Monday, May 23, 2005

Paper Trail

My packet of explanatory papers finally arrived, exactly 2 weeks and a day after I faxed my updated resume to the FS. I actually saw the FedEx truck pull up outside, and opened the door just as the deliveryman was raising his hand to knock. It doesn't look like many of the forms have been updated since the last training class -- many of them say 'return by November 30, 2004'. But I've been so eager to receive them, any minor flaws aren't going to bother me.

In addition to information on salary, moving procedures, etc., the packet also included a quarter-inch high stack of forms for me to sign. That might not sound like a lot, but it was enough to take me a day or two to fully go through. Life insurance, healthcare providers, retirement plans, tax forms, beneficiaries... There's a lot to decide. Even though I've been wanting these things, I feel too young to be seriously thinking about them. It's like I'm playing Foreign Service dress-up. Using a crayon to sign my name would have somehow been more honest.

The three most important papers are the FS employment contract, the policy agreement (part of which says I must be professionally supportive of U.S. policy, even if I don't personally agree with it -- this was the hardest thing for me to sign), and the medical history update. These had to be signed and faxed right away. Yet, upon opening the packet, these were not the papers on top of the pile. The form on top was a bright orange pamphlet titled "Achieving a Drug-Free Workplace" (sadly no little plastic cup was enclosed -- you know something's official when you're giving urine).

Salary-wise, I'm pleased that my MA has put me in a higher bracket. I honestly (perhaps stupidly) didn't know that having an MA would do that. The difference in salary between having it and not means that the cost of tuition will effectively be recouped within 3 years.

Now I've just got to figure out where in D.C. to live and what to pack.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


This morning while casually reading through the paper, I came across a brief mention of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya which killed 224 people. And for the first time, I think, I seriously considered the fact that what I'm doing might very well lead to my death. By taking this job, I could die. I could die in a gritty and horrible manner. I felt a real wave of fear which left me with knots in my stomach.

This surprised me. I really can't think of much that I'm afraid of -- certainly some vague, statistically unlikely possibility of death was never high on the list. But maybe it's the very unlikeliness of it which makes it so daunting. Now the probability has been raised just enough to make the chance seem real, yet not enough to justify drastic steps to safeguard against it. I suppose something about that balance is the root of unease.

The faceless, almost banal quality of this sort of death bothers me as well. The paper this morning is full of stories about the military personnel who have died fighting overseas, but mentions of embassy bombings warrant little more than a blurb on the back page. It disturbs me to think that this is how I could end. It disturbs me to think that 224 people died in Kenya, and I have no idea who they are.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Civic Duties

Yesterday I wrote a second set of letters to my Congressmen, voicing a few concerns. And today I sent the Honolulu paper a letter to the editor, hoping to raise some awareness locally, too. It's a bit daunting to think that U.S. policies are now going to directly impact me not just as a citizen, but also as a representative of the government. I have to defend the laws and contracts being passed in our legislature. It's amazing how civic minded that makes one...

I don't know if letters and such really make that big a difference, but if we don't tell our representatives what we think, we don't have much license to complain when they don't do what we want. At any rate, I would certainly encourage people to voice their opinions. For U.S. citizens, it's relatively easy. You can find the addresses (email and post) of all congressional representatives at the following website:

I'm not a big fan of all the reactionary soapbox stuff that gets posted on the above site, but it is very handy to have all the addresses of every official all in one place. You'll need to know the zipcode of where you're actually registered (for me it's Florida, though I'm living in Hawaii); there's not much use in writing people who don't represent you.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Impatient Rambling

Some preliminary research into the sort of training I'll be undergoing has revealed few specifics. This seems to be partly by design (I repeatedly find references to requests from the FS itself that details of the training and application process not be discussed), but due also in part to the broad nature of the work itself. Each posting will have its own unique set of requirements and challenges. This brings to mind all the reserved advice people gave when I was joining the JET Program.

One thing which surprised me was how few people the FS actually employs. According to the 2003 edition of Inside a U.S. Embassy, the FS "is made up of 11,000 Americans, two-thirds of whom staff our 259 embassies and consulates abroad and one-third of whom work in Washington, D.C." Each embassy also employs local staff from within the host country, and these Foreign Service Nationals add about 30,000 people to the FS staff. Of course, both sets of numbers are probably slightly higher now that we've further engaged Iraq and Afghanistan. As of 2005, there are only 25 countries not home to a U.S. embassy or consulate*, and all but a handful of those are under the perview of a U.S. embassy in a neighboring country.
    (You're probably wondering why I'm being so detailed. Truthfully, I'm halfway afraid of being subjected to some sort of popquiz my first day of training.)

    I also now know that my eventual destination won't be fixed until my 6th week of training. I keep assuming that I'll end up in Japan, but it's really not safe to assume anything at this point. Other trainees' typical bid lists are about 25 to 30 countries long, and pretty varied. Wherever it is I go, I most likely won't be staying there more than a year; they tend to move the junior officers around quite frequently.

    As I'm typing this, I'm listening to William Shatner perform a cover of the Pulp song "Common People," and it's disturbingly good.

    *for those of you who care, those countires are: Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Bhutan, Comoros, Dominica, Guinea & Bissau, Iran, Kirbati, North Korea, Libya, Liechtenstein, Maldives, Monaco, Nauru, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, San Marino, Sao Tome & Principe, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

    Monday, May 02, 2005

    The End of Waiting

    It has been approximately one year since I sat down to the Foreign Service written exam. At that time I was living in London in a cramped East End flat, trying to convince myself that the MA I was earning really would lead to some sort of job, and that toiling away in the British Library feeding books to my obsession with concepts of Self and Other was an entirely healthy and natural thing to do. And now, in Hawaii, a million miles away from London and the British Library Cafe's lovely cups of latte, I find myself contemplating a whole new life occupying new and different cramped rooms in far off lands -- this time for the good of my country. And this time, getting paid.

    After all the rigamarole about medical clearances and background checks, the emailed job offer was rather anticlimactic. But as the realities of the situation are slowly dawning on me, I find I'm becoming more excited. Putting in my 2 weeks notice at my current job was blissful -- I will never ever ever ever ever ever ever work retail again as long as I live. Instead, I'll be doing something impactful and meaningful and dashing and brave. And -- not to get too mundane here -- I'll have health benefits! A retirement plan! I had scarcely dared to dream of this before...