Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Going Global Again

My life is changing direction, people. In a good way, in a big way, in a global way!

The short story: Starting in mid-January, I will be changing careers, from an IT and Contract specialist with NOAA (which has been an amazing experience with incredible people) to a Foreign Service Officer, a diplomat, for the State Department.

The long story:

In summer 2013, my good friend Jeff looked deep into my eyes with a serious, no-nonsense look on his face, and said:

"Oh, please. Shut up and go apply." There was a long, silent pause, and although they didn't move, I could hear my dad silently applauding and see my mom's knowing smile.

We had been talking about my initial resistance to applying for the State Department's Foreign Service. I'd been voicing my concerns (self-doubt) and reluctance to take the entrance test. Jeff shut that down in a hurry and, after a few months of hemming and hawing, I signed up on the State Department website so that I would be notified of the next opportunity to take the test.

As it turned out, I didn't take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) right away. It's offered three times a year, generally in February, June and October. I skipped the October test in favor of getting a semester of International Relations classes under my belt. This helped me to decide that yes, this is a field I'm very interested in, and yes, I think I'll apply for the Foreign Service.

In February 2014 I took the test. It had four parts to it: the multiple choice section, which had question topics ranging from pop culture to world geography to history to US political system; then there was the Background Information section, for which I was completely unprepared, having spent my time studying for the multiple choice section; and there was a grammar section. Lastly, there was an essay prompt. Every section was timed, though I don't recall feeling rushed on anything except the Background Information part.

Then that was it... hurry up and wait. The military conditioned me to this particular game, so I was caught by surprise when the e-mail came, two and a half weeks later, to tell me I'd passed. Barely. But barely doesn't matter in this case; you either pass or you don't. I then had about four weeks to submit Personal Narratives: seven essays of a very specific, limited length, explaining my skills and experiences in various ways dictated by prompts. I submitted my essays in March, the day they were due.

You guessed it: hurry up and wait time again! About six weeks later, I received an e-mail congratulating me on making it to the next round: the Foreign Service Oral Assessments (FSOA). The process allows you to schedule this event within a 3-4 month period, and I chose to give myself two months to prepare. I joined a DC-area study group, which met weekly and was immensely helpful, and attended a "Diplomat-in-Residence Oral Assessment Info Session" which was insightful.

August arrived and in I went for a full-day interview process. The FSOA is comprised of three main parts, which in turn break down into sub-parts. Basically, there's a group exercise (which has the group exercise part and an individual briefing part), a Case Management exercise (individual test), and a Structured Interview (with Experience and Motivation, Hypothetical situation, and Past Behavior question sections). I got to meet ten other Foreign Service Officer candidates, many of whom were impressive. Age, experience, ethnicity and education levels varied widely. Five of us passed, just under half. No waiting this time: we found out at the end of the very long day.

The next steps were to obtain my medical and security clearances. The medical was fairly easy, just setting up a few appointments with the State Department medical folks and get them records from recent doctor's visits. Security worried me, since I'd traveled so much and been unemployed for a good chunk of time. After my initial security interview and filling out a detailed questionnaire about where I'd been, who I'd met, where I'd lived, etc, for the past ten years, I settled in for the wait, sure that it would be months before I heard anything further.

I received a letter barely two months after I submitted my security paperwork, letting me know I'd made it into the hiring register. Just under two months later, I received my invite to A-100 for January 2015.

It's been a wild ride, but nothing compared to many others I've met who have taken and retaken the tests and interviews, waiting for an offer that never came. My entire process took just about ten months, and that is pretty fast from what I can tell.

What's next? Next is A-100, or "Generalist Class," which lasts for six weeks. In week five I will find out where they'll post me (most likely in an embassy out in the world somewhere) and what I'll be doing. Where I'm posted will determine what follow-on training will be given, possibly including area studies, language training, and job-specific training. This could last three weeks or it could last a year, depending.

And then, I'll be off: off into the world to live and work abroad as a U.S. diplomat, with 2-3 year assignments.

The paperwork is formidable.

The possibilities are thrilling and terrifying.

The excitement is incredible.

Here I go!



  1. woo ... delightful, daring, dramatic, dickensian, dumbfounding, demanding, delicious, diplomatic, difficult, dangerous, dynamic, distinguished, and definitely you!