A Decade After the Oral Assessment

Ten years ago today I passed the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA). The achievement was the last performance-based phase of my candidacy, and paved the way for me to enter our diplomatic corps two years later, once I passed medical and security clearances and once the Department’s hiring was robust enough.


Photo: Library of Congress

I posted about the experience of passing the OA in great detail on the blog a couple of years after the fact, once I was invited to join. I wrote many of the reflections captured in the post within a few days of passing while they were still fresh in my mind, to pay it forward for a now-defunct Yahoo forum. Seeing announcements on social media or hearing in various places that someone has passed an OA still makes me smile today, because I know how meaningful an accomplishment it is.

I remember that night posting ecstatically on Facebook that if anyone saw someone screaming and jumping on the lawn of the Capitol building that night on the news, it would probably be me because I found out I was going to become a U.S. diplomat. Ha ha! And of course I remember the extreme jitters of that morning which had nearly made me not want to walk into the exercise at all.

This morning, 10 years on, was a little less dramatic, as I prepared for my pandemic weekly work-from-the-office day by rising a little earlier than usual. I showered, put on a skirt, blouse, and jacket with no particular thought about how they went together, and drove up the George Washington Parkway from Alexandria to DC. Last time I took the metro, but I still lived in the same town, and had the same car. I worked for a handful of hours, and then walked into the sun at lunchtime.

I took my mask off and put my headphones on. I wandered up 19th Street NW a few blocks and made a left. The Peace Corps headquarters where I worked for four years, including at the time I passed the OA in 2012 and received my A-100 invitation in 2014, has long since moved up to the northeast quadrant of the city. But at first glance it looks like it’s still occupying its old building because the landlord hasn’t taken the logo down. The space stands vacant and almost a little derelict-looking, right at the corner of 20th and L downtown. It’s so odd that no one is renting it.

I ate lunch outside at one of my favorite old haunts, people-watching and zoning out into a podcast. I closed my eyes and thought about the past 10 years, and how far I’ve gone away while serving three overseas tours. On first glance, it would appear I’ve returned, and startlingly close to where I began. I have in a superficial sense, but not really because this isn’t the place I left. Not the DC I left, not the Virginia I left, and not the country I left. Things feel different. And I am also not the same person who used to inhabit these spaces. I am, and I’m not.

Ten years changes a lot. This career has had its wonderful and fulfilling moments, but it certainly hasn’t all been like I thought it would be, and I’m thinking it might even be more than half over for me. I’m eligible to retire from the Foreign Service in just over six years, believe it or not, because I will hit age 50 with 20 years of service. (I will actually mark 17 years of federal service this year, but I won’t have the age.)

I couldn’t see 2022 on this night in 2012, anymore than I can see 2032 from the here and now. One of my colleagues who I passed the OA with wrote me today to mark the occasion and suggested we ride this crazy train another 10 years. For the time being, I’m definitely onboard, however tired and lost in my own thoughts I am. The critical work of public service and diplomacy needs us.

So let’s see.


May 5, 2022 in Washington, DC – Eight years to the day after receiving “the call” to A-100

  5 comments for “A Decade After the Oral Assessment

  1. Matthew Carlucci Jr
    May 18, 2022 at 22:52

    Hi Penny,

    You really left us hanging with the ending of your last blog post! Would love to hear how you like your DC job and what it is, along with how you’re feeling about the future!

    Sincerely,

    Matthew Carlucci, Jr. Florida

    Liked by 1 person

  2. teachtravelbudget
    May 20, 2022 at 09:52

    I start Consular Fellows training in June. It’ll be interesting to look back from 2032 and see how far I’ll have come! Thanks for the years of inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 6, 2022 at 22:20

      Congratulations, this is wonderful! I owe you an incredibly, embarrassingly belated email response to your question about mid-level consular work and domestic jobs. I am so sorry that I never wrote you back about that. Things have been strange for me the last year. I have been drafting it and I promise you will get it – and it sounds like soon you will have your own insights into those jobs too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • teachtravelbudget
        June 7, 2022 at 05:40

        No worries! I can definitely understand being busy. Did my oath yesterday, and classes start today. It’s so surreal!

        Liked by 1 person

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