Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Will Work For .4

My candidacy falls on the trailing end of a much-vaunted State Department "hiring surge" that was, as recently as 12 months ago, responsible for record numbers of candidates taking the Foreign Service Oral Exam, the final participatory arbiter of who will and who will not be a Foreign Service Officer.  I was fortunate to fall in that window, as recent adjustments to the OA testing schedule and the QEP decisions handed down yesterday indicate that State is now returning to their more conservative hiring numbers. 
Roughly 18 months ago I progressed through the FSOT, QEP, OA, and clearance proceedings on my first try, which is uncommon.  Currently, I'm sitting on the PD register with an uninspiring 5.3 -- a score that, on it's own, will not be sufficient to make me a PD officer.  After 18 months months on the register, a candidate expires and is obliged to being the process anew by declaring their cone of interest and taking the written exam.  My "best if used by" date is currently set at December 24, 2011 -- Christmas Eve. 

I'm writing this as a little reminder to myself -- as a kind of motivation.  You see, this job is my dream.  I spent the better part of a year preparing for the process before I even took the written test, and most every life decision I've made in the last three years has been motivated by a desire to best prepare myself for the FS.  I earned a Masters Degree in a relevant field, read pertinent blogs, books and magazines compulsively, bought only multi-voltage appliances, etc.  I relish the opportunity to serve my country in a capacity where I can be useful and instrumental.  I want to interview Visa applicants, attend Jazz Festivals, help reunite international families, organize 4th of July proceedings for expats, bake pretzels for admiring hordes of pretzel-starved FSOs, LES' and EFMs, join Serbian punk bands, and generally be in a position to ensure that American interests are served as a result of my talents and effort.  The idea that I could do all this in the company of all of you, bloggers and friends I have met along the way, is humbling and inspiring.

All that is standing between me and my dreams, then, are .4 little points.  It seems silly to see it written there, so small.  In conversation with well-meaning outsiders wondering what's taking the State Department so long to call me, I have often referred to the language bonus as "4 points", rather than ".4 points".  "Point Four" just feels insignificant on my tongue, and yet it is that very tongue that so steadfastly refuses to earn them.

All that is to say that, yesterday, I began the process of scheduling my Turkish Language phone test with FSI.  Truth be told, I'm terrified.  I've studied for months, and I actually lived in Ankara for a year, but most of my study has been alone and academic, and I made what can only be described as a half-hearted effort to learn the language while actually in Turkey.  I spend a few hours a week speaking to a private tutor over Skype or a Rosetta Stone language specialist, and my wife and I frequently speak to each other in what is no doubt ghastly Turkish riddled with inconsistencies, but I feel unparalleled trepidation when preparing to speak, even when it's to well-paid tutors whose entire job is to improve just this.  Ironically, as I write this my wife is in the background watching "The King's Speech".  It surely is unpleasant, feeling enslaved to words you simply cannot seem to say.

I've scheduled the test now, partly out of a keen desire to move this process forward, and partly out of an understanding that, should I not pass, I would be able to test again in 6 months and still have eligibility left before Christmas Eve.  In any case, I always work better with a deadline.

So if any of you have suggestions, don't be coy.  I feel reasonably comfortable satisfying the L2 requirements on the State Department's informational sheet re: directions, simple conversations, etc. but i've little to no fluency in current affairs, and that seems to be what these things are all about.  At least, should I not succeed the first time, I'll have a better idea of how to prepare.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to read this (and every other) blog

Image borrowed from Sarah Palin's Alaska, possibly the least practical state for a bicycle paper route.

SO, fair warning, if you already know what an RSS feed is, or you prefer your FS bloggers to stay on message and talk about the FS, you can stop here. 

Still with me?  Great.


With the tremendous upsurge in blog popularity in the last 7-10 years, more and more people are consistently reading blogs as a primary source of information, not just about the blogger themself, but about the blogger's profession or location.  As interests expand, people tend to pick up more and more blogs and bloggers, until the number of people whose lives, careers and interests they follow can't reasonably be recalled off the top of their heads.  (as a self-guided language test, I tried to translate that last sentence into Turkish.  It was impossible.)

