Friday, July 31, 2009


This week marked the beginning of general consular training (ConGen). When we move to China next year I will be one of a handful of consular officers in Chengdu. The training lasts for six weeks and broadly covers the main job functions, applications used, and more! Here are the basics:

Consular officers are responsible for assisting overseas U.S. citizens with everything from registering children and issuing passports, to jail visitation, adoption or abduction, or other emergencies. Consular officers have the sole authority (by Presidential commission) of adjudicating visas to foreigners seeking to travel to the U.S. There's a lot more, too, but that's a good overview.

ConGen includes bits (that's for you JA) from every aspect of the job, including field trips to the airport (to watch DHS process incoming visa holders) and the morgue (to get used to seeing dead people). Yesterday we examined a bunch of documents to determine if they were real or forged, and we'll also receive training in detecting lying.

The hours are generally good, too. There has been a lot of "administrative time" so far (read: sleeping in until 9). But it's a trade-off for not being able to miss a single minute of ConGen. No leave time--period. After ConGen I start Mandarin, which has similarly strict attendance requirements.

Sara comes home tomorrow; I'm so excited!

Blasts from past(s?)

Last weekend was my 10-year high school reunion. Sara and I flew to Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon with just enough to time to do a little shopping and check-in to our hotel before heading to the restaurant. Overall it was a very pleasant experience--turns out many people were as nervous as I was about forgetting names, faces, etc.

A lot of my closest friends didn't attend, but I've seen/spoken with most of them with some regularity anyway. My wonderful wife tolerated us staying longer than we probably should. The most interesting thing was seeing how most people DON'T change. We'll see if that holds true in 10 more years.

The next morning we drove out to our old church, where I attended from age 11(ish) until I moved to Texas six years ago. It was like another reunion (minus the alcohol) except that I remembered the people a lot better. After church we grabbed lunch and headed back to the airport so I could be back on Monday for ConGen (next post). Sara stayed in MN for the week (Malachi was already there). They come home this weekend.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Header Updated

No more mystery (for two years)!

Friday, July 24, 2009

It's Official (again)

Yesterday was our swearing-in ceremony as Foreign Service Officers. But it was only that--a ceremony. We took our oath on the first day of training (more than a month ago) because we had to be sworn-in to get on the payroll. Even so, it was a nice ceremony and the Deputy Secretary administered the oath.

All this means that today is the last day of A-100. We all (mostly) go separate ways starting on Monday. A fifth of the class starts work at Main State on one-year D.C. assignments, and the rest of us start various trainings (consular, language, security, area studies, etc.). For me, it's general consular training (ConGen) followed by months of Mandarin.

Tomorrow is my 10-year high school reunion. I'm looking forward to it. Sara and I are flying to Minneapolis and in the morning, and I'm coming back on Sunday night. Sara and Malachi (already in MN) will stay there for a week visiting friends and family. So my first week in ConGen I'll also be flying solo in D.C.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Flag Day!

That's right! Next year we are headed to Chengdu, China! I have job and language training starting next week, and the earliest we would be leaving the States is April 2010. This was one of our top choices and we're all very excited (especially Malachi). It's a small post covering a huge region, so it should give me lots of great experience and responsibility. I'll post more later; headed out to celebrate!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lesson Learned (and more)

Remember that air baggage that I said got delivered? The good news is that it WAS the boxes we were looking for. The bad news is that said boxes DIDN'T contain some of the things we thought they did, most notably our clothes. Or our printer. Or Malachi's toys. What did we get, you might wonder? Well, we received several dented boxes of organic macaroni and cheese, Sara's jewelry box, and the contents of our filing cabinet (sans cabinet). Unfortunately, this is our fault for not watching what the packers were putting in what box (though so many things were packed and repacked that they were confused as well). Oh well.

There were two rather stressful activities this week during A-100. We each gave a short speech and then were critiqued by a professional and our classmates. They also gave us a copy of the speech on DVD so that we can share the humiliation with our friends and family. My speech actually went pretty well--it was a confidence boost.

The other activity tested our composure under tough questioning. Part of my job as a diplomat is to defend U.S. policy, even if I personally disagree with it. The activity involved rapid fire questions from classmates about all aspects of U.S. policy, personal questions, hypothetical situations, etc.--everything from Guantanamo Bay, to Michael Jackson, to CIA. My classmates insisted that I appeared to be very composed, but I was pretty stressed on the inside.

