I have been a diplomat for two months now, but I haven’t updated my blog. A lot has happened. I finished A-100. DC slowly became home to us. We were assigned to Jamaica. We bought a new car. I finished area studies, and today I turned 27. I just either didn’t feel like any of it was important enough to write about or I was too exhausted. But I always wanted to know what happened at FSI, so here it is.
First off, the 181st A-100 class was awesome. We had lawyers, teachers, and a police officer. People who spoke four languages and people who taught at FSI’s language school. We had a guy who took hip-hop dancing classes at Harvard and moved to Taiwan to be a monk before becoming an arms dealer for the US Government. An vegetarian with an Aussie accent whose favorite food was barbecued sparrow. Degrees from Harvard, Oxford, Colorado State, and Cal. One guest speaker described the foreign service as “elite but not elitist.” I like that. Less than 2% of people who apply for the foreign service get hired. I was the youngest person in the 181st, and it was sometimes overwhelming to hear about all of the impressive things my classmates had done. I had never felt elite on my own, but I certainly felt elite to be part of that amazing group.
Every class picks a name. Ours is the “Intrepid 181st.” I think intrepid describes life in the foreign service. We left our families, homes, and careers (some that paid substantially better than entry level law clerk salaries) to come to DC. From DC, we will trade in running water, paved roads, and safe neighborhoods for hurricanes, ebola, and civil unrest. All to serve our country and make America safer.
I’m glad to be here. I love my job. I’m in Con Gen right now and am learning how to do my actual job (more about that later), and it is a lot of fun. When I’m driving past the Washington and Lincoln Memorials with my windows down, I can’t believe how lucky I am to be working and living here. When I read about the important things I’ll get to work on in Jamaica, and the difference I’ll be able to make in the lives of Jamaicans and Americans, I know I picked the right career.
At this point, what happened during A-100 is a blur. We had public speaking classes where we practiced giving speeches and answering really tough rapid-fire questions from “media.” We took some classes on writing. We had dozens of guest speakers on diplomatic history, raising a family in the foreign service, women’s issues, and visited the ops center, a high-stress operation that runs the State Department. Think of it as the HQ for intelligence and coordinating efforts during big world events. It’s always staffed and ready to respond to crises. In fact, you have to stand up and announce when you are going to the bathroom (and a blue light turns on).
The highlight of A-100 for me though came 3 days in when we got the bid list. Since I had never lived abroad, the biggest cause of suspense for me was wondering where I would be living. I expected the list to mostly be Brazil/China/Mexico since those are our busiest embassies and consulates. I was surprised to see that although those countries were on the list, there were a lot of other ones. We each ranked posts as high, medium, or low preference. I ranked most of the Caribbean, Mexico, Asia and Europe high. I ended up listing 21 out of 59 posts high, far more than I would have expected.
I expected to go to Jamaica from the beginning. I couldn’t find anybody else who listed Jamaica as a high preference and there were 3 openings. So when I heard my name called for Jamaica, I wasn’t surprised at all. I was surprised, however, that a friend from my class who speaks Chinese would also be coming with me. I’m really glad he is coming because our wives get along great and he has a kid close to Allie’s age.
Two months from now, I will be writing from my couch in Jamaica, wondering how Kingston will ever feel like home. I guess that puts me right in the middle of arriving and departing. That’s life in the foreign service. We are always in transit. We are intrepid by choice.