Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Alphabet soup

If you've talked to me any time in the past few weeks, you may not have understood a lot of what i said, due to the obscure terms and acronyms i was tossing about. You were probably too polite/lethargic to ask me to clarify, or you sought clarification and were only confused even more. Not to worry! Here is a handy reference guide to the terms and letters i'll be throwing around like pork on Capitol Hill. i'll even alphabetize it. After that, i will include a very brief and somewhat vague timeline of the big events and moves in this process. Hopefully this can answer many of your questions about my transition.

A-100: The official name of the seven-week training class, named after the room in which was originally held. Classes are numbered sequentially, dating back to... some time in the not-too-distant past? There are usually 4 or 5 classes per year, and i'm in the 136th. Each class functions something like a freshman floor at college: the people in each one tend to bond quite closely and stay in close contact throughout their careers.
Baghdad: Not where i'm likely to go on my first tour. To date, Baghdad is not a directed assignment - that is, the department hasn't started forcing people to go there. There may be extreme pressure to do so, coupled with pay bonuses and promotion incentives, but i almost certainly will not be compelled to go to Baghdad right out of the gates. Calm down!
Bid list: The list of positions - indicating starting date, location, language requirements, and job descriptions - that the people in my class may bid on for their first tour. The list is given to us in our first week of A-100, and we return it after a few days to the powers that be for processing. Everyone must bid every option on the list as high, medium, or low, and on Flag Day we find out where we go. Recently, nearly everyone in each class has gotten a post they bid high, with a few people getting mediums.
CNL: Critical Needs Language, such as Arabic, Chinese, or Uzbek, that the government has great interest in being able to understand but that has only a low supply of speakers. Generally, CNLs are harder to learn (and thus have fewer people attempting them in college, let alone high school), and there are hiring bonuses and incentives across the government designed to attract people to these posts. i entered the Foreign Service courtesy of knowing Arabic, which catapulted me (almost) to the top of the hiring list. Consequently, 2 of my first 4 posts must be served in an Arabic-speaking country.
DOS: Department of State. The official acronym.
Embassy: For most countries, the central and main diplomatic presence, which is located in the capital. In a few places, we do not have embassies per se because of political considerations. For example, we have a US Interests Section in Cuba, and the American Institute in Taiwan. Embassies are supported by consulates, which perform regional tasks, especially visa services, in areas outside capital cities. Notably, there are numerous consulates in Mexico on the border with the US. Work is shifting away from embassies toward posts further afield under the policy of transformational diplomacy.
Ethniklashistan: The generic name i use to denote where i'll be posted; used until i actually find out where i'll be going. The name is blatantly stolen from this Onion article from 2001.
Flag Day: The day in the sixth week of A-100 when we find out where we will be posted. This is a big event, with family members usually flying in for the celebration and some high-ranking official presiding. Each person in the class is presented with a small flag indicating the nation of their first post, and great rejoicing follows. There seems to be a subtle competition among FS people to see who can show the most joy at their assignment: the current record is doing backflips down the aisle and up to the podium to receive the flag.
FS: The Foreign Service. It gets really, really annoying to type that out each time.
FSO: Foreign Service Officer. i won't be one for about four to five years.
Hardship post: A post in a generally unappealing location, such as Ethiopia or Libya. There may be restrictions on which family members may accompany the FSO to post. Conversely, there is generally a significant pay bonus for serving in such a position. Under current plans for the FS, an FSO must serve a certain number of tours in hardship posts to be considered for promotion beyond a certain point. Luckily, pretty much everywhere that requires Arabic is considered a hardship post - my career path appears safe for now.
Packout: The day/event of having all of my belongings boxed up and shipped to my next location. This happens every time i am directed to move somewhere by the FS. i will have a packout in Arkansas on 24 September, as well as a much smaller one in DC in a few months, that you will be hearing quite a bit about.
Tenure: After my first two tours (2-4 years), i will be considered for receiving tenure, or being made a full officer. My time as a JFSO is considered to be training.
: The place at which i will be serving, as well as the length of time that i will be there. The average tour is two years long; in really terrible places, tours last 1 year, and in really nice places (Western Europe) they can last up to three or four years.
Unaccompanied post: Posts in really dangerous places, where the family members of FSOs cannot go along to live. Notable examples: Baghdad, Kabul.
USAA: The institution that provides banking, insurance, and financial services to military members and their dependents. Happily, FSOs are invited to partake of this organization's largesse, which means i get significant savings on insurance and banking issues. Color me excited!

Here's a basic timeline for the next few months. i will add stuff to this as needed, and in the future i will provide links back to this page so i don't have to keep retyping this over and over again.

13 September: Leave Arkansas.
14 September: Reach apartment in Rosslyn.
17 September: Start A-100.
Week of 17 September: Receive from and return to orientation staff my bid list. Keep an eye open that week - there will be lots of information here for you to consider, and i will be fielding advice/questions.
24 September: Packout. All of my possessions that don't ride to DC with me in my car will be packed up and shipped to storage in Maryland. i'm only moderately stressing this!
2 November: Flag Day!
5 November - 31 December(?): Additional training, such as language, security, job-specific, etc. The length of training in previous classes has ranged from 3 to 10 months, so i'm just guessing with that closing date.
2008(?): Going to my new home abroad!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The positive side of the Foreign Service?

Yesterday i was talking to a good friend who has considered taking the FS exam in the past. i asked her if she had registered for the new test this fall, and she surprised me somewhat with her response. She told me that after hearing the bureaucratic hell that i'm going through right now in figuring out insurance, moving, and the like, she wasn't so sure that she wanted to go through with it. Basically, she was waiting on me to give some positive reviews of the Foreign Service before she tried to walk the same path.

It was an interesting perspective, and it made me think. i'm reminded of a passage at the end of Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth, "agitated and confused, rather knew that she was happy, than felt herself to be so; for, besides the immediate embarrassment, there were other evils before her." Of course, i'm not engaged to a rich man i previously hated, merely about to embark on what is a dream job by all accounts, but the immediate evils of paperwork and wading through piles of insurance policies and financial plans are weighing heavily on my mind. Everyone i know who is currently in the FS loved the training that takes place in DC, and almost everyone seems to get a first post that enthralls them. At the same time, job descriptions vary so widely by embassy that, unless i'm issuing visas in my first post (a distinct possibility), i really have no clue what i will be doing once i start my actual job.

As much of a long-term planner as i am, this prospect terrifies me a little. The Foreign Service is all about frequent moves and unplanned-for events, things that are somewhat anathema to me. However, it's also about travel, flexibility, intellectual and cultural interaction, and politics - all things i love. i think i'm going to get a rapid upgrade in my skills at adaptation.

Right now, i'm surrounded by most of my books (438 according the spreadsheet i have open) and the three sets of china that are waiting for the appraiser's visit on Monday. In the next few days, i will post a loose timetable for what will happen to me once i move to DC, as well as a guide to some of the terms i'll be throwing around in the future. In the meantime, it's time to move on to sorting through the inherited quilts.