Diplomatic Passport -جواز سفر دبلوماسي

Two pretty exciting things have happened since my last blog post.

First, I received my diplomatic passport! It is everything I had hoped it would be. It was also the last document we needed to send off the paperwork for my husband’s expedited naturalization. Our fingers are crossed that he will get an interview, pass the English and Civics tests, and become a U.S. citizen before we leave for Saudi Arabia next spring.

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And secondly, I can speak (a little bit of very specific vocabulary in) Arabic!

Examples of things I know how to say, read and write in Arabic:

  • The senior government official arrived in the Arab Republic of Egypt.
  • The Saudi king is meeting with foreign ministers from eastern countries and ambassadors from western countries.
  • The prime minister issued a joint statement, but the issue was not important.
  • I am studying Arabic because I am an employee of the State Department, and I will go to Saudi Arabia in order to work in the consular section in Jeddah.

Examples of things I do not know how to say in Arabic yet:

  • I would like 2 orders of falafel, please.
  • Where is the hospital?
  • What time is it?
  • See you tomorrow.

In just six more months, I am expected to be at Speaking Level 2, which means I will be able to “handle with confidence, but not with facility, most normal, high-frequency social conversational situations including extensive, but casual conversations about current events, as well as work, family, and autobiographical information.”

But for now:

!مع السلامة

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Commissioned!

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We received our Foreign Service commissions last week, complete with signatures of President Obama and Secretary Kerry. The certificate is hand-sealed with the Great Seal of the U.S. and notes that the President, with the consent of the Senate, has nominated and appointed me as an officer in the diplomatic service of the U.S. It is definitely the fanciest document that has ever had my name on it!

What does it mean? It means I can be assigned to consulates and embassies overseas as a foreign service officer, as my predecessors have been doing since 1864!

Training Day

Unlike Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke’s harrowing day in a crime-ridden neighborhood of south central LA, my training days involve zero controlled substances. However, some of what we are learning is just as interesting!

One of the things that really made me want to join the foreign service is that we get paid to learn – it’s a nice role reversal while I continue to barely make a dent on my student loan principal every month. I have just completed the Basic Consular Course (affectionately known as ConGen), which means that after six weeks of reading immigration law, passing a lot of tests and dressing up for role plays, I am now allowed to adjudicate visas (!).

Next week, we will start the much-anticipated Foreign Affairs Counter Threat class, known colloquially as the “Crash Bang” training. I am really looking forward to five days of practicing vehicle ambush countermeasures, surviving a hostage situation, and applying tourniquets. Bonus: spouses are encouraged to take the class, too, so G will be crashing cars alongside me!

And then, after one more month of job training, G and I will both start Arabic. I’ve already made some flash cards to try and get a head start on the alphabet. I present to you: five different letters, all of which will be written in cursive, presumably with other letters, to form words. This is Daal, Raa, Laam, Dhall, Zaa. :-O

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Oath of Office

A-100 is officially over! The last day of orientation on Friday was marked by a ceremony where we all raised our right hands and took the oath of office. We had actually already done this in a very administrative way on our first day, but we repeated it last week in front of our families in ceremonial fashion.

Ambassador Tom Shannon, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, did the honors for our class. Here’s the oath we took:

I affirm 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 that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

They gave us the option of either swearing or affirming the oath (religious vs non-religious), which I really appreciated! Separation of church and state for the win.

To celebrate, I took my family to the National Archives this weekend to see the Constitution in the flesh. It was fantastic, but they don’t allow photos inside the building so here is a photo of the outside of the building:

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Outside the National Archives in D.C.

Next week, I start Near Eastern Affairs area studies! Policy issues in this bureau include Iraq, Middle East peace, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and political and economic reform. Something tells me my 2-week introductory course will be just the tip of the iceberg.

Flag Day

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Yesterday was the most dramatic day of A-100 so far – Flag Day! During the first week of orientation, they gave our class a list of about 60 different posts around the world. We submitted our preferences a couple of weeks later, and on Flag Day we learned which post we are going to, when we are leaving, and what our training schedule is until then!

None of us know where we are going before the Flag Day ceremony begins. They gather us in a large room and go through the countries one by one in a random order, project the flag of the country on the screen, announce the name of the post and the job, and then call out your name. When your name is called, you walk to the front of the room and they hand you the flag of the country you will be going to, snap a photo, and then give you a folder with your future training schedule.

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I had printed out a list of all the posts, and had a grand plan to write down the names of my classmates with where they were going, but just as I was organizing myself and getting ready to write everything down, I was the second person (out of 98 people!) called!

G and I are moving to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in May 2017!! I will be a consular officer in Jeddah. This post was one of my top choices on the list, but I wasn’t expecting it because I had wrongly assumed I would be sent to a francophone country.

We have a LOT of things to do before we leave!

  1. Learn Arabic. (!)
  2. Apply for G’s U.S. citizenship.
  3. Take area studies classes, job training, and a multitude of hands-on and online courses to prepare.
  4. Research everything we can on life in Saudi Arabia.
  5. Celebrate!! We are so excited – this is going to be a fantastic post, and G will even be able to do some of the best scuba diving in the world!

Suit Camp

We are one-third of the way into our six-week orientation program here at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, VA. One of my esteemed colleagues has aptly named it ‘suit camp’ (we are required to wear suits every day: all business professional, all the time).

Our suit camp is more commonly known as the A-100 course, and its purpose is to introduce new employees to the structure and function of the Department of State and its role in the development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy. Allegedly, the name A-100 comes from the number of the room in which the course was first conducted, in 1924. We are the 186th Generalist Class, which means we are the 186th orientation class to pass through since the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

There are nearly 100 of us in orientation right now, which is a large class. We do theoretical exercises and case studies, attend presentations by guest speakers, and will be taking tours of Capitol Hill and other agencies around DC. Those of us who already speak foreign languages are tested on those languages, and all of us wade through our new inboxes @state.gov – which are starting to fill up quickly. We have homework most nights to supplement lectures the following day.

Outside of class, we spend a lot of time with one another – many of us aren’t from DC and don’t know anyone else here. But also, it’s pretty exciting to hang out with so many talented people who have worked all over the world. We go on runs together around DC, we have dinner together, we watch movies together, we research potential future posts together, and we even have the occasional, responsible one drink together.

In just three more weeks, we will receive our first overseas assignments and departure dates! But until then, I have some more homework to do.

The 186th running group climbs the steps of the Supreme Court.

The 186th running group climbs the steps of the Supreme Court.

Finally!

Ever since I started living abroad almost 10 years ago (off and on), I have been saying that I would start a blog. Flamenco dancing in Spain, working at Club Med, sipping champagne in France, teaching accounting in Tanzania – nope, nothing.

But today is the day. I am finally starting a blog to chronicle our new life in the foreign service! Check out the About Me page to see answers to frequently asked questions.

A huge thank you to Suzanne Salvo for the blog title idea!