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.

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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!

 

Waiting sucks

I didn’t even know it was possible for time to go by this slowly.  I now understand why most blogs tend to taper off during A-100: after you submit your bid list, it’s all you can think about, and waiting for Flag Day is the pits, but most people probably don’t want to read like five posts on you day dreaming about getting sent to one of your highs, especially since, OMG, you already handed in the stupid list, and whatever happens happens so get over it already.

Anyways, Nate is at a class retreat in West Virginia, and I’m not really sure what that entails.  I’m imagining a ropes course, trust falls, grilling hot-dogs over a campfire, and bunk beds in log cabins.

I’m traveling to North Carolina for a work training this afternoon.  I’m staying at a hotel by the airport, and if there’s anything I’ve learned over my years of traveling, it’s that there’s never anything fun near the hotels by the airport.

Other than that, not much is happening.  Athena saw me come down the steps with my suitcase in hand, and she started running around, wagging her tail.  She probably thinks we’re going to Canada again, poor girl.  She got her most recent BarkBox in the mail last Friday, which was a momentous occasion for her.  This was a particularly good box: 4 different kinds of treats and a squeaky toy!

 

Signed, sealed, and emailed

Guess what we did today?!

We submitted our bid list!

Thank God.  I’m glad it’s over.  It’s out of our hands now, and whatever happens, happens.

We had 12 days to rank all the posts high, medium, or low, and towards the end I was ready to just be done with it.  It’s an exciting, fun, overwhelming, and sometimes disappointing process (“Did you know such-and-such-a-place has a some-large-number day dog quarantine, during which time the vet can do whatever it wants to your dog, including euthanizing it, and they don’t even need your authorization?!”).

There are dreams of perfect posts, expectations you hope will be met, and wonderings about how you’d cope with a low post.  You talk about your bid list with other FSOs and their EFMs, careful not to talk up a post too much because maybe then they’ll bid it high too (which sounds terrible and evil, I know).  You worry you spend too much time talking about The List with your non-FSO friends and that they’re getting tired of hearing about it.

Well, what’s done is done, and now the waiting game continues.  But at least I don’t feel like I need to be doing more post research in the mean-time.

On joining the Foreign Service

Last week I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in several months, and I mentioned that Nate joined the Foreign Service.  She gave a knowing laugh and said, “Nate didn’t join the Foreign Service– you both joined the Foreign Service.”

I’m coming to realize how true this is.  It’s also a little frustrating, and difficult to put into words.

We both (well, ideally both of us) are going to go live where ever the State Dept decides we should go.  We both will be packing our belongings, uprooting our lives, leaving friends and family, and starting a new life someplace else.  And this is going to happen every 2 years or so for the foreseeable future.  It’s going to be exciting, challenging, fun, and also a little frustrating.

The thing is, while we both are living this lifestyle, very much together, Nate is the one who’s an FSO.  I am an EFM, “Nate’s wife,” or, even worse, a trailing spouse.  But that is not me.  I feel like my identity is getting lost in the shuffle.

At the FSI and during A-100, they do a good job of including EFMs.  There are EFM trainings, we are invited to happy hours and social events, I was included in Nate’s meeting with the Career Development Officer, and we even get some happy hours that are specifically for us.  There seems to be a strong understanding of the fact that us EFMs are important in our own right, and without our support the whole moving-around-the-world-every-2-years thing wouldn’t happen.  But even so, it’s like we’re support staff for the main act.

Initially I was excited by the idea that I might not be able to work full time, depending on our post.  It would give me an opportunity to focus on photography or to tackle all those kitchen projects I’ve been dying to try but haven’t had the time (like making croissants and bagels).  Now I’m worried that won’t be enough.

I don’t want to lose myself to the grandiosity of the FSO, because we are both in the Foreign Service.  We are doing this together.

 

 

How to pick?

We just got Nate’s bid list, which is the list of all the potential places we could be sent.  There are lots of people in the class, so there are lots of places on the list.  It’s a little overwhelming.

We can’t share exactly what’s on the list, so I won’t go into specifics.  However, I will say this: there are very few places on the list that would truly suck.  Some would be downright awesome, and others would be interesting (in a “that’s interesting…” way).  Our major deciding factors are safety and whether or not we could bring Athena, who is a mutt of unspecified geneology.

