Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Return to AP US History?

This will be a brief post, as i'm trying to be quiet so as not to wake my house guest on the couch ten feet away. (The Arabic student network comes through yet again - a friend from my program in Wisconsin is staying with me until her apartment lease starts Saturday.)

We've finally moved out of most of the bureaucratic phase of orientation, thank any and every passing deity. We've started two new modules, or thematic units, that won't be concluded for another few weeks. One is Foreign Service writing, which the former copy editor in me finds amusing and entertaining. The other is Diplomatic History, designed to give us a grounding in the history of US foreign policy since the inception of the nation. i'm finding it fascinating, not the least because it's been six years since i studied this in a course. There's an added impetus for me to understand these issues now, courtesy of my job title. For example, the election of 1800 is more now than just two dead white guys facing off (not that i thought it that simplistic, but stick with me here), it's the first peaceful, regularly scheduled transfer of power from one party to another. It's also relevant because the winner (Jefferson), one of the nation's more eloquent founders, was also an ardent supporter of slavery. How we view this mixed legacy and how i can apply and convey those lessons once overseas is very relevant to me.

i have a couple of post ideas in the works but not produced yet. For the next few days, you'll probably be seeing a lot of historical stuff, so feel free to tune that out if you so desire. Here's a thought piece for you as i go get ready for work that will be especially familiar (maybe?) to people from ASMS. Think about Washington's farewell address to Congress. Is it relevant to consider his concerns when thinking about our own foreign policy now?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Weekly Humor, Round 1

i would like to say that i have a newfound appreciation for academia - you know, when you only have to be in one place for two to four hours a day, and the rest of the time is spent doing whatever the hell you want and can disguise as work.

Because of security considerations (and a healthy departmental disapproval of blogging), there's not a lot of specifics i can share about my job and the people i meet. This is your regularly scheduled reminder that you are reading this as a close colleague, friend, or family member. Even though i will not be divulging many specifics and will probably change a lot of details, please keep in mind that this isn't a public blog for a reason! (The Security Guy came and lectured/barked at us today. Can you tell?)

With that out of the way, it's time to move on to Weekly Humor. Yesterday we got to mingle with a group of outgoing ambassadors who wanted to meet the newbies for some unholy reason. Before we met them, the question was raised in our class of how many were career Foreign Service people and how many were political appointees. (The United States is, if i am not mistaken, virtually alone in the world in continuing to appoint large quantities of political ambassadors without a career in diplomacy; they make up around 30% of our ambassadorial work force.) We were told that there were indeed some political appointees among the group, but we were not told at first who they were. When i saw the pack, i noted that some of them wore an American flag lapel pin while others did not. i had trouble keeping a straight face when, during introductions, i discovered the perfect correlation between lapel-wearers and the list of political appointees. It was a small sample size, to be sure, so i'm hoping i can meet a large pool of ambassadors to test my theory further. Now i'm trying to see if i can find some interesting common behavior displayed by those classmates who wear a patterned shirt (green gridded lines on cream, shall we say) with a differently patterned and colored tie (pink paisley). Then again, color-blindness might be the problem. Let's hope so.

Also, today i discovered that crying can be an effective negotiating tactic, or perhaps it only works when you're dealing with an insurance company that is already predisposed to offer good customer service. Surprisingly, i haven't used the tears-on-command tactic much in the past, to my family's great happiness, i'm sure!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One day down!

Well, i survived my first day. It is again brutally apparent that i am the youngest in the class, but hey, what can you do? There are three other people from Memphis, which in a group of 61 is demographically freakish. i've met a lot more people, which is nice... only one other Arabic specialist, which makes my bidding process more interesting.

Speaking of! Here's my list of places to which i might go. i have sorted them into strong possibilities and places in which i am not particularly interested. That's not to say that i would dislike any particular place... it's more of a comment on my prior knowledge of languages and cultures!

