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February, 2014:

Fulbright Hall!

George Washington University here in Washington, DC, has a building named after Sen. Fulbright. Cool!

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Another weird dream

Last night, I dreamt that There were three polar bears in my apartment, a mama and two cubs. The polar bears had Yellow Fever, which they had contracted from eating a diseased goat, the carcass of which was also in my apartment.

I had to be careful when I was disposing of the goat carcass, because of all of the zombies that were wandering in the hall.

You can get everything by mail order

Even Cake!

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Delicious dinner

This was a yummy and easy dinner. Yes, those are lentils in there, and yes, they’re both delicious and fun.

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Here’s the recipe. I give it two thumbs up!
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/make-ahead-vegetarian-moroccan-stew/

I cut the recipe in half, and still wound up with about six quarts of stew. Guess what I’m having for dinner every day this month?

On to the next phase

Last Friday, our initial orientation class ended. There was a ceremony at the State Department main building, where we ceremoniously took the oath of office again. It was a lot more glamorous than our initial swearing in, which took place on the very first day that we reported for duty.

Why did we have to get sworn in twice? Well, we didn’t. It was necessary that we get sworn in on the very first day, because according to the Constitution, we could not officially be employees of the government until we took the oath. In other words, we could not get paid until we took the oath. It made a lot more sense for us to get sworn in right away. Completing the orientation training program was a milestone, so it also made sense to have a ceremony marking the occasion. That’s why we took the oath a second time.

Incidentally, the oath that we took is the same one that the President and members of the military take. It is constitutionally required, so the oath is largely the same for every federal government employee.

To be perfectly honest, the ceremony was really more of a photo op than anything else. Still, it was a lot of fun, the venue was very nice, and I’m glad that we did it.

From now on, the 87 people in my cohort are going in different directions. Some people are going to posts that have language requirements, and they don’t yet speak the languages. They will begin language training on Monday. The length of their language training depends on the difficulty of the language. Some will be in language training for six months, some 10 months, some people will be in training for 11 months. While they are in language training, their job is to learn language. They will be in class for six hours a day, plus homework. Very intensive language training. The requirement is that they will be able to conduct business in the language when they arrive at post. Gone are the days that we demanded everybody speak English, and relied on interpreters to help us interact with the host country government. Modern American diplomats conduct diplomacy in the language of the country where they are posted. This is a very very very good policy, in my opinion.

A few people are going to posts in English speaking countries. They obviously do not need language training. Several other people, myself included, are going to posts where we already speak the language. Since we do not need language training, we will begin the next phase of training. This phase will train us to be consular officers. To be honest, I am not yet sure what this training will entail. I know that it is a six-week program, so there must be a lot to learn. Beyond that, I am not at all sure I know what to expect. As usual, I will have to be flexible, and expect the unexpected.

This has been a very interesting adventure so far. There is much more to come, I’m sure.

FAQs about my post to Shenyang China

When will you leave?

Late in April, after I complete some specific training in Washington, DC.

Will you get to visit home before you leave?

Probably not.

How long will you be there?

The tour is two years. So I will be there until about April 2016.

What about your family?

We still have one son in high school. My wife will stay with him in Michigan until he graduates. Then she will accompany me.

Will you be able to come home and visit?

I can take vacation time and visit home. I hope to be able to return home in June 2015 to attend our younger son’s high school graduation.

Will your family visit you there?

I hope so! I miss them like crazy, and I’ve only been separated from them for a five weeks.

What will you do there?

I will be a consular officer. A lot of the time, I will help people get visas to come to the U.S. for tourism, business, and study. I will also provide services to U.S. citizens in the area who need help.

Did you want to be posted there?

Believe it or not, yes. There were dozens of places on the “bid list,” in many different countries. This one was my top choice.

Why did you want to go there?

Many reasons. First, I wanted a Chinese-speaking post, a place where I could improve my Chinese language skills. Second, I wanted a smaller post. At a small post, I will get to know people better, and I may be able to do a wider variety of things. Third, I did not want to be in a big city. Actually, Shenyang is a big city by American standards – over 6 million people live there. But I specifically didn’t want to be posted in a mega-city like Beijing or Shanghai. Finally, I am interested in the history of the area, and I hope to visit some of the historical sites in the area.

What will be next?

