Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Calling All Box Checkers!

Hi, my name is Laila, and I am a Box Checker. Hi Laila.

Like many people in the Foreign Service, I am a Type A overachiever. I'm always been a compulsive list maker, but apparently now I'm a box checker as well. For this to make sense, I guess I need to back up a bit. In order to make tenure, every FSO must be off language probation, serve one year in a Consular position, and for those of us with Critical Needs Language (CNL) points, must serve one of the first two tours in a country that uses the CNL.

Last week I had a meeting with my advisor to discuss my preferences and how I ranked the bid list. One of the first things he said to me after I sat down was that I was quite the Box Checker. I didn't know how to take that at first, especially since I've been trying to internalize the unofficial Foreign Service mantra "It Depends" and am making an honest attempt to be flexible. The last thing I wanted to do was appear rigid to the person who holds the direction of the next two years of my life in his hands. My most important preference showed my true nature though: use CNL points and/or take a Consular position. I'm lucky enough to already be off language probation, so I figured if I could get the other two requirements out of the way in the first tour then I would be free to choose what I wanted for the second tour. I guess that doesn't sound quite as flexible as I had hoped....

After our meeting, I considered my advisor's suggestions and spent a good portion of the weekend researching countries and ranking, rearranging, then re-ranking the bid list. Last night I submitted my final list of preferences and the ranked bid list, so now it's out of my hands and the chips will fall where they may. I plan on spending the next 13 days trying to be flexible, but for now I'll be answering most questions with "It Depends".

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What a Week!

I was totally unprepared for how exhausting A-100 was going to be, but I also had no idea how much I was going to love it! This last week has been a complete whirlwind, and as family and friends can attest, I've pretty much fallen off the radar. We officially started the 153rd A-100 class (Orientation for Junior FSOs) on Tuesday, and have since been listening to high-ranking speakers, learning the ins and outs of State, and receiving the highly anticipated bid list.

Oh, the bid list. I have spent the last five days excitedly researching cities all over the world, including googling many to find out where they were even located! We aren't allowed to publish the list, but I can say that it's pretty fantastic. I've done my initial ranking of the posts, but don't have to submit the list until next week so I'm sure it will change several more times...My biggest hope is that I'll go somewhere where I can use my Arabic, preferably in a large city. Of course it would be also nice if Gene had some employment opportunities, or at the very least a reliable internet connection for telecommuting purposes. I happily signed several forms indicating that I'm World Wide Available so we'll have to wait and see what happens!

Now I just have to wait three more weeks till Flag Day!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Every MOH has a HOH!

I am officially a Foreign Service Officer! That still sounds so weird to say. So many years prepping for this moment, so many months wading through the application process, and now here I am, a State Department employee! Don't mind me while I sit here and do my happy dance.

To overuse my school analogy, today was like class registration. Except for the part where we swore to uphold the Constitution. I feel very lucky to have already held two jobs in my life that require me to pledge allegiance to this country. Even though this wasn't my first time saying the oath, it still gave me goose bumps!

“I, Super Happy Brand New FSO, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

We spent the rest of the day listening to fascinating power point presentations about health insurance, retirement benefits, and various other administrivia. My favorite speaker dropped by at the end of the day to discuss traveling for State. During the Q&A portion, the subject of marriage while at post came up. In no uncertain terms, the speaker informed us that there's no problem "acquiring" a husband when you're abroad. Glad to know it's no more complicated than picking up a piece of antique furniture or a handwoven rug!

Now of course he was teasing, but this made me think about my own situation and two of my favorite Foreign Service acronyms: MOHs and HOHs. Since Gene and I aren't married, in the eyes of the government he's my Member of Household [MOH] and I'm the Head of Household [HOH]. I'll wait for the jokes to stop.

Still waiting.

Ok. Whether or not we'll get married has to be one of the most frequently questions we get asked, right after "where are you going?" and "what will he do?" So here's a quick explanation for those of you who haven't heard our decision: we aren't rushing to the alter. Neither of us wants to get married before we're ready just because it's convenient and we'd get more money, although the extra money sure would be nice...I'm unbelievable lucky to have a boyfriend who is so supportive of me taking this job that I want to make sure I'm equally supportive for him. It will take some time to figure out what he can do abroad and if this lifestyle really is for him. I'm pretty certain it is for me, but this is my dream, and I don't see the need in putting any undue pressure on him or our relationship. Plus, there's no reason to hurry down the aisle towards yet another acronym: EFM [Eligible Family Member]. Although it does beat the slightly pejorative "trailing husband."

Now the paperwork is done, my freshly printed badge is in hand, and A-100 training begins tomorrow!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Back to School

So tomorrow is the big day! This moment has been months in the making, and yet it seems like it just snuck up on me. I've spent the last week closing one chapter of my life, saying goodbyes to friends and colleagues, and spending several evenings celebrating the transition from one job to another. Somewhere in there I've managed to shop far too often, buy a few too many suits and pairs of dress shoes, and host a meet-and greet for a group of my A-100 colleagues. (The goverment is full of fun acronyms, which I will outline more thoroughly in a future post, but A-100 is the orientation program for Junior Foreign Service Officers.)

Growing up, I was always the kid who couldn't wait for the new school year to start. I looked forward to the back-to-school trip to Staples to buy new colored pencils, notebooks, and pretty much any other office supply you could imagine. I got my first planner in the sixth grade, and every year since then I've had a bit too much fun picking out the perfect organizer. Now five years after college graduation, I feel like tomorrow is the first day of school all over again. And just like elementary school, I have a new notebook and pen ready to go, albeit in a more professional looking bag instead of my old Jansport backpack. I have butterflies in the pit of my stomach, but it's mixed with excitement, and just like the old days, I can't wait to get the schedule for the next five weeks. Nothing like a syllabus on the first day to get me out of bed in the morning. Yes, I'm just that cool.

Tonight the 151st A-100 class hosted a reception to welcome my class, the 153rd A-100, into the Foreign Service. It was great meeting so many of my classmates, and seeing familiar friendly faces from my party last night. At least this will make the first day a bit less nervewracking. Now all that's left is obsessing over the perfect outfit.