My first week of orientation into the Foreign Service has already passed in a blur of exhilaration, jitters, gratitude, lack of coffee, heightened emotion and general overwhelm.
On Sunday, June 29 I arrived back from my nine day vacation in California and got to bed around 2:00 in the morning. I awoke several hours later and launched into a frenzy of unpacking, opening mail, doing laundry and running errands. I wanted to clear the decks but in essence, I tried to pack too much into a day. After a scheduling snafu that I didn’t foresee almost crashed my afternoon, I manage to come skidding in hot, and smiling. Of course, I was attempting to look as if I didn’t have a care in the world. Not sure how well I succeeded but I felt happy, at least. One of my classmates, another local hire who lives across the street from me, came over for a celebratory beer and then we headed to the welcome party.
When arriving at the bar where our class’s welcome party was to be held, I got a parking spot right in front, so maybe I had some good karma built up. As I walked up the stairs moments before encountering everyone else, I commented to my husband and my classmate, “This is it, we made it!” My elation in that moment was so sincere, if a bit cheesy. (It’s me, what can I say?) I worked so hard to get there and finally it was all going to materialize in front of my eyes. I walked in smiling, donned a name tag, got a glass of wine, and tried to meet as many of my new classmates as I could.
Despite planning to leave early, we were among the last handful of people to leave, and as I fell asleep that night my eyes would hardly stay shut. So much so, in fact, that I plugged in my cell phone across the room; I wanted to physically have to get up in order to turn my alarm clock off the next morning. I didn’t want to take any chances on oversleeping on my first day! Just the thought of it was gut-wrenching.
We spent our first day, Monday, June 30 at what is known as Main State, in Washington, DC at 23rd and C Streets, NW. We were meant to arrive at 07:45 and myself and one of my classmates arrived…at 07:44 after making a quick drugstore run. I guess local hires who have been to State dozens of times and know exactly how Metro works can cut it a little close and still keep the nerves down. We were escorted into the lower levels of the State Department and herded into an auditorium.
There were PowerPoint presentations, there was paperwork, and of course, there were badge photos taken. But most importantly, we took our oath of office. Sworn in as diplomats, my goodness. (The official swearing in ceremony happens on August 8, but we have to take the oath to get on the payroll.) Even though I took the oath of office as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and as a federal employee at both the Voice of America and the Peace Corps headquarters, saying those words always tugs at my heart. This fourth time was no exception. I was so, so proud as I swore to serve my country.
However, I was also apparently a bundle of nerves, because when I departed for the day, I inadvertently left my cell phone plugged into an outlet behind where I’d been sitting and it wasn’t until I was nearly home that I discovered it was missing. Fortunately for me, a couple of my classmates looked out for me and one had actually already taken it home with her for safekeeping. I hopped in my car that evening and buzzed over to my new friend’s apartment in Arlington to retrieve it thinking, geez – get it together already!
From Tuesday, July 1 through Thursday, July 3 class was held at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, VA. I carried out my first student assignment – introducing a guest speaker, which was not a new task for me but I was very honored to do it. I also joined a committee to work on a diplomatic reception for later in the summer. We spent a couple of hours introducing one another to the class, which was fun and reminded me what a wonderfully accomplished group of folks my classmates are. We learned about how language testing works at FSI, practiced writing some cable summaries, wrote our own diplomatic maxims, visited the Overseas Briefing Center, got our email accounts set up and even took a language proficiency exam.
Unfortunately for me, in the onboarding process my last name was spelled wrong on everything from my name tag, to my physical mailbox, to the book for our class that lists all of us in alphabetical order. I was disappointed, and then became very frustrated realizing my email account and digital profile (including my fob to remote in with) were established based on the misspelling. I have the feeling that since I missed a good chunk of the computer briefing trying to deal with the misspelling, and couldn’t get it resolved for a couple of days, that I am already getting further and further behind on homework and tasks that wouldn’t take long…if I could just. log. in. Ugh.
It’s amazing the level of inconvenience one (surely hardworking and diligent) person caused just by missing a vowel in my name. Not the strongest start. Even now at the conclusion of the first week, I remain unable to log in from outside the building and my anxiety level is through the roof wondering what important things I’m not getting done. I am hopeful that it will be resolved soon! I spent over an hour today trying to launch my virtual desktop and never did manage to do it, hence I have lots of free time now and still no access. I am terrified that I am going to arrive on Monday to realize I didn’t prepare for something important and then will feel like an idiot.
On a positive note, though, and definitely most importantly – we received our bid lists on Wednesday! I can’t go into what is on the bid list here, but suffice it to say that over the next week and a half my husband and I have a lot of research to do to divide our possibilities into low, medium and high bids. As most people fled on Thursday evening to kick off their July 4th holiday weekends, I sat by myself like a nerd in the Overseas Briefing Center studying a handful of posts that someone else hadn’t already grabbed and trying to gather any particulars I could.
Yesterday, of course, was the 4th of July and I spent most of the day snoozing or swimming by myself. It seems kind of strange that on my first 4th of July as a diplomat that I didn’t meet my classmates on the National Mall, or at the Iwo Jima Memorial to watch the fireworks and try not to cry, but I have been feeling very exhausted and introverted the past few days. I am sure I will snap out of it soon!
Bottom line: proud, grateful, and looking forward to next week and all that is coming down the pike.