A number of people I know enjoy reading their friends' blogs, or other popular blogs, but get frustrated when people fail to post for a long period, or forget to check and give up when they see they are 25 posts behind.  This simply will not do.

Since it's in my interest that you keep reading this blog, rather than replace it with one of the many, many better blogs out there, I want to fill you all in on a little secret.  You can subscribe to these things.  When I (or any other blogger) post, you get it automatically.  When I don't post, you miss nothing.  This is free, easy, and doesn't require you to sign up for anything (or much of anything), so there's no reason not to start right away.


The first thing you will need to understand is RSS, or Really Simple Syndication.  This is a service that turns formatted blog posts, articles, or anything on the web that periodically updates into simple text and pictures, and sends it to you.  An individual subscription is called a feed, and you subscribe to these feeds using an RSS reader, or an RSS aggregator.  There are hundreds of these, but anyone with a google or GMail account (and this should truly be all of you) has access to a great one -- Google Reader.

Sign yourself up with your google account name and password, and you're halfway there. 

At the top left corner of the page, under the Google logo, there will be a button labeled "Add a subscription".  It looks like this:

Click on that button, and you're given a search field.  This being Google, you can enter whatever search terms come to mind.  You might, for instance, want to subscribe to one of my favorite blogs, "Muttering Behind the Hardline".  You'd type that in, and it would look like this:

Upon hitting "Add", you are presented with a series of options.  Look through them, just as would any google search result, and see which seems correct.  In our case, the first result is correct (and every other result as well).  When you find the one you want, just hit "+ Subscribe".

And there you have it, subscribed!


This method assumes that you can remember all the blogs you like off the top of your head, which I cannot.  You can enter other terms in the search field, like "classic cars" or "tennis", "balkan cuisine", or of course "Foreign Service" and get good results as well, but perhaps the best way is to subscribe from the webpage itself.

For that, you need to know two things:

   1. Which feed (website, newspaper, blog, etc.) you wish to subscribe to, and
   2. What the RSS logo looks like.

While I can't be of much help with the former, the latter I can do.

BAM!  That's is your ticket to in-depth ruminations about what kind of tea your kids' dog prefers, which phone is undoubtedly the best, and how to properly cook pasta al dente.  Usually it's located in your browser's address bar (where http://www.valdysses.com is displayed right now) on the far right, but many pages also have that icon strewn around everywhere.


Even easier than that is adding a "subscribe" button to your bookmarks directly.  Simply drag the word Subscribe... directly from this blog post into your shortcuts and, when you visit a site you want to follow, click the link.  It will take you right to your Google reader page and load up the subscription for you to confirm.  Easy as it gets, and far better than typing my blog address all the time, only to be disappointed by my erratic posting.

If I messed anything up or left anything out, please let me know in comments.  Otherwise, enjoy your new, streamlined life.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Turkısh Curiosities

Short post here, mostly for the benefit of A Slow Move East (and anyone else studying Turkish and reading this.  Holla back)

Turkish Formalwear Vocabulary

  1. takı = jewelry
  2. elbise = dress
  3. Takım Elbise = men's suit.

Or, of course, my jewelry dress.

A thoroughly masculine language if ever there was one.

You will be sorely missed

While making my blog rounds yesterday, I noticed that the long defunct blog of "The Hegemonist" has now lapsed entirely, and his site now contains only a stock placeholder page. 

Though The Hegemonist hadn't posted for a year or so, he had a very high google ranking and a series of informative pages about the FSOT and the career itself.  When I first set out to take the test, The Hegemonist's guide was an indispensable resource.  It was the first thorough, modern guide I found with frank and useful advice, and I must have read it twenty times.  Despite being inactive for a year, it's still holds the #4 page rank for "foreign service blog".

This is a particular loss for me, as I had taken it upon myself to periodically patrol the comments section and answer questions posed there.  Since many people found The Hegemonist long before they ever found the FS yahoo group or other resources, they seemed to have a lot of questions with simple answers I knew.  Knowing the answers to these questions really helped me feel as if I was well prepared, so I kept answering them (all the while linking to this site, mind you).

And now it's all gone, which seems to me a little sad.  So goodbye and fare well, Hegemonist.  Here's hoping we meet some day, and I get the chance to properly thank you.