Baku, Azerbaijan - My first choice, a political/economic tour leaving in June.
Cairo, Egypt - Not high on my list, surprisingly, because it's consular (blah) and leaves in August. i don't need that much Arabic!
Dubai, UAE - Not particularly high because serving here wouldn't qualify me for partial student loan forgiveness, and because it's consular and i wouldn't use much Arabic (which isn't even required for the position).
Islamabad, Pakistan - An interesting one-year consular tour, although it would require learning Urdu and leaving in August. Not a high choice, but not a bad tour.
Istanbul, Turkey - This is a political tour, which would be amazing, although the drawback is that i would need to leave ASAP and i'm not comfortable in modern Turkish yet (Azeri is very similar but still a separate language). One bonus is that there don't seem to be any Turkish speakers in my class - low competition since i have a leg up on Turkic stuff!
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - It's a political and economic one-year rotation, which sounds really nice, but it leaves in August. That's a lot of time to kill. Upon reflection, this is probably my best bet.
Jerusalem, Israel - Requires Hebrew but can be converted to an Arabic position with some hard lobbying. i won't be lobbying for this one; i intend to avoid anything dealing with Israel and Palestine in an attempt not to sink my academic career before it even starts.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - A consular, one-year tour leaving next September. Not high on my list.

And now, the rest. i won't add anything else on this post... just savor the possibilities!

Abuja, Nigeria
Asmara, Eritrea
Baghdad, Iraq
Beijing, China
Bogota, Colombia
Brasilia, Brazil
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Chengdu, China
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Geneva, Switzerland
Guadalajara, Mexico
Guangzhou, China
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Guayaquil, Ecuador
Hermosillo, Mexico
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Hong Kong, China
Johannesburg, South Africa
Kingston, Jamaica
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Lagos, Nigeria
Lima, Peru
Manila, Philippines
Matamoros, Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico
Monterrey, Mexico
Nuevo Laredo, Mexico
Paris, France
Port au Prince, Haiti
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Recife, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
San Salvador, El Salvador
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Seoul, South Korea
Shanghai, China
Taipei, Taiwan
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Warsaw, Poland

Monday, September 17, 2007

Welcome home!

While i still have a few household goods i need to acquire (as well as edible things, since i haven't made it to a grocery store yet), i am largely settled in. i have learned a few important lessons since i've arrived, most stemming from our hair-raising trip to Ikea and Target yesterday.
  • People in DC make the soccer moms of St. Louis look like wonderful, patient drivers. The drivers here appear to think that honking will solve everything, up to and including traffic jams, stupidity, and global warming. Also, speed limits seem to be fiction, or perhaps randomly generated numbers.
  • Maryland evidently sees no need to label its roads with trivialities like street signs, exit numbers, signs describing to what each exit leads, official highway numbers, or how to reach major highways from access roads.
  • Virginia and DC, while better than Maryland, aren't exactly star-quality players in the road sign department. Signs describing each exit generally are only seen once you've taken the exit. Additionally, the various highways have all of the coherence of a bowl of spaghetti. My directions for returning home yesterday from Ikea had me take a right fork, a left fork, and a right fork - all within a single half-mile. Clarity? Logic? So overrated.
  • Living near National airport is very loud and nerve-wracking, but hopefully i'll get used to it quickly. There's just something a bit unsettling about seeing all of these planes flying in so close overhead that i can see their reflection in the local ABC affiliate's business tower next door.
  • MapQuest and Google Maps directions don't necessarily correspond to reality. Neither do the addresses given by stores' websites.
In other news, today i had my first meeting with a number of my classmates and the people in classes immediately before me. i think that, on the whole, things will be fine. It's intimidating to walk into a party without knowing anyone, but i managed. i found several people i had corresponded with via email, as well as lots of Arabic specialists, so that made things easier. The hardest thing is that i'm easily five to ten years younger than most of my classmates. It helps that i can say i have an MA... i just don't mention that i'm a tender 22! With any luck, by the time everyone finds out that fact, i'll already know them fairly well. The meet-and-greet was held at an ambassador's house, and i really wanted to meet him, because he used to head up State's Central Asia and Caucasus desks. Sadly, he was off in Sarajevo doing ambassadorial things. Maybe i'll meet him later... his son was there tonight and is learning Arabic in preparation to go to Riyadh. Maybe i can finagle an introduction.

