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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Preparing to move to India

There are a ton of things to be done when you are getting ready to move overseas. Our pre-departure checklist was pretty intimidating at first but we have been checking items off of it and it is starting to look like we may actually be able to get it all done without gouging each other’s/other people’s eyes out. Here’s what it looks like a with a little less than a month left before wheels-up:

1. Getting Max added to Paul’s travel orders – Check!

Somehow it was hard for various people at the State Department to understand that leaving for India without our one-year-old was not an option. It took about a year of going back and forth before it was finally done and we could move forward with everything else.

2. Medical Clearances – Check!

We had to just update Paul’s, Nia’s and mine and that was as simple as filling out a one-page form for each of us. Max was born after we had our med clearances done, so we had to start from scratch and get a full medical clearance for him. It took a couple of months and some nudging but it was ultimately done in time.

3. Diplomatic passports – Check!

It took a couple of weeks but not really bad. We all had to appear in person with our applications, so we had to do it on a day when Nia was out of school early.

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4. Nia’s school registration – Check!

She is registered at the American Embassy School in Delhi, which everyone says is a terrific school and we are all looking forward to a smooth transition there even though we are arriving close to the end of the school year (end of May). It took a little paperwork but that’s to be expected. The school staff seems very helpful. We were able to transfer all the paperwork online without any issues.

5. Indian Visas – Check!

It took a couple of weeks but we finally got word yesterday that we got them, which is a relief because without them, we can’t get our housing assignment or our airline tickets.

6. Airline Ticket Reservations – Check!

Pretty straightforward except for an error we noticed yesterday. Somehow one of our cats “fell off” the reservation because they thought it was a duplicate. It took a few hours on the phone to get that straightened out.

7. Luggage – Check!

We needed suitcases for our checked luggage. The suitcases we had from before had disintegrated, so after doing some research online, Paul and I hit the stores today. Based on our research, we settled on the expandable, hard-side spinner variety. We came home with these:

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Our understanding is that each of us is entitled to one piece of checked luggage free of charge (by the airline) and one more that we can get reimbursed for later. So we got 8 total.  The black and red ones are Jeep Radial 28", which cost $132 each on amazon.com. We bought them for $80 each at Burlington Coat Factory. The gray and navy ones are Revo Cycle 24", a brand we’d never heard of before but they were $41 each on clearance at Ross (compared to $103 each at ebags.com and buy.com), so we decided to give them a try. We’ll have to see how they hold up.

It also became apparent that we needed new carriers for the cats because ours were the wrong size and material. Our old carriers were hard and the airlines wanted soft. Plus, we are flying two different airlines to Delhi (United and Lufthansa) and what do you know, they had different requirements for carrier size!!! It would have been much easier if they had the same requirements but that would be asking for too much, right? So we had to go with the lowest common denominator in terms of size and got 2 Bergan Comfort Carrier (small) at amazon.com for $27 each. They look like this:

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8. Business and social sponsors in New Delhi – Check!

These are the Foreign Service folks  that will meet us at the airport and help us adjust to life in New Delhi. They may do a little shopping for you before you get to post and answer questions about housing, shopping, logistics, services, culture, work environment, office attire etc. From what I hear, a good sponsor is worth their weight in gold when you are new in town.

9. Vaccinations – Almost Done.

  • Humans – almost done. We got ours at the FSI medical office and they are pretty good. They provide you with the country specific information and make recommendations but it’s up to you what you ultimately get. The kids needed 6 shots total. Paul and I needed 9 because we weren’t current on our shots. That’s a bunch of shots, so the med office broke them up into three appointments. We are done with the first two. We are getting things like Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis,  Typhoid, Hepatitis A and B (for Paul and I) and Yellow Fever. We are a little nervous about Malaria and Dengue Fever but were told that we’ll probably be fine in Delhi as far as Malaria is concerned and don’t need to take the preventatives because they have unpleasant to nasty side effects. There’s no Dengue fever preventative, so we’ve been told not to get bit. Easier said than done but I guess we’ll need to make sure we get plenty of bug spray and mosquito nets for everyone. Those of you that have experience living in Malaria/Dengue prone parts of the world, what do you use? I am specifically concerned about the little ones. If you know of a good AND safe bug spray, please let me know in the comments.
  • Cats - current with their vaccines. All we need for them is a final certification by our vet and the US Department of Agriculture that the cats have not gotten some sneaky disease within 10 days of our departure.

