It’s very cliche of me to start this post by saying that it’s hard to believe I’m already halfway through A-100, and yet it’s the absolute truth – both that it’s hard for me to believe, and that as of a couple of days ago, we’re only three weeks from our Swearing-In! I can totally see why new Foreign Service Officers often drop the ball on blogging during these very intense weeks of formality, responsibilities and hours of nightly homework. When I come home, the last thing I usually want to do is turn on my laptop to blog, even though I like doing it once I get into it.
On the first day of the second week (July 7), I learned that a dear family member would be coming to visit for several days – two days later! So in addition to trying to research all of the posts on our bid list prior to having to turn it in, we were also playing host and hostess and everything that entails. It was wonderful and a great comfort to spend the time together, though, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I find that the busier I am and the more compressed my time is, the more productive and happy I seem to be, although it is important to take downtime where you can get it (especially for us introverts).
The second week our sessions were mostly focused on inter-agency processes, diplomatic history, researching posts on our bid lists, and meeting with our Career Development Officers (CDOs) to discuss our preferences in advance of submitting said bid lists. My three stated preferences were, in order, (1) Concern about spousal employment, (2) Desire to do consular work and (3) Desire to learn another language. The idea is that you share your preferences with your CDO and then bid accordingly.
In other words, you rank jobs on the bid list high, medium or low based on how serving there would fit with your preferences. Some people’s preferences, for example, might be living close to the U.S. to help with an elderly parent, serving at a post that has a school that can accommodate their child’s special needs, or being able to import several pets. You can express any three preferences that apply to you and your personal situation.
You do join the Foreign Service acknowledging that you are worldwide available, and everyone knows that the needs of the service trump preferences. You can end up serving anywhere on the list according to what the State Department needs you to do. Our team of CDOs is great, though, and I think they would really like to make everyone as happy as they can. More on bidding later…
I also had a chance to attend an evening reception at the Bureau of Consular Affairs near main State – all of the top leadership was there, and it was a wonderful opportunity to meet them and let them see who they’re sending out into the field.
One of our most helpful sessions during the second week was one in which we learned the nuts and bolts of a diplomat’s career trajectory, including how to get promoted, tenured, and all about the incentives and benefits we will receive overseas and beyond. A lot of the government-ese and acronyms are already very familiar to me, having served nine years in the federal government. However, I’m trying to look at everything with fresh eyes so I don’t miss anything or make any false assumptions.
During the third week (which just ended), we had sessions on diplomatic security, regional bureau overviews, and more inter-agency sessions focused on USAID and the Department of Defense. We learned some practical tips on how to be composed under fire (read: answering hostile questions at press conferences or during media interviews!). We also learned about CODELS (Congressional delegation visits to posts) and had a fantastic session about how to write speeches and improve our public speaking.
Perhaps most notably, we turned in our bid lists on July 15. There were 116 jobs on the list, and we had to rank each one either high, medium or low. I had 21 high bids, 66 medium and 29 low. You can’t rank more than 25% of the list low, and if you do the math, you’ll see that 25% of 116 is 29. So. I am hopeful that I will get one of my high bids, but at the end of the day, there was an awful lot on the list to work with, and I could see us being happy in many of the places that were open to us. Our Flag Day is Friday, August 1, at the end of week five, so it will all be a mystery until then!