Ok, here's the post about work. This being my first post, and me being a consular officer, I've started out in NIV (non-immigrant visas). That means that I spend about 4-5 hours every day interviewing people who want to come to the U.S.A. on a temporary basis, whether as tourists, for business, schooling, work, etc. Costa Rica has a relatively high approval rate (80% or so), so that means that a healthy majority of our applicants are qualified.
U.S. immigration law basically states that everyone applying for a visa is presumed to be an immigrant, and to qualify for a non-immigrant visa, one has to convince a consular officer that they possess strong enough ties to their home country (work, family, economic, etc.), that they will come back.
Another nice thing about Costa Rica is that it isn't a "visa mill" like some of the posts out there. I hope that having medium volume and a majority approval will keep me from becoming jaded too quickly. Still, after thinking, speaking, and writing interchangeably in two languages all morning, I feel fairly mentally exhausted when we finish.
So what do I do in the afternoons? I'm glad you asked.
Sometimes I eat lunch. There is a cafeteria at the embassy, but I haven't eaten there much. I've gone a few times to some local places; all have been cheap and good. The consular section is very much like a marketing department, in that there always seems to be food around. And not usually the healthy kind. There's even a club (I confess: I'm a member) that brings in desserts to share on Mondays.
Sometimes I write letters responding to people (could be lawyers, congressmen, senators, etc.) who are inquiring about visa cases. Earlier this week I went to a local school to give a speech (in Spanish!) and pass out certificates to students who earned scholarships to study English. A couple of weeks ago I worked the Costa Rican presidential inauguration.
All in all, it has been pretty awesome so far.
A big reason I chose the consular cone was to have a lot of interaction with the local populace. I thought about my past travels, and realized that the people really make a place special. And since I interview about 70 people each day (this should increase with experience), I have the opportunity to engage the culture on many levels.
One the interesting things I've discovered is the large number of Chinese people in Costa Rica. I remember being surprised in Guatemala when we drove through a veritable Chinatown, but the Chinese people here seem to be more integrated. I've interviewed plenty of people with names like (changed for security) Chang Jimenez or Huang Sanchez.
Another interesting thing is how a native Spanish speaker's Spanish accent changes if they speak English. It's subtle, but I am getting pretty good at guessing the people who speak English before I ask them.
In the consular section we wear ties 4 days a week and relax a bit on Fridays. I've had to wear a suit at least once a week since I started for some reason (important meetings, outings, etc.). One thing that isn't cheap here is drycleaning. It costs almost $5 per shirt. The sad thing is, at that rate, it is more expensive to dryclean my shirts than to hire a part-time housekeeper who will wash, dry, and iron our clothes, not to mention clean the rest of the house and maybe cook.
And so this weekend we'll be interviewing potential domestic helpers for the first time in our lives. Hopefully I can figure out the right questions in Spanish, and hopefully we find someone who fits well this first time. We're want to start with someone part-time and move them to full-time next year.
Earlier today I experienced my first earthquake. I was sitting at my desk when there was a loud rumbling. I heard it and heard a few people around me start to react, but before I could ask what was going on, the shaking started. Honestly, it was really cool. I've always wanted to feel an earthquake. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was a pretty good rush. I'm looking foward to more. Costa Rica generally has a good number each year.