Also - while i will find out on 2 November where i will be going, i am guaranteed to be in the US for at least another two weeks after that and possibly quite a bit more, solely on account of passport processing. After i'm done with that (one week of training plus one to eight weeks of processing), then i will move on to whatever training - language, functional, security - that i will receive in the States before moving abroad. The upshot is that it looks like i'm guaranteed to be here through Thanksgiving at least.

i think i should include another weekly feature - the Bilking of America (with apologies to Brian Williams and NBC News). Look for future installments (maybe on Sundays?) under the tag "bilking." First up - the deal i've worked out with my landlord!

Now, i'm in DC on temporary training duty, which means i cannot stay here any longer than twelve months. The upside is that my housing in DC is completely paid for on a declining per diem schedule - i get the most money for the first two months, somewhat less for months three and four, and even less for the remainder of my time here. However, through the wonders of creative accounting, i am allowed to "front-load" a lease - i pay more up front for the first two months, when i'm allowed more money, and my lease becomes a lot cheaper as time goes on. This A) enables me to get an apartment that i normally couldn't afford under my per diem schedule for more than two months and B) allows my landlord to receive $5850 this month, instead of the normal rent of $1950. The best part? If i were staying in DC for the full twelve months of the lease, then it would average out to $1950/month overall, but the chances are that i will be here no longer than four months. Thanks, Uncle Sam!

And now, on to a few photos of my new home and the surrounding neighborhood - you can click to see larger versions of the photos. i've included a map here that i have been constructing today with important locations and stores marked on it. Clicking the blue "pushpins" will give information about what is at that location. As i slowly figure out my way around, i'll add photos to the map. Will anyone actually use these features? i doubt it, but hey, i'm finding it quite fun!

This is the view towards the south from my balcony, overlooking a line of trees that largely obscure the Iwo Jima memorial. It's there, i promise!
i'm not really clear what these statues, located across the street from the entrance to my apartment complex, represent. Any ideas?
This statue is right by the nearest Safeway. Walking to a grocery store is a novel concept - carrying back what i buy is novel and a pain. Hopefully i'll adjust, and if there's some weight loss in the deal, well, so much the better.
i think that's it for tonight - i have to be at the shuttle stop to the training center by 7 tomorrow morning. If you made it to the bottom of this very long post, congratulations. Be sure to check in tomorrow evening (after six-ish Eastern time) for the list of places where i could be sent. At that point, you can start offering advice, your personal preferences for future vacations, and questions about the first day!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Greetings from Rosslyn!

Short post tonight - i am in Rosslyn and settled in to my apartment. Relevant photos will go up soon, as will a more in-depth exploration of DC. i'm too brain-dead right now!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Countdown to Moving

Whew. In seven days, i will be on the road somewhere in east Tennessee, working my way towards DC. All sorts of stuff is piled up creatively around my house; my mother appears to be nearing a nervous breakdown every time she looks at the mounds for more than ten seconds. But it'll be over soon, right? Right?

i have little new to report, other than the resolution of a few dates. 24 September is when all of my possessions will be packed up and shipped out, and 2 November i will find out when and where i am going.

On the suggestion of one friend, i think i will institute a weekly feature or two. Every Wednesday evening (chosen because it will coincide with the end of her worst class each week, when she'll need a laugh), i will try to post some amusing anecdote about either the morass of bureaucracy i encounter or entertaining cross-cultural misunderstandings. i could easily be convinced to add another weekly feature, if suggestions for theme are good enough.

By this point, i think i have my readership list fairly well set. Everyone, shake hands with the reader sitting next to you. Play nice in the comment sections, don't run with scissors, and enjoy the ride! i think i will - once i'm in DC, not now!