Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Passed the QEP!

I am greatly relieved to report that my personal narratives (short essays) somehow made it past the Qualifications Evaluation Panel(QEP) and I am moving on to the next step in the process of becoming a US Diplomat, the Oral Assessment (OA).

Needless to say, I am very excited to have made it this far but I also know that unless I make it all the way, none of it really matters. Now I have to figure out how to prepare for the OA.

The OA, in case you were wondering, is an interview on steroids. It’s an all-day affair that starts at 7 a.m. and may last up until 6 p.m. It includes a group exercise, a structured interview, a case management exercise and an exit interview. More information on each of these components of the OA as well as sample questions/scenarios can be found here

At the end of the OA, you know if you have passed or not and if you are one of the few that pass, you get to go home with a conditional offer of employment. It’s conditional because you still have to get medical and security clearances and pass the final suitability review. If you pass the final suitability review, you get to hang out on the hiring register, where everyone is arranged according to their scores from the OA. That’s the list of candidates from which the department makes the hiring calls. There are actually five different registers - one for each of the five career tracks in the Foreign Service (Consular, Economic, Management, Political and Public Diplomacy). You pick your track at the very beginning of the process, when you register to take the written test (FSOT). I picked Management.

If you know a foreign language or are a veteran, you can get extra points, which would improve your position on the register. The higher you are on the register, the more likely you are to get called. But again, there are no guarantees you will get called because you can be on the register for a maximum of 18 months. New people are constantly being added to the register and their scores may be higher than yours, in which case you will get bumped down in your position on the register. If you don’t get called within 18 months, your name simply drops off the register. Which means, too bad for you because if you are still interested in becoming a diplomat, you have to go all the way back and retake the FSOT and all the steps thereafter. Yeah, let’s hope I won’t have to do that but this will be my first time taking the OA and I know more than a handful of excellent Foreign Service Officers, who did not pass the OA on their fist attempt and had to start from scratch (sometimes multiple times).

So that’s where I am right now. I have scheduled my OA  - it’s on January 27. Wish me luck and if you have any advice on how to prepare for the OA, I am all ears.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Adventures in Hindi

So it’s been two weeks since we started Hindi and I am still loving it. I hope I don’t jinx us by saying that but so far it’s pretty awesome. That is not to say that it’s easy or that I am doing all that well. I just enjoy it. I’ve always loved languages and it is very reminiscent of the way I learned English in Bulgaria as a teenager.

Our Hindi teachers are really nice and the other students in the group are very cool too. We have 4 to 5 hours of instruction and drills in Hindi every day and then language lab time in the afternoon. But class is more than just learning Hindi because we often talk about Indian culture. We spent some time talking about big fat Indian weddings and Bollywood movies/music last week, for example.

We are finding out that they weren’t kidding when they told us to expect to gain 10 lbs each in Hindi training. At the end of our first week of Hindi the students who are learning Hindi at FSI ahead of us had an Indian feast for us. They had made/bought a bunch of  Indian treats to welcome us to Hindi – so sweet. Then last week we celebrated the birthday of one of the students in the earlier group and the engagement of another with cake and ice cream respectively. So, oy do I need to exercise!

We are making progress with Hindi for sure, though it may be in fits and starts sometimes. We know almost all the letters of the Hindi alphabet (yay) and are starting to read. We can now hold very basic conversations and d0 s0 multiple times each day. We also spend hours and hours doing various drills. There are a bunch of sounds in Hindi that do not exist in English or Bulgarian, so it’s been hard getting my ears to differentiate them and my tongue to pronounce them correctly. Some things make no sense. For instance, there is one word for yesterday and tomorrow in Hindi. That totally baffled me at first but our teacher said it was completely logical because you would know what the speaker was referring to based on the tense they use. I guess I have to trust her on that one for now.

The word order is different than in English or Bulgarian and they use postpositions instead of prepositions in Hindi, so instead of saying “I am from America.” you say “I America from am.” That takes some getting used to but hopefully with time it will become second nature. Hopefully!!!

So, I totally feel like a kindergartener but that’s OK because some of the constructions are starting to make sense and I am slowly starting to read the beautiful filigree that is Hindi, which is such a wonderful feeling. And get this, I can now write my own name in Hindi!

It looks like this:


How cool is that! I even installed the Hindi keyboard on my computer. Finding each character takes me forever but who cares - I can type in Hindi, sorta, kinda, almost!

Being in Hindi class each day has made us even more excited about moving to India. We have been watching Indian movies, listening to Indian music, eating Indian food, talking about India non-stop in class and outside, so no wonder we can’t wait. We got the New Delhi Embassy newsletter last week and they had announcements for trips for embassy people to Rajastan for the camel festival there and to the Taj Mahal (which I now know means Crown Palace!). It’s a bummer that we have to wait at least 8 months before we can see those places. 

Taj MahalSource

I just can’t wait to get my own sari, decorate my hands with henna, take the trip to the Taj Mahal and experience all that India has to offer. I am also a little nervous because India is very much an in-your-face type of place with overcrowding, insane traffic, pollution and crushing poverty but hopefully we’ll learn to handle all that somehow. Everyone says that you either love it or you hate it. I hope it’s the former for us.

