During the past two weeks as we have worked our way towards the end of phase 2, the course has shifted slightly in content and structure, foreshadowing expectations for phases 3 and 4. Since we are getting closer to the halfway point of the 24-week program, we are supposed to complete our “building the base” activities so we can move into professionalization and consolidation of what we have learned. As my second speaking and reading progress assessment looms first thing on Monday morning, this post is a short update before I buckle down and disappear into my preparation for the next 72 hours.
We decreased our half hour of independent reading from five mornings a week to three. On the opposite two mornings we present and discuss news articles we chose the night before.
We also are focusing less on the videos and texts we used to work with on the Hacia Adelante online platform, and now review them more to inspire (or pirate phrases for) our own topical, extemporaneous discussions. We have been discussing, among other things, topics like the functions of different embassy officers, the technological revolution, medical care overseas, multiculturalism, and comparing things that happened in the past to things these days.
We continue to talk more in-depth about past topics like our biographies, the environment, human rights, cyberspace, terrorism, development work, and the economic crisis of 2008. We also keep working on things like ordering in a restaurant, calling a taxi, reserving a hotel room on the phone, etc.
In addition, we started a reading contest between classes for the entire month of November, so I have made an effort to read more on my own to rack up my page count. I just finished a pretty interesting book about the history of Ellis Island, and now am reading a whimsical book about an insomniac dragon who got fat after eating too many clouds. (!) It is always funny when you’re reading an illustrated book that looks like it’s for kids but actually has pretty complicated grammar and vocabulary. Then again, my classmates are reading novels by Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez after 10 weeks, so what do I know. Next up for me will be the histories of Pearl Harbor and the Great Depression.
I like our independent reading program because we can read whatever we want. If we pick something we don’t like or that is too hard, we can just turn it back for something else without any torture. The idea is to read for prolonged periods of time even if you don’t know a word here or there. If you have to sit with a dictionary or Google Translate, the advice is to pick something else.
The biggest new content for me has been delving into consular tradecraft on the side, with consular officer students from other classes. This week I started focusing on the American Citizen Services (ACS) vocabulary for welfare & whereabouts cases and detainees, spending about three extra hours on it.
Yesterday, me and another student did a four-part role play that involved going to a Mexican city jail to see an American tourist accused of causing a drunk driving accident, and possessing several kilos of narcotics and illegal firearms. He had other charges too, like fleeing the scene of an accident, resisting arrest, and assaulting the arresting officer. After convincing the warden to let us see him and calming him down so the guard would leave us alone with him, we talked to him about his condition and tried to ensure him access to legal representation. He admitted the accident was his fault but claimed the drugs and weapons were planted afterwards by Mexican authorities. We also got him to sign a Privacy Act Waiver so we could talk to one of his family members about his case, since no one knew where he was.
We went the hotel to see her, where we found out another relative had been in the accident but wasn’t in custody. He was missing and she was hysterical. We looked for him in a hospital, where we learned that hours before, he had already died of injuries he sustained in the accident. We had to convince the doctor to give us any information about his cause of death and the disposition of his remains.
Then we had to go identify him in the morgue and start working on his repatriation. It was grisly and exhausting, especially because I gave up my lunch hour to participate on what was already a long day, but really interesting. It felt so much more real than me leading a discussion on trade agreements! The extra work is optional, but I am going to stick with it; I have the ominous feeling I will have many such cases in Ciudad Juárez. The next ACS unit will be disaster management.
Frustrations and keeping a positive attitude
The past two weeks have probably been the hardest yet for me overall. There have been several times where I really had to force myself to be cooperative with an activity that I felt unprepared to do. I try to be cheerful and positive but every once in a while I am just not feeling it and it becomes counterproductive.
I teared up once with my learning consultant out of pure frustration with myself, but he assured me that I was on the right track and we focused some extra activities on what he wants me to improve. We also had a session with a couple other classes in the cafeteria where we practiced talking on previous topics and although I dreaded going, it ended up being fun and encouraging.
It is a little bit painful and exhausting for an introvert to sit around and generate speech for five or six hours in a day. Looking back to 2014 and 2015, I guess I wrote only a little about this during my Russian study. We spoke extemporaneously on topics much later in the program due to the difficulty of the language and how long it takes to get all the cases, but I remember feeling the same at that time. I just keep working towards the moments that something clicks into place.
Things to look forward to
I am in the process of finalizing my plans for 1:1 private instruction at the Academia Latinoamericana de Español in Quito, Ecuador later this winter. I bought my plane tickets, registered for the courses, and did all the prerequisites. Now I just have to sort my accommodation and design an independent study plan. The academy What’sApp’d me a ton of wonderful pictures and videos to get me excited about my time in Ecuador. I am really looking forward to studying Spanish there! At an elevation of over 9,300 feet above sea level and 16 miles from the equator, it will be one of my most interesting trips yet. And for two weeks of intensive, customized instruction that costs less than $750 USD, it’s a real bargain.
Now just to put my best foot forward for my evaluation on Monday morning, and hit somewhere between a 2/2 and a 2+/2+. Ándale…