There is no long-term plan. Trying to plan beyond a year or so is like trying to shoot a moving target. All Foreign Service Officers move around from one post to another, so the personnel situation at the posts is always changing. In about a year, I will be able to see what is (scheduled to be) available, and choose my next post at that time.

 

More about my post

My first “tour” will be to Shenyang, China.

First some basics. Where is China? Here’s a globe.┬áThe green part is China.

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Where is Shenyang? It’s in the north. Waaaaay up north. I circled it in red on this map. It isn’t the most northern part of China, but it’s pretty far up north. Farther north than most of North Korea.

And it gets cold there. Very very cold.

China_Shenyang

Next post I will answer some FAQs.

I was the Flag Day drama queen

But not on purpose.

The snowstorm cancelled my family’s flight to DC. My wife and sons talked about it, and decided screw it, they were driving to DC. So they drove down. It took them 11 hours, but they made it. Barely.

The Flag Day ceremony started at 3:30. I figured that they would arrive in plenty of time. Evan and I were in constant text message contact, he would update me with their current position, and the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) that their GPS was giving.

The ETA was always about 2:45 pm. That gave us plenty of time, I figured. We could meet up in the cafeteria, then walk to the ceremony room together. No drama, right?

GPS systems lie about ETAs.

My fellow trainees are very supportive. We’ve become close over the last five weeks of training. As I met many of their family members in the hallway before the event, everyone assured me that “they’ll make it.”

I got more and more anxious as 2:45 turned into 3:00, then 3:05, then 3:10.

Finally, I couldn’t wait by the visitor’s center any more; I had to go into the room where the Flag Day ceremony was held, and find my seat.

Evan texted me that they got lost, and the GPS stopped giving them useful directions.

See what I mean about GPS systems being liars?

I figured that they would miss the ceremony, but that I would catch up with them later.

So I sat down, and waited for the ceremony to start.

Just when we were about to get started, my wife and kids walked in, right in front of me. I ran up to hug them, and the room exploded with clapping and cheers.

It felt like the end of a romantic comedy movie, when the couple is finally reunited (there was no sound track, though). It was great.

So the ceremony was a big success, and there was no drama. Except mine. No one cried except me. I never thought that I would be the source of Flag Day drama, but you never expect what life actually throws at you.

Oh, and I got my first choice of post: Shenyang, China. More about that later.

Flag Day drama

Today is Flag Day. This is the day that we are “distributed” around the world. The ceremony happens in the afternoon. We will all gather together, and one by one, we will receive our post assignment.

Yesterday, because of the snowstorm, the government was closed. That was our second snow day. Today the government is open, but with a two-hour delay. Again, our second two-hour delay.

The schedule for the training program is very tight, with a lot of information squeezed in. Losing two whole days plus four hours was a challenge, because instead of dropping the sessions that we missed, the coordinators re-worked the schedule to fit all those sessions back in. That meant fewer and shorter breaks, and longer days for the last few weeks of the course.

We are all relieved that the government was not closed today, because that would have postponed Flag Day until next week. Despite the chaos of reworking the schedule, at least we will get some closure today.

My family planned to fly to DC to attend, but their flight was cancelled due to weather. So they are driving down. They spent last night in Ohio, and will make it to DC just in time for the ceremony.

Life is good.

Snow Day, 2.0

Today we had a snow day. The big storm that came through last night was big even by Michigan standards. All federal government offices in Washington DC are closed for the day, and that includes our training class. We had a snow day back in January, so this is the second snow day that we have had to accommodate.

This is a problem for the training class, because the schedule is very full, and there isn’t any flexibility built in. The coordinators already had a heckuva time trying to reschedule the classes that we missed on our last snow day. I feel that we just got caught up this past week. Now, with only one more week after this in the training program, I fear they will not be able to reschedule everything.

Tomorrow is Flag Day, the day when our first tour assignments are announced. My family is flying in to DC to be there for the event, and a lot of my classmates’ families are coming in, too. It would be a real shame if the government was closed tomorrow, two, and we had to reschedule the event. Looking at the weather today, I don’t think it will be closed tomorrow. As long as we don’t get anymore snow, I think we will be back on schedule tomorrow.

Assuming the trains are running today, I would like to get out of the apartment and try to do a little window shopping. I don’t like being cooped up in my apartment. Especially when there’s a big city out there to explore.