Speaking of the Taj Mahal, I recently read this article about it in the Smithsonian magazine. It’s a serious piece about the damage the amazing sight has sustained through the years but there are some neat pictures, videos and graphics that go with it too and I never tire of looking at pictures of the Taj. Thought you might enjoy them too.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fancy Onesies for My Little Man

This post is about something fun I did last week but tomorrow is 9/11 and I can’t help but think of what happened on that day 10 years ago. The media have all kinds of stories about the anniversary and how our lives have changed in the last 10 years. I toyed with the idea of writing about where we were when it happened and how the events affected us but it’s just too depressing and I don’t want to go there. I will never forget it as I am sure no one who lived through it or was in any way touched by the events would. 9/11 and the events that followed robbed the world of its innocence  (or whatever was left of it) as far as I am concerned. I don’t have anything profound to say about it other than wishing I had a magic wand, so I could undo it. Unfortunately, have no magical powers. But enough about that.

Back to my fun project. It’s been a long time since I had done anything creative and my hands were just itching for a neat little project. I had seen several cool little onesies ideas on Pinterest but had to wait until I was done with ConGen before I could gather the necessary supplies and work on one. I ended up picking a tie onesie for Chutney that ended up looking like this:

IMG_1071Sure, the tie on this one came out a little fatter than I envisioned it (kinda 70s style) but isn’t he adorable in it anyway?

I made two of them using the instructions here. I used two plain white onesies and two silk clip-on boys ties I found at a second-hand store. I was going to ruin the ties to make the onesies, when I realized that I could use the back hangie piece for the onesies and still be able to use the ties for Chutney when he’s a little bit older. I guess I am cheap thrifty that way. It’s a fairly simple project but my decision to use actual tie material (silk) made things a little more complicated because silk is quite flimsy. I had to use some interfacing to strengthen the silk and the back of the onesie, so the needle didn’t put holes in either material. In addition to being flimsy, the grey-blue silk is bleeding fabric die onto the onesie but oh, well. If I make more, I’ll probably just use simple but colorful cotton fabrics. You live, you learn, right?

So here you see the ties and how I chopped off the backs for this project. Below are the two finished onesies.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Everybody Back To School

Today was the first day of school for everyone in our family but Chutney.

After a summer that apparently was too long and boring (not really), Nia was delighted to start third grade. She could hardly wait to meet her new teacher and classmates. Here she is all smiles heading off to school this morning:


It was also the first day of Hindi language training for Paul and I because I did get into Hindi. I am happy to report that we all survived our first day of school.

For Paul and I it was an interesting first day, though it was a little light on actual learning. We had orientations, tours of FSI and introductions to teachers, systems and services in the morning and a series of tests to determine our learning styles in the afternoon.

We started language with about 1,000 other people all learning different languages. Some were learning a language for the first time, others had quite a few under their belts. It was neat to see some of our ConGen classmates go into language training at the same time as us. Two of my ConGen classmates are even in Hindi with us, which is pretty awesome, though they both know some Hindi already.

I had started working with Rosetta Stone Hindi way back when I was pregnant but by the time Chutney came, I had hit a wall and had a really difficult time moving forward without help. After Chutney was born, Hindi sort of fell by the way side somewhere in the blur of sleeplessness.

By the time I resurfaced out of the post-partum daze, I realized that I had somehow in a hormonal lapse of reason signed up for the FSOT and ConGen (I’m a glutton for punishment, I tell you), so Hindi had to stay on the back burner a little longer.

I had applied to take Hindi with Paul but didn’t know if there would be space for me in the class until late August. But I lucked out and here I am on the cusp of mastering the Bollywood lingo. I am rather excited that I have this opportunity because it will help me when we get to India and it may be useful if/when I become a Foreign Service Officer myself. I get to learn a language and I don’t have to pay for it – pretty darn awesome, no?

Our Hindi group at FSI is rather small – only nine people right now but one of our classmates will only be with us for 5-6 weeks. The rest of us will be studying Hindi for 36 to 44 weeks, which is quite a while if you think about it. All but the classmate who is leaving in a few weeks are headed for New Delhi, so it’ll be good to get to know the people with whom we will be serving at the New Delhi Embassy/Consulate.

We are starting out in the group of nine until we figure out how to read Hindi (called Devanagari script), which apparently should take us between two and four weeks. So for now Paul and I are in the same group but after we learn to read we will more than likely be separated into two smaller groups for the remainder of language training, which is fine.

Language learning at FSI is apparently really intense but a lot of fun too. There are a lot of tests as well as cultural activities and tons of food, which is a blessing and a curse. I already gained a few pounds during ConGen and was hoping to shed them during Hindi but today we were told to expect a weight gain of about 10 lb during Hindi training! Yeah, not good for those of us trying to lose the baby weight but I do like me some Indian food every now and then. Just thinking about it makes me salivate…

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