On Friday, August 22, my AR281 Russia/Eurasia Regional Intensive Area Studies came to a close. On Monday, August 25 and Tuesday, August 26 I sat for a two day safety and security overseas briefing, and for the remaining three days of last week, I conducted distance learning from home. It was a fantastic opportunity to catch my breath after the 8.5 weeks of continuously packed schedules of A-100 and Area Studies, and the first days I have been at home during the day since the end of June.
To give you an idea of how little business-day time I’ve had available since I started A-100, nearly six weeks ago I was eating dinner and the retainer that had been glued to the back of my bottom teeth since November 1994 suddenly busted off, leaving big chunks of dental cement stuck to the back of my teeth. I swear I built up callouses on my tongue from the jagged edges since it broke, but luckily I was able to go last week and finally get all the glue removed. The back of my teeth feel so smooth now – it’s a weird feeling after having that wire covering them for nearly two decades.
So last week I seized the opportunity to get organized and clear the decks. I still had some online trainings left over to finish from A-100, and stacked neatly on my carpet were piles and piles of papers all the way back to my on-boarding that needed to be organized and integrated into my filing structure. I went to Staples and bought a new binder, dividers, notebooks and a three hole punch and got to work! Three hours later, I didn’t have a single stray or unneeded page. I also went through all of my work emails and saved important documents to my computer, then backed them up. Listening to techno during that work really helped, although there is just something about getting organized from top to bottom that I absolutely adore. (smile)
Via distance learning courses, I also familiarized myself with various consular operations such as identifying fraudulent visa applicants’ documents, and the role of the consular officer in combating human trafficking. Of course, in March 2015 I will begin my formal consular officer training (otherwise known as ConGen), but I was eager to do some early learning before my mind is completely taken over by Russian language acquisition.
I even took a bonus course on the roles and responsibilities of a duty officer at an embassy. This was especially interesting to me because I served as a Peace Corps HQ duty officer at least once a quarter for nearly the past year and a half. I really look forward to the opportunity to do American Citizen Services (ACS) as part of my eventual consular work.
That period of independent learning and work was followed by the long three day weekend that included the Labor Day holiday yesterday. I did a lot of reading and exercising, and also a lot of laying in the sun by the pool! As a sad aside, yesterday I had to say goodbye to the pool at my apartment building; it won’t be open again until Memorial Day weekend 2015 and by then I will be living in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It’s just one of what I am sure will be many “lasts” over the next eight months.
The relaxation and the ability to be almost totally on my own schedule for the last six days got me mentally organized for what happened today: the first day of Russian language class!
This morning I could feel a different energy in the air when I arrived at the Foreign Service Institute. The campus was more crowded than usual, given the summer transfer season and many FSOs back in training to prepare for their onward assignments. Upon arrival there were big signs listing all of the different language departments and directing students where to head for their orientations.
First we had a general orientation, and then an orientation more specific to our particular language department (in my case, Russian). I learned that I will be attending classes between 10:40 and 17:30 for the next 6.5 months, and met the language department staff, including my instructor. I feel really fortunate that I will be learning in a class of only three students! I’ve never been in a language class smaller than five students, unless it was private tutoring. Both of the students in my class were also in A-100 with me, and between us, we already speak Macedonian, Farsi, Czech and French (smart folks!!).
We took a short tour around the language department with our instructor, I went and bought a parking pass that will last me through next summer, ate lunch, checked my work emails, and did some learning styles/aptitude testing. I came home afterwards in the blazing 95+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures and looked longingly at our pool, now closed. All of the deck chairs have been stacked neatly in preparation for storage, and although the weather doesn’t yet show it, fall and changes are coming to my life.
Official classes start tomorrow morning! It’s like back to school again!
If you like electronic dance music or techno, listen to the Paul Oakenfold radio edit of “Madagascar” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of my mood right now. #winning