I’m officially jealous

Let’s start this off by talking about what a sweet gig being in the State Department’s Foreign Service is, training-wise.

A-100 is officially over, and Nate started his South Asian regional studies class last week.  He has several weeks of regional studies, and then Bangla training starts in the beginning of September.  (Depending on the language and how proficient your are/n’t, this can last anywhere from a zero to nine months.)

Nate, and all of the other FSOs going someplace that doesn’t speak English, are going to be paid to learn a language.  How fricking awesome is that?  I am practically green with envy.

I would love so much to have access to the kind of training that Nate and his classmates are getting.  And they’re getting paid for it!

And his classmates from out of town?  They’re getting free housing and per diem!  PER DIEM, people.  For the next six to nine months!

I guess I was paid during language and technical (ha!) training in Peace Corps, to the tune of a whopping $250/month.  So in my mind, that doesn’t count.

Yes, the Foreign Service has its perks.

So, Nate’s South Asian regional studies class: based on the stories I hear, it sounds like they spend most of the time watching movies.

Now, I know this isn’t the case because I incredulously asked if that was, and apparently they only watch movies during lunch. For some reason I mostly just hear about the movies when I ask Nate how his day was.

His regional studies class actually sounds really interesting, to the point that I wish I could go to his classes.  Last week they went on a field trip to a mosque and then had lunch at a Pakistani restaurant.  And on Thursday they are having a movie night.

Holy smokes, my job is boring.

It’s official!

Nate and all his A-100 classmates are officially diplomats!

The swearing-in ceremony was a few weeks ago at the FSI.  I guess the swearing-in ceremonies usually happen at the main State Department building in downtown DC, but the Africa Leaders Summit got in the way.  So instead the ceremony was held in the same room as Flag Day, which was nice for me since I already knew how to get there!

Nate’s dad and I showed up just as the ceremony was starting, and it only lasted about 30 minutes.  I definitely got a little teary-eyed when they said “Congratulations to the USA’s newest diplomats!” and everyone erupted into cheers, but it was a nice ceremony and it’s fun to see how excited and enthusiastic everyone is.

Afterwards everyone went to a nearby restaurant with their families, and the class had purchased heavy appetizers for everyone with the remaining funds left from dues paid by class members.  I don’t know if it’s the Peace Corps volunteer in me or what, but if someone says “free food,” I’m there in a heartbeat.

Nate and I kept the celebration going over the weekend by getting brunch at Farmers Fishers Bakers in Georgetown on Sunday morning.  We’ve eaten there numerous times, and the service can range from alright to down-right awful.  However, the brunch is all-you-can eat and you serve yourself, thereby eliminating the need for pretty much any waitstaff (aside from the coffee, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, and eggs benedict that they walk around offering to tables).  I ate so much, I could barely walk.  It was utterly pathetic.  Needless to say, their brunch is highly recommended!

Now we are doing my least favorite activity of all time (besides cleaning and putting clothes away): we are waiting for May 2015.  I think it’s easier for Nate than it is for me, but I’ll write more about that in another post.

Why I can’t wait for it to be May already

Before we joined the Foreign Service, I didn’t know very much about Bangladesh.  Thanks to my background in public health, I knew there was a problem with cholera which the international aid community tried to solved by drilling wells, only to give everyone arsenic poisoning.  I knew they had a big garment industry with dubious labor laws, and I’d heard about the terrible Rana Plaza factory collapse.

All of which is to say that I hadn’t heard many good things about Bangladesh.

Then we got the bid list and the real “research” began.  I started reading about Bangladesh, looking at expat blogs from Dhaka, scouring the post reports, and trying to get as much information as I could.

