Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fun, State Department Style

Word came down last week from our language overlords that all sections in Indonesian language training would be attending a "Holiday Party" last Friday. We were told that the language teachers would be preparing authentic Indonesian dishes for lunch (woo-hoo!) and that we would be responsible for choosing and creatively presenting a holiday-related presentation to the class (boo!).

We have reached the point in our studies where we are vocabulary-building by the day, with less new grammar concepts. The level of pain we suffer depends on the reading level of materials assigned on a given day. Once in a while, they hit us with stuff that has us in our dictionaries for long stretches, but for the most part we are okay and learning our way to our required score by accretion, picking up a little each day. Complacency of a sort has settled in.

Well, just throw an opportunity to create a Powerpoint onto the table, and suddenly everyone is an over-competitive ninja. Transitions, shadow effects on block letters, and continuity between different contributions all suddenly became important. Each section kept their presentation secret while attempting to "accidentally" find where the others had saved theirs. We figured we would trot out our presentations, have some lunch, and hit the skids.

Instead the day before the event we were emailed a daily schedule that included many hours of "games" (we ain't talking about Monopoly, more like Jeopardy! Indonesia). In addition to our planned presentation there would be another extemporaneous one, and many more! Then the kicker: the head of Student Language Services AND the head of the East-Asia Pacific Languages Division would be joining the head of the Indonesian Section at the "party" to monitor our progress, I mean, join in the festivities.

Now, I have been to office Christmas parties before, and I can't say they were all tons of fun, but as long as you didn't drink enough to tell your boss what you REALLY felt or become the subject of an embarrassing picture or video, you didn't have to worry about work so much.

In my new job, attending "social events" and working hard at them is part of the gig. Yes, everyone will be in party clothes, and there will be yummy snacks and beverages, but brother, you are at work and don't forget it. For my classmates who were on their 2nd tour or more, this was no surprise. Being exhausted at the end of a party because I was working is a new experience for me. Here in the Foreign Service, we work in many different and dangerous environments, and do it for as long as the job requires. Today's Foreign Service is much more than the "striped-pants cookie pushers" of old. But we still ride to the sound of the champagne toasts in service to our country.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Great Seal

Somehow in the battles and shuffles between the different departments of our government since the founding, the State Department ended up being the guardian of the Great Seal of the United States. I have seen the contraption, used to place a big sticker-like thing (the yellow circle in the picture to the left) on official documents executed in the name of the United States. You know, things like treaties or, in my case, commissions for Foreign Service Officers!

A classmate of mine that is working at Main State sent out an email that he saw people using the seal and stopped to look in, only to see a commission for one of our A-100 classmates. So we knew these were coming, but it was still very cool. When I went to pick up mine, the folks in personnel said congratulations. I worried I would drop it on the Metro tracks or have it blow out of my hands on the way home. I managed to make it home without incident.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton's autopens signed the thing, and speaking as a nerd I have to say I find it very cool. I don't think either of them know that they have placed "...special trust in my Integrity, Prudence, and Ability..." but it's pretty neat having a piece of parchment that says so.

Seeing it helps put things like months more of language training in perspective, as I can see where the tedium today is a means to be able to act as a Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service in Jakarta next year.