Tag Archives: joining the foreign service

First Week as a Diplomat in A-100

To say this week was packed would be a huge understatement! I learned so many new things about the Foreign Service, met (most of) my huge class of colleagues, took the full FSI German test, and more. It’s probably not a surprise that I am already in love with my new career in the Foreign Service. The fact that I get to choose from a list of countries where I’ll be a US diplomat for my first tour is just ridiculously cool. I thought I’d share a few reasons why and reflect on my first week!

  • The Foreign Service is a family. Much of what we’ve learned this week has been about resiliency and support for each other at post. Also, I am actually going to keep a running count of how many high-ranking FSOs come talk to us and tell us that they’ve worked for 30+ years in the State Department and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I would love to be able to say that someday!
  • It’s not a disadvantage to be the youngest/most inexperienced in the class. I really love looking around the A-100 room and thinking how diverse our class is, not just in ethnicity and gender, but age and experience level. I’ve only known them for a week, but I feel extremely close to our entire class and know our connection will be lasting.
  • We got the bidlist of potential first tours on Wednesday. It is the most amazing bidlist I have probably ever seen and way better than I had even expected! I’m really hoping to go somewhere Spanish speaking. Mexico would be a dream, as would anywhere in Latin America or Southeast Asia. “Flag Day” is in about a month!!
  • This is the coolest job ever and I still find myself thinking how lucky I am to get paid for this. I will get paid to learn/improve a language, learn about consular work, and explore different facets of another country for 2 years. Even if that country isn’t one of my “high” bids, I feel extremely grateful to even get this chance.

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.

Quick Career Update

There have been some major developments on the Foreign Service front. While I was about to go to bed here in Thailand last night, I noticed on the Yahoo A-100 group that some people reported offers for the January 11 orientation class!! 

On November 24th State received hiring authority for January, much much earlier than the December 8-11 I had anticipated. I wondered if my life was about to change dramatically. (Spoiler alert: I still don’t know yet if I’m getting an offer)

In what would be the biggest mistake ever, I stayed up until 3:30 AM here (afternoon in DC..) to see if public diplomacy offers would go out. They did not, and still have not. While ecstatic consular, management, and some political coned candidates are celebrating, I’m still waiting. The time difference of night and day between us is not working well for someone as obsessed as me.

According to the official forums, offers for all 5 cones including PD and Econ will go out next week too. After Thanksgiving break! I am not super excited to be waiting until next week to find out my fate. But it’s a lot sooner than I had thought!

People as high as #22 and #24 were offered invitations though. That may bode well for a sizable January class! I am super hopeful that I will be called at #11 for PD. We’ll see in the next week!

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!




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!

German Language Testing Update- I passed!

Things in my life apparently tend to happen all at once- Saturday I graduated from Rice University, Sunday I moved out of college, and this morning I found out I passed the State Department’s German phone test for language bonus points!

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My oral assessment score will now be raised to a 5.77, with .17 bonus points added to my original 5.6. This puts me in an amazing position to get an offer for the next A-100 orientation class once I get my security clearance. I’m really hoping that will be in time for the proposed September 8th class later this year! Of course, it’s hard if not completely impossible to know how long the clearance should take. I’m still pending with the investigations unit, but the person on the phone I spoke to seemed to think things were wrapping up.

Passing German makes me feel a ton more certain that I will actually be employed as a Foreign Service Officer soon and won’t just time off the register. I’m especially glad that my chosen cone, public diplomacy, is not the most competitive at the moment. With a 5.77 in PD according to the Yahoo group’s shadow register, I’m ranked somewhere between number 2 and 7 out of 124 total candidates on the register. That’s a very solid place to be when offers for the next class go out! Now if I could just get that security clearance and pass final suitability review…

BEX/FSI Phone Language Testing

At the crack of dawn Houston time (aka 6:45 AM…) I called the testing center at FSI to start my phone German language test. Since the non-disclosure agreement also applies to language testing, I won’t go into what I was specifically tested on. I’ll simply agree that the Foreign Service career candidate guide is very accurate in how it describes the test structure.

