I admit it: 2016 was not my favorite year. It was professionally and personally challenging. It felt like I was battling one problem after another in a difficult environment, in disintegrating health, and with my main support network of family and friends a dozen time zones away. In 2016 many things were lacking in my life: good health, human respect in civil discourse, and tacos. I noticed these deficiencies, got pissed off and disappointed and sad over them, and tried to move on. However, 2016 was awesome for my passport, the blog, and my ability to adapt and learn new skills.
I bid 2016 farewell from our living room on New Year’s Eve, a couple of days after randomly falling down our slippery front stairs and injuring my back for the second time in three months. I note that I took this fall without hitting my head or spilling the thermos of coffee I was carrying. I guess that win is balanced by the fact that sciatica has made my left leg almost totally numb ever since. “Goodbye!” I cheered at the stroke of Uzbek midnight, ten hours ahead of the Times Square ball drop. But despite what social media tells you, 2016 wasn’t all bad, so I will take a few minutes here to reflect on my best of 2016.
Passport Stamps Galore
My husband and I traveled a lot last year, to places both new and familiar. In March, we took R&R together to Turkey and the Maldives, and then on to Malaysia. Being already ten months into my two year tour, I was more than ready. In April I went on an unexpected six day business trip to the United States, and my husband took a trip to the UK, followed by a family visit to Greece, Macedonia and Serbia. At the end of the summer, my mom visited Uzbekistan, seeing most of Tashkent and Samarkand, and then she and I journeyed to Hungary and Russia. I returned to Uzbekistan just in time to unpack before taking a business trip to India, followed by a trip to Thailand. My husband and I then capped off the year with two road trips to neighboring Kazakhstan.
Domestically we also traveled a little too; besides going to Samarkand with my mom, I also took an awesome spring road trip with friends through the Fergana Valley, and my husband and I took a cool autumn trip west to Khiva. We were lucky to go so many places, but before anyone is jealous, I have to say that we took one hastily arranged trip each to meet urgent medical needs that we couldn’t treat appropriately in Uzbekistan. So goes life in a hardship post. In Virginia we were minutes from trauma care. If you live within three hours’ flight of first world medical care, count yourself lucky.
A Special Gift
In 2016 we bid for our second tour, and I received an absolutely brilliant assignment to Canberra, Australia beginning in late (northern hemisphere) summer 2017. I will be living just a couple of hours from my old home in Sydney, and will serve as a political reporting officer with a meaty and substantive portfolio, while also covering American Citizen Services responsibilities as the de facto consular chief. (Visas are handled by the American consulates in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.) It’s such a fantastic assignment for an entry-level consular-coned officer, and I will probably still be thrilled half to death years after my tour down under wraps up.
In Australia I will have excellent medical care, my husband will have great work prospects, the climate and the people are glorious, the work will propel me forward in my career and my ability to navigate the State Department and the Interagency, and… the accents! The chance to visit all the places I couldn’t afford as an Australian postgrad student! Fiji! Indonesia! Perth…Brisbane…the Gold Coast! Koalas and roos and sulphur-crested cockatoos! YES!! This was definitely the longest-lasting gift I received in 2016, because it will change our lives and bring us happiness all the way through August 2019. I just can’t tell you how keen I am on Australia, but you’re probably getting the point.
Random money tangent: When I lived in Sydney, I was one of only a couple students to make 100 percent attendance in my postgraduate program. My love for every day there was indefatigable. (Also the week before uni started I sat down and added up my total expenses for tuition, supplies, airfare, rent, etc. and divided it by the total number of classes. When I saw what I had invested in each class, and it was in fact solely my own resources that covered 100 percent of those choices and obligations, I made up my mind right then and there that nothing would deter me from full participation.)
Post HR will probably have to pry me out of Oz with a crowbar at the end of my tour (although hopefully I’ll have a similarly rad onward).
Blogging in 2016
- In 2016 I only wrote 22 new posts, still an average of one new post every 16.5 days. This was less than half my volume in 2015. However, the blog received more views, more visitors, more likes, and more comments than ever before.
- The blog received 21,648 views (up from 17,539 in 2015) from 6,620 unique visitors (up from 6,124 in 2015). It looks like the blog continues to attract new readership, and visitors spend more time reading once they’re there.
- Blog readers in 2016 hailed from 125 different countries (up from 121 in 2015). As I have mentioned before, a lot of people overseas use VPN routers that allow them to freely access U.S. and other sites that are blocked or inconvenient in their country of residence. So people may appear to be in the U.S. when they actually aren’t. It’s pretty clear in any event that the majority of blog readership remains in the United States.
- The top ten countries from which visitors reached the blog most frequently were as follows:
(1) United States - 17,944 views (2) Germany - 403 views (3) Uzbekistan - 349 views (4) South Korea - 238 views (5) United Kingdom - 171 views (6) Canada - 143 views (7) India - 136 views (8) France - 131 views (9) Spain - 127 views (10) Japan - 125 views
- The top ten most-visited blog posts and pages (not counting the home page) were as follows:
(1) Becoming an FSO Part II: The QEP - 2,420 views (2) My Foreign Service Timeline - 1,419 views (3) Becoming an FSO Part III: The FSOA - 917 views (4) About the Author - 535 views (5) Flag Day Recap - 502 views (6) Second Tour Bidding - 459 views (7) My Turn at Last: A-100 Offer - 385 views (8) Flag Day Announcement...II - 314 views (9) Becoming an FSO Part I: The FSOT - 300 views (10) My First Inkling to Become a Diplomat - 261 views
- All of the top ten most widely-read blog posts in 2016 were actually written in 2014, except #6 and #8 which were written in 2016. It just points to the conclusion that I made last year, which is that initial posts I made when starting the blog about my journey towards becoming a Foreign Service Officer have tremendous staying power.
- Numerous readers told me this year that they read the blog from start to finish and wanted more, and that made me feel great. I am happy whenever someone comes here and finds information, ideas, or just plain old entertainment!
- Whether you are in the Foreign Service, a prospective or former Peace Corps Volunteer, a fellow world traveler, a Central Asia or Balkan hand, hoping to become a diplomat, a family member, or a friend – this blog is for me to share with you. I invite you to contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org to have your questions answered. As those of you who have written me know, I respond individually, but I may at some point also generalize your questions and make them the topic of a future “Your Questions Answered” post. Please let me know if there’s something specific you want me to write about.
I hope that you’ve made peace with your 2016, and are ready for a 2017 in which you will go new places, pursue your interests, meet new and wonderful friends, challenge yourself in unexpected ways, receive great gifts, and achieve more than you ever expected!
The first week of 2017 means I’ve entered the last six months of my consular tour in Tashkent. My departure eligibility was May 1, but I elected to stay until the first week of June for Post staffing, logistical, and personal reasons. I am hopeful that while I’m still in Tashkent, trips to St. Petersburg, Russia and Almaty, Kazakhstan will be in the near future. I would like to visit more of Asia if I can swing the time, and I may also have occasion to hightail it up to London for a long weekend…but it’s too soon yet to say. I am looking forward to spending the summer between training in Virginia and home leave in California, and attending my 20th high school reunion.
Peace and happiness to you in 2017.