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January 20th, 2014:

Sunset: Sunday, January 20, 2014

5:27 pm

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I’m doing homework

Today is a federal holiday, which means no class today.

How am I spending the holiday? I’m doing homework.

The training class that I am in reminds me of being in graduate school. When you’re in grad school, especially in the first few years, you are a newby. You’ve entered a new field, and there is a lot of information that you need to know, but don’t yet have. You spend a lot of time learning. When interacting with professors or other grad students who have been in the program longer than you have, you struggle to understand everything that is being discussed. Sometimes you feel like you are trying to catch up with a crowd of people who are walking faster than you can.

That is how I’m feeling now. I’ve entered a new field, and I have to learn a new discipline. Entering the State Department is a little different from entering academia in one import aspect. In academia, you are expected to acquire the common base of knowledge, then contribute to the field, through research, publications, and scholarship. In contrast, the State Department seems to be very uninterested in our personal opinions. At this point, we are not expected to contribute our analyses. Instead, we are being asked to learn, absorb, and conform to the department’s standardized format. We are being indoctrinated into the accepted way of doing everything. It’s sort of like military training.

The common aspect of the two, for me, is that we are being trained by people who have been in the field for a long time, and who know a lot more than I do. Every time that we cover a new subject, I’m reminded that there is a lot that I don’t yet know, but I am expected to learn it as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Just like when I was in grad school. I’m not complaining, though. This is good.  I am learning, and I love to learn.

So I am reading on the  appropriate way to write official reports, and how to take notes in a meeting. There is an official manual on writing style in the Foreign Service (called, not surprisingly, “The Foreign Service Writing Manual”). Eighty-two pages of instructions. It’s so engaging that I can barely break away from reading it to write a blog entry. That was sarcasm, which is not in the manual.