Ultimately where we (or Nate) go will be determined by the State Department’s needs.  He is, after all, worldwide available.  Maybe this whole process is just a way of convincing ourselves that we have more say in the location of our first post than we actually do.  Who knows?  We won’t find out until August 1, which can’t get here soon enough!

Pros of being a local hire

We already live in Northern Virginia, so we don’t need to move in order for Nate to start A-100.  Those that do need to move to the area have their housing in NoVa paid for and they get per diem.  We do not.

In order to not dwell on the fact that we are missing out on hundreds of dollars every week, here’s a list of the pros of being a local hire:

  • We don’t have to move (yet).  Moving, even with professional movers, is a huge pain in the ass.  We will have to do it eventually, but it’s one less time then all the out-of-towners.
  • We get to stay together.  Nate’s job is here.  My job is here.  Simple enough.
  • Athena can keep her yard.  Yes, I called it “her yard” because, let’s be real.  She rules the roost.  She also gets to keep her swimming pool and doggy friends.  When she’s happy, we’re happy.

Athena and her best friends, the L’s, AKA The Pointer Posse

  • We have time.  Time to fix up our house so we can rent it out.  Time with Nate’s parents.  Time with our friends. Time to figure out what to do with our stupid Honda Accord with a broken transmission and an expired safety inspection.
  • We are not abandoning our garden.  We have raspberries, blackberries, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, lettuce, zucchini, and snap peas all coming in.  And there is still hope for our fig tree which seems to have died over the winter.
  • We get to go on vacation.  While others are moving to DC, unpacking and readjusting to life here, we will be having a blast on the lake in Canada.  It will be awesome.

Okay, that’s all I got.  But those things are pretty huge, really.  I love our life here, and I’m glad we get to spend at least a few more months in Alexandria!

Before A-100

There are probably people out there who are/will be reading this blog who aren’t our friends and family.  This the internet, after all, so that’s just what happens.

Maybe these strangers (welcome!) just received their A-100 invite, or their spouse/partner did.  If so, this post is for you.

I was going crazy with the small amount of information we had received before Nate’s A-100 class started.  We knew the date he started and that was it.  And that, if you are terribly excited and dying to know more, isn’t enough.

Eventually, maybe 5 weeks before the A-100 start-date, Nate got a very large packet in the mail with some official-looking documents, a bunch of informational pamphlets (including one for the DC aquarium which I’m pretty sure is closed), a handbook called “Let’s Move,” (oh wait, that’s not it) “It’s Your Move,” and loads of paperwork.  It wasn’t very exciting.

Then two weeks (exactly) before June 30 he got several emails with several attachments, including info for spouses.  Finally!  The A-100 class that was two classes before Nate’s is sort of chaperoning them through the A-100 orientation process, answering questions, organizing some social events, and being otherwise awesome.

The really cool thing is that spouses and partners (also called EFMs, or eligible family members, which I suppose also includes children) are involved in pretty much everything except the A-100 classes.  EFMs can even do language training!  How great is that?  Sometimes I wish I didn’t already have a job so I could just go to language classes all day.  There is an orientation class for EFMs, and a bunch of other smaller seminars at the FSI.  It makes a lot of sense, really.  The Foreign Service can’t just send FSOs overseas with their unprepared families and expect things to go well.  It’s nice to already feel included in the community.

So, don’t worry, you’ll know more soon!  And until then, just keep surfing the internet.

The start of something new

I’m sitting here at my desk, “working” and obsessing over our future life in the Foreign Service.  Nate starts his A-100 training class at the end of the month and it is all I can think about.  I daydream about potential postings, worry about how Athena will handle the plane ride, wonder what life will be like (parties! free housing! parties! moving every two years!?), and fret about how much money we’ll spend getting our house ready to rent.

Nate, on the other hand, is as cool as a cucumber.  I wish I had his ability to just sit back and let the time go by until June 30th.
Athena, obviously, has no idea what’s going on, and her primary concerns are finding the optimum snuggle spot and when she might get fed next.  The good news is that she can still get her BarkBoxes when we are overseas!  Man, does she have a rough life or what.