While all the information seems to agree that the traffic is horrid, the air pollution is really bad, it’s very hot and humid all year long, and the mosquitoes are terrible (wow, I’m really talking this up, aren’t I?), everyone also agrees on a lot of positive aspects about Bangladesh and life in Dhaka.  More specifically:

  • The food is amazing.  I love Indian food, tropical fruit, desserts, and fish.  It sounds like they have a lot of all three.
  • The expat community is friendly and supportive.  I’ve heard this is a post where you have to make your own fun, and everyone we’ve talked to mentions the good morale at post.  We’re excited to make new friends!
  • Regional travel opportunities!  Bhutan is only a 50 minute plane ride away.  We can easily travel to Nepal, Thailand, and any number of other places. Our friends might not want to visit us in Dhaka, but how about we meet up in Phuket?!
  • We’re not in the Peace Corps anymore.  Gone are the days of showering once a week, muddy outhouses, eating dirty potatoes, and drawing water from a well.  Thank you, God.
  • Athena gets to come with us!  There were a lot of posts on the bid list to which we couldn’t or wouldn’t have brought Athena. If Nate had been assigned to one of those posts, Athena and I would have stayed behind.  Dhaka isn’t ideal from a dog-exercise standpoint, but, hey, at least she’s coming with us.
  • There’s a local branch of Hash House Harriers.  Much to my chagrin, we are runners.  Running is a portable sport that we can do just about anywhere, and it’s nice to know there’s a large group of like-minded people in Dhaka already!

Nate went to an event at the Bangladeshi embassy a few days ago, and he came home so excited for our post there.  He talked about how friendly, welcoming, and enthusiastic everyone was, and I wish I could have gone too.

Maybe we’re naive for being giddy and excited.  But I’ve played the role of the jaded, angry expat and, frankly, it sucks.  It really sucks.  We are approaching Dhaka with our eyes wide open, knowing the challenges and difficulties that we will face, but focusing more on the opportunities that living there will present.

And we will make it awesome.


Flag Day recap

Oh, Flag Day.  What an emotional, exciting, panic attack-inducing day.  The most highly anticipated event of any A-100 class.

We had planned on going through the bid list on Thursday night and naming a positive aspect of each post so that we would be prepared for whatever Flag Day would bring.  But I was out late with our friends who were moving the following day, and Nate had loads of homework to catch up on, so that didn’t happen.

The next morning was like Christmas morning when I was a kid: I bounded out of bed earlier than I had planned, and I spent all day anticipating the afternoon.  Luckily I had a lot to keep me busy, otherwise it would have been the longest day ever.

That afternoon, I arrived at the FSI and sat with a fellow EFM.  The room was full of nervous excitement that just made everyone even more nervous and excited. Also, I don’t know if people hadn’t RSVP’d with how many people they had coming or what, but the room was short probably 100 chairs.  There were lines two to three people deep along the sides and back of the room.

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Finally the ceremony started, which included a procession of three people carrying all the tiny flags that they would hand out to each trainee.  There were many standing ovations, many introductions, and all I could think was, “Why don’t they just get started already?!”

The first flag on the screen was Saudi Arabia, which was one of our lows.  They were going through the posts really quickly, and eventually they called Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which was one of the posts that I *really* wanted.  Nate’s name wasn’t called and I felt slightly deflated, but one of Nate’s classmates who really wanted that post got it, and I’m happy for her and her husband.

Okay, I’m a little jealous.

Anyways, they kept calling off the posts, and eventually they called the first Dhaka post, which was followed by Nate’s name!  Nate cheered and proudly walked up to get his flag and to take an official photo.  Dhaka was one of our highs, a last-minute addition, and I know it’ll be a great opportunity for our family.

Three other people from Nate’s class are also going to Dhaka and I’m really glad to be part of a group of newcomers who will be figuring things out alongside us.

After the ceremony, several FSOs who are going to Dhaka later this year and are currently in language training came up to us and introduced themselves.  They gave Nate a little lapel pin with the American flag next to the Bangladeshi flag and invited us to a reception at the Bangladeshi embassy this coming Monday.  The FSOs told us how excited they are to be going to Dhaka and what a great post it will be.

Their enthusiasm and excitement made me even happier, and I genuinely can’t wait to move to Dhaka!