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April 2010

A-100: Weeks Two & Three

Consularflag  So I'm now half-way through A-100 and feeling guilty that I haven't the time, patience or perseverance to keep this blog updated. But the fact of the matter is, we're either not allowed to post information from A-100 (sensitive but unclassified), or I'm so confused about what is or is not permissible that I just play it safe by saying nothing. I just heard that one of my favorite bloggers was recently reprimanded by DOS. And since I have a tendency to suffer from "diarrhea of the mouth," it's better that I just keep my mouth shut!

With that said, WOW, it's been a heck of a run so far. It's hard to believe A-100 is already more than half over. It's been total information overload from lectures, classes, workshops, exercises, brown-bag lunches and informal discussions in the corridors and cafeterias of State Main (DOS headquarters in downtown DC) and FSI (the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA). Some of the speakers are very high up in the chain of command including Ambassadors and Undersecretaries of State. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we will get to meet our boss, Sec. Clinton, before graduation.

Last Tuesday, we handed in our Bid List. This is basically a list that ranks all the available posts around the world where we might end up for our first overseas assignment. We have been stressing about the bid list for two weeks including several hours of research in the library, looking at pros and cons of each country and city, dreaming of what life might be like in, say, London versus Lima. When I finally e-mailed my completed Bid List and Preferences, I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders. (I promise that will be my only cliche in this post).

On Friday, our A-100 class survived THE WOODS, a two-day field trip to the back woods of West Virginia. It's basically a team building exercise to build camaraderie & esprit de corps. We were successful! But like fraternity initiation rites, what happens in the woods shall stay in the woods!  All I can say is, it was a ton of fun and our class came home from the experience as better friends & colleagues. 

Incidentally, I've heard some unfortunate stories about previous A-100 classes that never truly bonded, or had a lot of inter-personal conflicts. Unless I'm being seriously sheltered from the negativity, I think we have a really tight-knit group. Three weeks ago, we were all complete strangers and now we've already made lifelong friends. I can honestly say I'd be proud to serve alongside any of my classmates. In five days, we will learn where in the world we're going during FLAG DAY! Stay tuned.


A-100: Week One

Photo  I am proud and honored to say that I am now an official U.S. Foreign Service Officer!  And Mrs. Crab is proud to call herself a "diplomat's wife!"

I've just completed Week 1 of A-100. It's been a long, hectic but EXCITING first week!  For those who aren't familiar with Department of State (DOS) alphabet soup of acronyms, "A-100" is the Junior Officer Orientation Course. (In case you're wondering, A-100 was the name of the classroom where the course was previously held.) It's a five-week long introduction to the DOS with all sorts of briefings, lectures and exercises. It's been information overload but a fascinating class.

My first day of class was last Monday, when we were taken to DOS headquarters for in-processing. It was raining as we trudged from the Metro in our best suits, starring in awe as we were led into the grand lobby of DOS with flags from every country in the world. The best part of the day was when we all stood, raised our right hand, and took the oath of office:

"I ________, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

It was rather anticlimactic after the 2.5 year journey to get here. But this informal oath was done simply out of necessity: We aren't officially FSOs and can't get paid until we take the oath. But kind of like getting married by the justice of the peace followed by a grander church ceremony, we too will be having a more-fitting graduation day. On the last day of A-100, we will again take the Oath of Office, but this time in a formal event witnessed by our friends and family, with all the pomp-and-circumstance deserved.

But by far the most exciting day this week was receiving our "Bid Lists."  This is a list of all the available jobs around the world. The speculation has been killing us. I'm not allowed to post the bid list, but I will say that it is VERY good. Mr. & Mrs Crab were literally GOBSMACKED!!  We're now doing research, looking at all the pros and cons of each post, trying to decide which posts we should shoot for, which might be left for a future tour, etc. It's actually been easier than I thought but lots more research to do before we rank them high, medium or low.

There are 90+ diverse people in my class, ranging in age from 22 to 59 with a wide variety of backgrounds. At my FSOA, I remember being quite intimidated by the backgrounds of my fellow testers. My A-100 class is no different: We've got career attorneys from prestigious firms, folks with PHDs from Ivy League universities, people who have been wanting and training to be FSOs since they could talk, and people such as Mr. & Mrs. Crab who have lived and worked around the globe.  But the VAST majority of my classmates are "mere mortals," folks like myself with just a BA from less-prestigious colleges, people who have very little or no foreign travel experience, folks who most recently were waiting tables or unemployed, and some young men and women straight out college for whom the Foreign Service is their first job they've ever held!  It just proves the point that DOS tries to stress: everyone has a chance. I've had the opportunity to meet and socialize with many of my classmates and I'm just thrilled to bits to be working alongside such a great group of people.

That's all for now because, quite frankly, I've only slept 5 hours a night every day this week. But so far, it's been well worth it!

PS:  In case you're wondering, the photo above is the statue of Benjamin Franklin - America's first diplomat - located at the Foreign Service Institute.