Yesterday morning, before the clock had even struck 7:00 a.m., I drove to the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington to help welcome a new group of diplomats from the 180th Generalist Class to their first day at FSI.
In the Foreign Service, each class sponsors social and informational events for the group two classes behind them. For many new diplomats, their first day of A-100 orientation is likely preceded by events like a packout and move to a new city (sometimes even an international move), learning to navigate unfamiliar public transportation, making new schooling arrangements for children, dealing with pets, possibly even a spouse who has given up his or her career to join this adventure – and all of that is before even going to post!
As a local hire, all I did my first day of A-100 was shower, suit up and roll out. I even knew the metro system so well that I cut my arrival time brazenly close. Also, I’d transferred to State Department with almost nine years of prior federal service, so I felt for my colleagues who were slightly more dazed. I wanted to do what I could to make the bureaucratic process more welcoming.
Yesterday morning the wind was blowing, the temperature was in the low 30s Fahrenheit, and I’d stayed up late baking two loaves of zucchini bread for the breakfast reception. In fact, I wasn’t even officially on the welcome committee – but I was smiling anyway. It was definitely my turn to pay a little bit of gratitude and lucky A-100 vibes forward.
As I stood with another of my 178th class colleagues just inside the security checkpoint, wearing suits, holding signs, and freezing our fingers, we reminisced about our first day at FSI (the second day of A-100 after the first day’s intake program at main State in DC). It was only July 1st, but it seems like ages ago already.
That morning I’d bummed a ride from a neighbor in my class who already had an FSI parking permit. We arrived more than an hour early and found the classroom (after some determined campus map-checking and wandering through F building).
We were the first to stand in the empty A-100 room, quietly marveling at how rolling chairs for 100 students looked packed into a room obviously designed for 60 students. I’m here, I’d thought. Finally.
In that moment when I saw my name plate at my assigned seat, I (a) frowned because my last name contained a typo, and then (b) felt a rush of gratitude that my anguished wondering about whether I would ever make it into the Foreign Service was long over.
We were so early I never saw members of the 176th holding signs to welcome us. We found our own classroom and coffee – responsible, time-anxious professionals that we were. I never even knew they were there until I stood in that spot myself. In the end, I didn’t need their help to be in the right place at the right time, but I would have thought it a kind gesture all the same.
Yesterday as I helped direct new diplomats to their welcome reception, I wondered how many of them were already friends, how many had almost expired from the register, how many were truly grateful and happy to be there.
“Go up the hill on the left, into the cafeteria building,” I advised them. But on the inside I was thinking, You made it. You’re one of the three percent. Smile!
Good luck to the members of the 180th. I wish you learning, luck, new friendships, many chances to get outside of your comfort zone – and of course, a dream first tour bidlist.