10. Final Hindi test – Scheduled.

No, we are not ready to take our final tests but we are more than ready to be done with them.

11. Pack-out – Scheduled.

Of course, it’s wonderful that our stuff will be packed and moved by professional packers but we still need to separate it into four categories, which is quite an exercise. The categories are:

  • Carry on and checked luggage that we take with us on the plane
  • Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB) –  up to 700 lb for a family of 4
  • Household Effects (HHE) – up to 7200 lb
  • Long-term Storage – up to 18,000 lb that we can leave behind here in the US

12. Consultations in New York – Scheduled.

Paul has to go to NY for two days of consultations. We scheduled them for the first week of April, which is after our Hindi tests and during Nia’s spring break, so Nia and I can tag along. Nia has never been to NY and I thought it would be nice for her to see it before we move overseas. If you have any ideas for cool stuff to see/do in NY for a 8-year old, please leave me a comment.

13. After-packout temporary housing – Kinda up in the air.

This is where we will stay for a few days (up to 10 allowed) after all our stuff is packed out. We talked to Oakwood Falls Church, which is five minutes from where we live right now but they didn’t have any two-bedrooms available, so we are on a waitlist there. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll either try to fit into a one-bedroom or look for something elsewhere.

14. Housing assignment – Up in the air.
Knowing where you’ll live and what type of space and furniture you’ll have is helpful when you prepare for pack out (remember those 4 categories in #11 above?) but that information is not always available before you get to post. You are given a housing questionnaire about 6 months before departure and you can express your preferences there but ultimately everything depends on what’s available at the time of your arrival at post. We want to be on the compound because it’s across the street from the school but so do others and only about 20% of the people in Delhi can fit on the compound. Those are usually people with kids and they tend to stay put until the end of the school year (end of May), so our chances are not great but hopefully we’ll get lucky.

15. Transit insurance – Working on it.

This is insurance for our stuff during transit. When we moved from Florida for A-100, we didn’t get it. We had a couple of damaged items. They weren’t anything major – a broken coffee table and a cracked bookcase – but you never know what may happen in transit. Plus, the distance is substantially more this time, so we have decided to get transit insurance. We got a quote from Clemens and are thinking about getting another one from Hirshorn. What do you guys do for transit insurance?

16. Selling the car – Working on it.

The car (van really) is not new or fancy but was great having it while we were in the D.C. area as we bought it cash and had no payments and it worked great for us. So far, we have posted signs on the car itself but they haven’t generated any interest yet. We need to clean it well, take some pictures and put it up on livelines, craigslist, facebook and at the FSI cafeteria. Hopefully, one of those will work. If not, we’ll have to sell it to CarMax, which is fine as a last resort but they won’t give us much for it.

17. Arranging for transportation to the airport – To Do.

We will have a ton of luggage in addition to the cats, kids, strollers, car seats etc. , so a normal car won’t work. We will either have to call a van or, as a friend suggested (Thanks, Amy!), a stretch limo and travel to the airport in style.