I know I've mentioned this before, but it's very exciting--Monday is Flag Day! We will all assemble to receive tiny rectangles of colored cloth that represent the next 2-3 years of our lives. I'll make sure to post the information here, as soon as I can, and after important parties have received a more personal notification.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Woods

This week, my orientation class had our offsite training at "The Woods" in West Virginia. This is a legendary part of A-100 and it did not disappoint. I'm not really at liberty to discuss exactly what goes on, but I will say that it's focused on leadership training.

It was also a great social opportunity. They say that your orientation class becomes your Foreign Service family, so social interaction is very important. In fact, Sara is out bowling with some of my classmates as I write this (I came home after dinner to put Malachi to bed).

I'll try to post again tomorrow about some of the other exciting things that happened this week. but there are two big headlines for now:

1. Our REAL air shipment finally arrived!
2. We find out where our first post will be on Monday!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Week in review

This was quite a week. Malachi went in for his EEG (read Sara's blog for more info) on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday he was admitted to the hospital (again, read Sara's blog). He was discharged on Thursday after all his tests were clear.

Thursday night we went to a restaurant downtown D.C. called Marrakesh. About 50 members of my orientation class (+ families) shared a private room for a 3-hour, 7-course Moroccan feast, complete with belly dancers (not being eaten). After everything that happened in the previous two days, it was nice to get out and relax.

The movers finally came with our air baggage. That's 600 lbs of our stuff from Dallas that wouldn't fit in the car--things like clothes, kitchen stuff, a lot of Malachi's toys--useful things. Unfortunately, there has been some kind of mix-up, and they delivered some boxes that were supposed to be in storage. So we got Sara's wedding dress instead of our wearable clothes. Oh well.

Last night (Friday) was poker night at a classmates' place. It's really been a privilege getting to know my colleagues. I'm humbled every day by their knowledge, skills, and experience. Oh, I was out first from poker (bye bye $20), but joined in some of the other games (Apples to Apples, Mad Gab, Wii).

Ok, gotta stop; we're running out to the door to the zoo!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fourth of July

It's not that I've been avoiding the 4th, I just haven't been out to see fireworks in a few years. But I'd been looking forward to Independence Day ever since I found out that we'd be in D.C. Some people told us we HAD to go downtown, and some said to avoid it at all costs. I'm very glad that we went, and would do it again.

We took the metro downtown around 4 p.m. and staked out a place near the Washington Monument. Dad, mom, Malachi and I walked to the Air & Space museum to look at the rockets. Dad walked back to relieve Sara of place-saving duty, and she met us at the Natural History museum. Malachi loves the dinosaur bones, mummies, and just about anything else...for about 10 seconds...and then he wants to see something else.

We got back to our viewing spot with about an hour to go until fireworks. They were great. It's not that the display was particularly spectacular, but the location, scenery, and crowd really did it for me.

We cut out a few minutes early to huff it to the Metro station, and made it out on the first train.

Here are a few picture highlights from the day:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Where are we going?

As I mentioned in a previous post, we received our bid list for assignments last week. Signing on to this job means I have agreed to be worldwide available, despite our preferences for or against a certain country or region.

The current bidding process requires us to clearly state three primary preferences (e.g. I want to learn a language, I don’t want to stay in Washington, beaches make my skin clear up, etc.) and then rate all the available jobs based on those. Our preferences include learning a difficult language, going to a post eligible for the student loan repayment program, and staying in D.C. until the baby is born.

Yesterday we had a meeting with my Career Development Officer (CDO). CDOs are the folks who will be assigning us to our first two posts. We got to talk over our preferences and get advice on how to bid. Many people find this process unhelpful, but we were encouraged by it. Our situation is a little unique because Malachi’s medical clearance might be downgraded from 1 to 2 (this would limit where we could be posted).

One other note: we took the Modern Language Aptitude Test on Monday and I scored in the 99th percentile. This was very encouraging to me as I look to tackle a difficult language.

Internet Woes

One of the reasons (certainly not the only reason, and probably not even the main reason) that I haven’t blogged a regularly as I’d like is that the internet in our apartment is slow and unreliable. The whole complex has wireless (nice) and it doesn’t cost extra (nicer), but unfortunately it proves that you get what you pay for.

Our laptop picks up the signal alright (2–3 bars out of 5 on connection strength); the desktop rarely works as well. Also whenever the air conditioner kicks on, there’s a small chance the internet connection will drop for 5–10 seconds (laptop) or permanently (desktop). The worst part is that even when the connection is “good” it’s still too slow to stream anything from Hulu or Netflix.

We have looked into other options, but haven’t found anything yet. Verizon FIOS is available in other buildings in the complex, just not ours. Comcast says Cox covers us and vice versa. Oh well, maybe it’s a good adjustment period for life overseas.