Last week, I worked from our consulate in Sydney for two days and attended an American Citizen Services (ACS) training for consular officers posted to Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne. Ninety percent of the time, I work in the embassy in Canberra as a political officer, but every once in a while, my particular portfolio allows me to do some consular work too. This is especially important to me because I’m consular-coned, and I’m also the only consular officer in the embassy. From sharpening my skills on working death and arrest cases, to making citizenship determinations, to bonding with my consular colleagues and friends, my whirlwind 48 hour trip to Sydney after an interesting and busy week of political meetings and writing in Canberra was a morale boost and a chance to pivot my focus. How much do you know about ACS?
A few weeks ago, I went on a work-related trip to Melbourne, Australia’s second most populous city. Nearly thirteen years had elapsed since my prior visit, but it was evident that Melbourne still has a spirit all its own – it is definitely not Sydney, or Brisbane, or Adelaide, or Perth. Melbourne is one of Australia’s most diverse cities; often called Australia’s “cultural capital,” one-third of Melbourne’s 4.9 million residents were born overseas. Visiting the melting pot that is Melbourne to attend the Strong Cities Network conference on preventing violent extremism, amidst this year’s confluence of global politics, the threat of terrorism, and the halfway point of my tour as a political officer in Canberra, made me reflect on the immigrant experience in Australia and Melbourne’s successes in social cohesion.
On a hot, dry night in May 2015, I landed in Tashkent to begin my first diplomatic tour. My iPhone was shuffling through songs and settled on “The Heart of Rock and Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News just before the wheels hit the tarmac. My heart was excited and hopeful, and my mind was jumbled full of Russian and consular don’t-forgets. Over 105 weeks later, hours from flying away for good, I’m grateful for the best parts of being here, and even the tough parts. Five figure visa interviews. Eleven new countries…and one old. Road trips. Illnesses and injuries. New friends and colleagues. Probably way too many plates of plov cooked in sheep fat. And an inestimable amount of gratitude and hope for what comes next.
Next month will make two years that I’ve lived in Uzbekistan. In the course of my work here on immigrant and “green card lottery” cases, I’ve looked at literally hundreds of Uzbek wedding photos, submitted to bolster the bona fides of a relationship. I’ve seen the dresses, the festive and colorful tables, and the giant plates of plov. But literally every Uzbek I know is already married. In fact, my Uzbek colleagues who are the same age as I am have children who are now preparing for university. That is probably why I’ve never actually received an invitation to an Uzbek wedding. But a couple of weeks ago, one of my colleagues A., walked into my office and asked me what I was doing on April 14.
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.
As the month comes to a close, I can say that it has probably been the most bewildering and discouraging month I’ve had here yet. Between increasing work demands, family concerns, and illness, I am being tested, over and over again to the point where it almost seems comical, all while having less reserves than usual.
At the end of April, I unexpectedly spent just under a week in New England. The work-related trip was on my radar for a couple of months, and as it relates to streamlining immigrant visa case processing I knew it was a priority for the Department. In spite of this, for a variety of reasons it looked like it was going to be cancelled or at least postponed up until nearly a week out.
After the last time I posted from poolside in Penang, Malaysia, my husband and I eventually continued on to Kuala Lumpur where we spent a few days sightseeing and shopping.
We found nice malls and Mexican food; visited the Petronas Towers, aquarium, and bird park; and learned how to ride the monorail. We saw an Uzbekistan Airways office and popped in to say hello. The city was a lot of fun. I even bought my first ever iPad. (I know, I’m way behind. I never even owned a flat screen TV until 2015, ha ha. I’m all about keeping things until they don’t work anymore.)
A colleague and friend of mine who works as a management officer in the embassy recently posted on Facebook about how many different kinds of jobs she performs under the umbrella of “diplomat.” Some of the positions she mentioned were curator, travel agent, pet shipper, motivational speaker, lawyer, property manager, financial manager, party planner, and operations research analyst. As I read the post, I thought, “That’s so true!”
It’s been two weeks since we returned from our trip to Samarkand. I am currently working on a half-baked theory that the life of a diplomat is especially suited to extroverts, although according to what I’ve heard and seen, many of us in the State Department (myself included) are in fact introverts.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what an introvert actually is – some people categorize introverts as shy, socially awkward, or bookworms. That may be true in some cases. However, the introversion-extroversion scale is more about where one receives their energy.
This blog post is dedicated to the people who sent me questions about my life here in Uzbekistan via Facebook, LinkedIn, and email. If you have a question you would like me to answer in an upcoming post, please contact me through one of those mediums or comment this post to let me know! I will tag these posts “Your Questions” in the future.
I was fortunate when I arrived here in Tashkent last month that the consular officers and local staff already working in the section facilitated a great orientation training and familiarization period for me. This helped me quickly learn what consular work looks like relevant to conditions in Uzbekistan; it was a specific and fine-tuned addendum to my ConGen training that took place in this spring.
And what is consular work about, exactly, for the uninitiated? In my opinion, it is very important work – protecting the borders of our great nation, while facilitating legitimate travel, study and even immigration to the United States, as well as serving the needs of our fellow American citizens traveling through or living in Uzbekistan.
4: Number of days in NYC
4: Number of postcards purchased
4: Number of bags lugged
49: Number of minutes it mysteriously took to check into my hotel
On Friday, May 1 I finished my sixth and final week of consular training at the Foreign Service Institute. At the beginning of the week I could clearly sense a change in the air, an upshift in gears. The renewed urgency was palpable, something I could almost taste.
This past week was my favorite yet during consular training. Partly because we worked on passports, nationality and citizenship, and I got a perfect score on my exam. Plus we started our final module on special consular services, which to me is fascinating (i.e. prison visits and death notifications).