Friday, August 26, 2005

Area Studies

My current coursework concerns regional studies: specifically, China, Korea, and Japan. Lately we've spent a great deal of time discussing Korea, and particularly North Korea. I feel incredibly disturbed by what I've heard. None of the offered solutions seem likely to solve the problem, but somehow that does not seem to be an adequate defense for lack of action. I fear that, in the future, we will all be held accountable for what's going on there. It makes my heart hurt. It frustrates me.

Tomorrow we're taking a field trip to a museum, in order to view some East Asian artwork. They do a good job of varying the course content, balancing out what are (generally very good) lectures with documentary videos, movies, and the afore-mentioned field trip. I feel that I'm learning quite a bit. This is the most I could ask for out of any training course.

Getting to know better the other FS Officers who will be in the region is another boon. We have a good group. I don't know how much chance there'll be for travel between the various countries, but I hope we'll be able to visit one another.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Swearing-in and Casual Dress

Our official swearing-in ceremony (not to be confused with the swearing-in which occurred our first day of orientation) took place on the 12th. My parents were able to attend, which meant more to me than I had realized it would. There was something very satisfying about escorting them down to the gift shop afterwards and buying them State Department t-shirts. I felt very... employed. A very adult feeling.

In the ceremony, they call out each person's name in turn and where she or he is being sent. As your name is called, you stand, and remain standing until the end. There is a strange sort of pride associated with seeing your classmates-cum-colleagues standing at attention in front of their families. It's a bit like high school graduation; you feel you've been given instruction to head out and make a mark on the world. There's a true sense of promise and mission involved.

But of course, before any mark-making takes place, there is more training to be considered. A few of us are leaving for post as early as late September; some will be in language training for almost a year. My departure is set for mid-winter, which is a bit earlier than most. I don't at all mind the extra training (the language and job-specific training I'm particularly looking forward to), but by far the best part of the whole affair is the new dress code: casual. After my suits return from the dry-cleaners, I plan to hang them in my closet and never look at them again until I reach Japan. Bliss!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Capitol Hill

In brief: today we had the chance to go to Capitol Hill and talk to some congressional staffers who work for the Foreign Relations committee. A class member asked what efforts Congress makes to encourage the american public to be more engaged in foreign policy issues. The response was, "Well, we discourage it, really. We prefer to focus on the domestic stuff."

No wonder Congress considers State to be 'elitist' -- apparently, average Americans aren't supposed to think beyond their borders. It was a frustrating visit.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Flag Day or 日本に戻ることになります。

The atmosphere on Flag Day is a strange one. After a morning of fidgetting through lectures and presentations, it is suddenly revealed to you where and how you will be spending the next couple years of your life. There's a funny sort of melodramatic tension to the day; even for those who have felt certain of their destination since the orientation class began, suddenly no potential posting seems too remote or far-fetched. And the fact that all this tension takes place in the training school's field house -- complete with orange and blue padded gym walls and exposed basketball goals -- makes everyone's panicky feelings seem that much more ridiculous. If they had given me my lowest low, all I could picture doing in response was attempting a lay-up.

The Flag Day ceremony itself is open to guests and family members, and the orientation staff does its best to make things as exciting as possible. For each post, a small flag is held up, and the class is asked to call out the name of the country it represents. Once the country is determined, the name of the person to be stationed there is called, and she or he comes forward to claim the flag, pose for a brief photo, shake hands with the staff, and receive a folder with orders enclosed. There's a lot of cheering and picture taking, and on the whole everyone is very excited and pleased with their postings. Those people who are not pleased do a good job of hiding their feelings, though occasional surprise or dismay did seep through.

As for myself, I have been posted to a consulate in Japan. Even though I had expected this, and had bid the post as 'high', I must admit to feeling a bit disappointed in some sense. My earlier vacillation aside, I would love to be going to some new and exciting place, with lots of hardship and danger; it feels like a defeat to be returning to a place I already know so intimately. However, I know that I can do the most good with this posting, and I'm sure there will be time for danger and difficulty later in my career. Japan will be an excellent place to get my feet wet. And I'm definitely excited to be revamping my language skills and reconnecting with Japanese friends.

Going to Japan is a good thing.