The good: I’m really proud of myself for being to answer tough questions about politics and get through the whole test without really struggling for words or grammar- there were a few things I’m sure I could have phrased more diplomatically/professionally, but overall my responses seemed understandable and pretty fluent to me. There was never a moment I lost my train of thought or felt that I was in over my head, which I think is a really good thing! Before the test I had been practicing mock interviews 3-4 times with my German professor, so I pretty much knew what to expect. I also had taken a German literature class this semester, spoke German 3-4 times a week, read/watched the news often. I felt very prepared overall.

The bad/neutral: Overall, I have about the same feeling I felt after finishing the FSOA and awaiting results. I did just about the best I could, and it’s now up to the examiners if I pass or fail. It would put me among the top Public Diplomacy candidates if I gain the .17 points, but even if I failed I’ll still have a solid spot on the register with a 5.6.

A 3 (minimum professional proficiency) is a pretty high bar to reach, and I don’t want to assume that I definitely got the bonus points. I wish I had been a little more active in my responses- there were times when I was not sure if I should add more or not. And while my incredibly kind German professors at Rice assured me I had nothing to worry about, I’m not sure that I’d meet the high FSI standard of professional proficiency in German.

I remember looking at my phone afterwards and seeing that I finished at 7:06- the German-speaking part of the test probably took around 20 minutes. It felt like a really fast spoken test, and I’m kind of still in shock that I don’t have to follow the German news religiously anymore.

Security Clearances: Patience is Indeed a Virtue (that I probably don’t have..)

The original purpose of this blog was (and still is!) to document my process of joining the Foreign Service after college. Right now, I am still in the post-FSOA clearances phase of the process but things have certainly started to happen faster than I expected! Yesterday I received a phone call from a Houston-based investigator to schedule my security clearance interview.

Since this is a necessary part of the security clearance process, I’m excited that it could mean there isn’t much longer until I end up on the Register for public diplomacy. After they meet with me and some of my references at Rice, there shouldn’t be much more to investigate and my case may be ready for adjudications. It doesn’t seem like my clearance will take a year- most people reporting long clearances on the Yahoo group are dual citizens, have years of travel abroad, and extensive foreign contacts or even foreign spouses. I have none of those! I’m hopeful that I could get my security clearance and then pass final suitability in time for (potentially) the June or September A-100 classes.

I’m graduating from Rice exactly a month from today. These developments are putting me in a pretty weird position for pursuing other opportunities after college while I wait on the Foreign Service.  It’s hard to judge how long it’ll take and if I really even need to commit to other options at this point when I could be starting in September. I will definitely still apply for backups to make sure I have a job if something goes wrong from here. I’m looking into teaching in Thailand through CIEE Teach Abroad for a semester and am under consideration for a Peace Corps position, but I’d choose the Foreign Service over anything else.

Obvious disclaimer though: I really can’t be sure when any of the clearances will be finished and most of this post is pure speculation. One thing I remember when getting my Secret level security clearance last year was that things moved quickly after the personal interview. It was maybe 1-2 weeks after that I got an email confirming my clearance. I’m optimistic that the same could happen this time!

Post-FSOA Update: Medically Cleared for Worldwide Availability!

The past few months since passing the Orals have been a bit of an exciting and yet stressful blur. I had that lovely interlude where I traveled to Doha, but after that have been right back in getting all the tasks accomplished so that I can end up on the Public Diplomacy register soon.

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Today I got the best news in a while: I have been officially medically cleared!! I now have a Class 1 medical clearance, which basically means I am “worldwide available” in line with the Foreign Service condition of being able to serve in any consulate or embassy in even the least developed circumstances. I’m super relieved that the medical process is over. Now it’s down to waiting for a Top Secret security clearance and Final Suitability Review..