18. Shopping for stuff that’s not available in India or if it is, it’s insanely expensive – Nowhere near done.

When you are moving to a country that you haven’t even visited before it’s hard to know what you are going to miss, even if you’ve done your research and read all the post reports and talked to people that have lived there. We hear that pretty much anything we may need is available in Delhi these days but some things are 3-5 times more expensive. I know from several sources that I am a Bigfoot by Indian standards. Apparently,  8.5 is the largest ladies’ shoe size available there. I wear 9.5, so I just have to go shoe shopping. I don’t want to but I have to, so I will sacrifice. I am also told that ladies’ unmentionables are not the same quality as in the US, so that’s something else I’ll have to sacrifice for.  Some dry foods (cereal) and drinks (wine) are either not available, poor quality or very expensive but I am not quite sure what to do about those.  Our Costco membership expired recently and it doesn’t make sense to renew it now but I might tag along with one of my sisters-in-law for some necessities. 

And yes, preparing to move overseas ain’t cheap. If you have a credit card with a good rewards program, now’s the time to use it. We recently got the amazon rewards credit card and are putting most of our pre-departure purchases on it. You are already spending money like it’s going out of style, you might as well get some points while you are at it (we can use our amazon points on pretty much anything later). Oh, we also have Amazon Prime, which we have enjoyed in the US for a couple of years but hear is nice overseas as well.

What am I forgetting? Any advice, please leave me a comment?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Great Wall of Hindi

What you never heard of it? That’s because it’s a figment of my imagination but I can assure you it exists and I have been banging my head against it for a couple of weeks now.

It has recently come to my attention that our final Hindi exam will be on March 29 and I that has me feeling just a tad bajigity. With less than a month left till the exam and about a month until we leave for India, everything seems too up-in the air for my comfort.

But back to the Great Wall of Hindi. I knew I would hit it. I hit the wall of language learning when I studied English eons ago and I don’t remember that particular time fondly. I anticipated to hit the Great Wall of Hindi around Christmas but that didn’t happen for some reason. I was so busy with the holidays and school that I forgot about it. Well, I am definitely feeling it now and it’s not fun.

About three weeks ago in Hindi class we moved away from grammar and into reading newspaper articles and making oral presentations in preparation for our final exam. Sounds pretty benign, right? Don’t be fooled, it’s anything but. I remember, a few months ago when we were newbies and were doing mostly grammar and basic lessons, we would talk to the advanced Hindi students and they’d tell us how they were reading newspaper articles and discussing them. I was so jealous. I don’t know what I was thinking but it just sounded so cool and interesting (compared to grammar). Well, I have reached that point only to realize I was totally delusional. Because here we are, buried in high-level vocabulary on hard-core topics like terrorism, environmental issues, crime and punishment, education, health, economics, government and politics and I can’t make heads or tails of it. As I read newspaper articles, I see tons of words that seem familiar but I just can’t, for the life of me, remember what they mean. They just don’t seem to be sticking in my head the way they used to. So frustrating! I hear from students, who have successfully passed their language tests that the last month is the hardest but that it gets better in the end. It’s so overwhelming right now that my brain hurts.

But I am just the spouse, so what pressure, you might ask. Well, things changed a little for me since I passed the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. Because I passed but my score was not very high – 5.3 (minimum to pass is 5.25). Not that I am complaining. I know it’s infinitely better to pass than not to but because my score was on the low end, I now need language bonus points in order to get hired. Otherwise I have to start from scratch and that’s no fun.

Hindi is a critical needs language and passing my exam with 2/2 will give me a much needed bonus of .4 and boost my score to 5.7, which is still not ideal but I am much more likely to get hired with 5.7 than with 5.3. It’s not guaranteed, just more likely. Plus, if I get hired, I am much more likely to get posted in India (hopefully Delhi) with Hindi, than without it, which would be nice because we’d like to keep the family together, if at all possible.

So, yeah, the pressure is definitely on as far as language but there’s also all the stuff that we have to do in preparation for our move, so bajigity has become my new normal. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy Hindi anymore but I just can’t wait to be done with class and get to India already so we can use it for real. I realize that passing the exam doesn’t mean we are going to know everything there’s to know about Hindi but we’ll have a good foundation, on which we can build once in India. In that sense, our arrival date (in India) can’t come fast enough.

Until then I need to go review some new vocab. Here’s hoping it sticks…

 
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