Tag Archives: diplomacy

Update from Post- La Frontera y la Canícula

I had originally decided to stop updating this blog for personal security reasons. Now that I have been in Mexico almost a year (wow!), I feel somewhat more comfortable about my life here at post. Adding an obvious disclaimer that these are purely my thoughts and do not represent the official opinion of the State Department 🙂

There is such little information out there about Nuevo Laredo and other border posts- I know when I was bidding and researching it was tough to find even basic details. Some surprises include ballet performances at the Centro Cultural, which is in the “restricted zone” but we are allowed to attend if we let the security office know. One major aspect of life at the border: the summer heat.

When I arrived in the winter, local staff told me about la canicula- the hottest time of the summer where it would be 108 degrees or higher. I’d say it generally lasts from June-August and we all try to just stay inside during the day! I think the best way of dealing with the heat is escaping on the weekend to the nearest beach- Mustang Island!

Related to work, I have had the opportunity to already work in 3 major areas of the consular section: non-immigrant visas, American citizen services, and the fraud prevention unit. I also got the chance to TDY (temporary duty) to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic for 3 weeks which honestly deserves its own blog post. It was truly an island paradise and I’d serve there in a heartbeat.

It is a little crazy to think that in October I will have been here for one year. I am basically halfway through my first tour in the Foreign Service. It has been much more challenging than I expected- there have certainly been days where I’ve counted down the time left. The 25% hardship isn’t for nothing. Thankfully I have some incredible colleagues who I am so proud to call close friends for life.

Also, I now have my onward assignment- I found out in late April that my second tour will be in Riga, Latvia doing public diplomacy! It is truly a dream job and was my top bid. I’ll be back at FSI in fall 2018 to study Russian and PD tradecraft for about 9 months before moving to Latvia. Until then, I’ll be trying to visit places on my Mexico bucket list (Tulum!) and make the most of having my family and many friends close by in Texas.

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Flag Day Jitters

Tomorrow, I will know my first post as a Foreign Service Officer. That thought to me right now is still very unreal. My whole family is visiting, which means we’ll all find out together whether I’m headed to a border post, somewhere in SE Asia, China, or even potentially somewhere unanticipated! I’ve already prepped my parents for the idea that I’m going somewhere likely more dangerous than Texas..

Week 4 and 5 have been probably the busiest yet. Speeches, a field trip to West Virginia, and composure under fire practice were all included. I love being busy, so I was in heaven! My favorite days are those where we’re challenged in a huge variety of ways- speaking, problem solving, important lectures by high level diplomats.

I really don’t want A-100 to end, as excited as I am to get to post. I remember back at Rice University thinking that Orientation Week (O-Week) went by too quickly. Something in me just likes everything to stay new and exciting! But most of my fond memories from college are the amazingly cool stuff I did as an upperclassman. Like visiting Doha and the US Embassy senior year, or studying abroad all junior year. Once I’m at post, I’ll start having those experiences to look back on.

For tonight, I’m enjoying just imagining all the ways my life is about to change. Flag Day, bring it on!!

A Snow Day-Filled Week Three

Looking back on week 3 of Foreign Service orientation- all I can think of is the massive amount of snow that surrounded DC during #Snowzilla. This week we had (at least I had) a 5 day weekend- normally a good thing, but leaving me bored and unable to leave my apartment much due to the snow!! I was thrilled when classes resumed, but worried we had missed important material.

Here’s what I learned this week:

I prefer warmer countries to somewhere like Mongolia or Russia. Heat and humidity wouldn’t bother me, but being freezing and immobile due to snow is no fun at all. It’s no surprise that most of my high ranks on our bidlist were Latin America and Southeast Asia 🙂 I will be a happy woman indeed if a Mexican flag with my name is called out on Flag Day!

Our class remains incredibly close- several of us in my building got together at the height of the blizzard on the weekend to play board games and eat. We also basically decided our class nickname should be the Blizzard 185th, due to the crazy winter weather.

We started what I refer to in my head as diplomat skills training- public speaking and composure under fire (aka answering hard questions!) I loved both of these sessions as a PD officer. Few things are more important than developing strong public speaking and speechwriting skills, or dealing with hostile questions.

A-100 has gone by so quickly. 6 weeks sounds long, but once you get halfway through it’s over before you know it. Writing this from week 5, I’ve already started wondering about what kind of training lies ahead of me next…and where I’m headed of course!

A-100 Week 2 in Review

A-100 sure seems like it’s flying by. Thus, I’ve decided to post after each week to reflect on major milestones in my new career as a diplomat. It’s every bit as exciting and challenging as I’d hoped!

1. I’m off language probation!!

All new US diplomats come in as entry-level officers who must get tenure to continue on in the Foreign Service. One of the requirements for tenure is knowing a language generally at a 3/3 proficiency (exceptions for super hard languages like Arabic/Chinese). My first week at FSI I took the full German test and I just recently found out that I achieved the 3/3! I thought I did fairly well on the test, but I always get really unnecessarily nervous about language testing. I won’t be using German for at least 2 years, but it’s nice to know that I’m off language probation and can start learning a new language like Spanish.

2. Being a consular officer for my first tour is going to rock.

All of us in the 185th are going to be doing Consular coned tours at first. This makes sense given the huge rise in demand for visas and other consular services abroad. Although I’m Public Diplomacy coned, I came close to choosing Consular just because of how meaningful the work is. I really look forward to helping Americans abroad and seeing such issues as immigration firsthand- especially why I’m bidding Mexico/Latin America very high!

3. #Snowmaggedon2016 hit DC and we had another 3 day weekend!

I’ve never seen this much snow in my life, y’all. It’s been really cold here! Looking at pictures of 70 degree Fahrenheit Texas right now is making me miss the heat. And potentially influencing my bidding strategy to choose warmer countries…

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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.

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.

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.