruins I’ve ever been to. Plus we went here on the second day of orientation! Thanks CIEE and OEG, our Teach in Thailand program coordinators! Walking around this ancient Thai capital was amazing. Also, it’s just about an hour from Bangkok so very useful for a day trip.

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Exploring Bangkok via River Taxi

Coolest experience ever. It’s way faster and a lot more fun to get around parts of Bangkok in a boat taxi, we took one to visit the Royal Grand Palace during orientation. For a round trip from our hotel to the downtown area, it cost only about 14 baht. (current exchange rate: 33 baht=1 USD!)

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Grand Palace

A must see in Bangkok. So many golden pagodas and elaborately decorated halls. Many Thais make a pilgrimage here to see the Emerald Buddha- a smaller than you’d expect Buddha carved from emerald, definitely worth visiting in person. Glad we saw this during orientation as well!

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Getting settled in to live in Nakhon Pathom- local cats and more palaces!

These two cats are always around outside my school. They also happen to look a lot like my cats from home! One thing I definitely like a lot about this placement is having on-campus housing. Hooray for sleeping later! Today I adventured to a local palace nearby, which surprisingly was not listed in any Lonely Planet guide to my province, Nakhon Pathom. I highly recommend visiting, it’s called Sanam Chandra Palace.

Pre-Travel Musings

Two weeks from today, I will be flying to Bangkok, Thailand to start orientation as an English teacher with CIEE! I don’t think I’m aware yet just how much my life will change.

Since getting back from my backpacking trip in Europe, I have been living at home and mainly spending time with my family. It’s been somewhat challenging keeping busy when I’d rather just be starting work as a teacher or diplomat already! After October 18, I’ll be settling into life in Thailand and getting the chance to explore a fascinating and new region of the world. I can’t wait to leave Texas and live overseas again!!

There is something weird and thrilling in jetting off to Thailand with no firm return date. I do have a plane ticket back home booked for the end of March, but honestly everything depends on the Foreign Service and if/when they give me a confirmed offer to start A-100 in DC. Right now there are four orientation classes tentatively planned for 2016- January, April, June, and September. Last I checked I am still around #7-8 of 108 public diplomacy candidates and hoping for an A-100 invitation sometime next spring! Of course, if things don’t work out I have the option of extending and just teaching longer in Thailand 🙂

I’m beyond excited for this next step in my life-however long I end up staying in Thailand! Life is a bit in flux and I am getting more and more comfortable with it being that way.

An exciting disappointment

It’s been a few weeks since I learned that I will not be attending the September 8th A-100 orientation class for the Foreign Service after all. For the last class of this fiscal year, only 3 or so public diplomacy candidates I know of received offers. Despite my ranking of 7/103 (probably higher now!), I did not. This post should serve as a PSA to fellow Foreign Service hopefuls out there- it is much more competitive to become a US diplomat than you think! Hiring is really tough at the moment even if you pass every step along the way like I have. You can’t be 100% sure of a job until you receive the official offer, and it will be 28 days before the class starts, to boot 🙂

That being said, I am disappointed but not devastated. The Foreign Service will happen for me when the time is right- most likely in early 2016! If hiring stays around attrition like it has this year, I should get an offer before expiring off the register in December 2016. This gives me a shot at all the fiscal year 2016 classes- I’m especially hopeful that the January 2016 class will be larger and I will get an invite.

Until then, I am so excited to share that I’ll be teaching English at a girls school near Bangkok, Thailand with CIEE! I start in mid-October. My placement is in Nakhon Pathom province, about an hour outside of Bangkok: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/bangkok/nakhon-pathom. Here is one of the tallest pagodas in Thailand right in the middle of my new home:

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In my view, English teaching is one of the US’s best forms of public diplomacy. I get to develop my public speaking and presentation skills, gain international experience, and live in Southeast Asia for the first time in my life. I can’t think of a better experience to have before joining the Foreign Service, whenever that may be!

Backpacking Adventures in Europe

For about a week and a half now, I have been wandering around Central and Eastern Europe via train. This monthlong trip has kind of been my college graduation present to myself and a time to return to Europe on vacation before “real life” begins in the fall.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite trip moments so far through snapshots:

1. Exploring the historic old town in Warsaw

Warsaw was my first stop- I was lucky to have a great hostel where I met a friend right away and we enjoyed a free walking tour through the UNESCO world heritage site that is Warsaw’s old town.

  2. Visiting Oskar Schindler’s former factory in Krakow

The most major bucket list item on my list by far! Words can’t really encapsulate how cool it was to actually visit the place I had read about and studied so much. I give a lot of credit to Schindler’s story and learning about the Holocaust in Europe to my later interest in international relations.

 3. Touring the Wieliczka salt mines

I randomly made a friend during another tour who accompanied me to the salt mines! 3 hours of licking salt off the walls and viewing entire cathedrals of salt.

   4. Relaxing in the thermal baths of Budapest

Budapest is such a cool place that many more moments could be included here. I was only there for 2.5 days and really could have used a whole week! By far my favorite though was getting to try out the five different thermal baths at the Gellert Bathhouse in Budapest- so calming! Some of the baths were nice and warm, others pretty chilly and one we got kicked out of for not wearing bath caps..

 5. Climbing up the staircase to Graz’s Schlossberg and the city views afterwards

I stumbled upon this part of Graz on my first day there and boy was it gorgeous up there. A good workout to climb up and walk around! Traditional Styrian food and wine followed 🙂

On Graduation, Summer, and Pre A-100 Plans

Life has been in flux since May 16, 2015- my official graduation date from Rice University. A few months on, it has not really hit me yet that I will not be returning to Rice as a student this fall. Instead I’ll probably be starting my dream career as a Foreign Service Officer! I had sort of planned things for the summer like spending time with family at home and visiting Eastern Europe, but had backups in case the Foreign Service took a year or more to offer me a job. Happily, I’ve been on the public diplomacy register since June 8.

I am currently waiting on the State Department to issue invitations for the next A-100 (orientation) class starting September 8. At around number 5 of 100 public diplomacy candidates, I am really hoping for an offer within the next month or so! However, anyone who knows me will know that I really can’t sit still and just wait at home in Texas until September. I have worked to keep myself busy over the summer, searching for a few opportunities that will help when I start work as a diplomat.

One of my favorite involvements this summer has been getting to work as a camp counselor/unit leader for the past month at Camp Mitre Peak, a Girl Scout Camp not far from Big Bend National Park. In my work with public diplomacy, I hope to be significantly involved with gender equality and girls empowerment- working with Girl Scouts was perfect preparation for this. I loved the girl power environment at camp and sharing my love of hiking and backpacking.

Camp Mitre Peak

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In exactly a week, I’m also leaving for a monthlong trip to Eastern and Central Europe! This trip is basically including all the countries I didn’t have time to visit during study abroad- like Poland, Slovenia, and Croatia. 3/4 of the weeks I’ll be backpacking around from hostel to hostel, then the last week I will take part in the Model NATO Youth Summit in Riga, Latvia. Model NATO was something I applied for on a whim and now have the incredible opportunity to represent the US delegation. It will involve lots of Europe policy and youth engagement, also major areas I plan to work in during my Foreign Service career. To say I’m excited for this trip is quite an understatement!!

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This summer has been a bit surreal. Honestly, I had expected to join the Peace Corps right after Rice. I certainly didn’t think I would get into the Foreign Service on my first try and as a right-out-of-college graduate. Now that it is happening much sooner than that, I am so incredibly excited and lucky.