In a little over three weeks, I will start my new career as a Foreign Service Officer when I begin the A-100 class. A-100 is the unofficial name for the five week training course that all foreign service officers undertake. During this course, I will learn about the State Department, how to write memos, meet my fellow classmates and most importantly, learn where I will be spending the next two years of my life.
But, how did I get to this place. I first learned about the Foreign Service when I was a senior in college. I signed up and took the Foreign Service Written Exam back when you had to take the exam on paper in a room with everyone else. I failed the exam. I took the exam two more times (now on the computer) and failed both of those exams. Meanwhile, I worked as a tour guide in Rome, went to law school, passed the bar exam (easier than the FSWE), and got a job with the Coast Guard as a Presidential Management Fellow.
Then, in September of 2008, I signed up to take the exam once again. I wrote the essays and sent my resume, but without high expectations. In the day before the 2008 election, I took the exam and quickly forgot about it. In December 2008, I found out that I had passed the exam. I was ecstatic to say the least.
The next step is called the QEP and is the most confusing part of the process. Basically, they review your resume, read some essays, and decide if you have the qualifications to become a Foreign Service Officer. I'm not sure exactly what they look at. No one really knows. By the time February rolled around, I was working in my first week on a rotation as a prosecutor in DC. In one day - February 18, 2009 - I had my first trial (I won); my Mom went into the hospital (she's okay); I learned I was getting a new roommate; and I found out I passed the QEP and could take the Oral Assessment.
The Oral Assessment is its own unique process. Essentially, it is a day-long interview that consists of three parts - the group exercise, the structured interview and the case management. Without some preparation, it would be very difficult to pass the FSOA. I had a few months to prepare and met with a study group every Monday for a few months. I met some good friends in the study group and this really helped me when it came time to take the Oral Assessment. For a more detailed recap, click here.
I passed the oral assessment with a score of 5.4. The score is important because it determines your ranking on the register. The lowest passing score is a 5.3. After I passed the FSOA, I had to get my medical clearance (took about a month) and my top secret security clearance (took over 4 months). I finally got all my clearances and made it on the register in early October. Unfortunately, this was too late to make it into the October 2009 A-100 class.
Around the time I made it onto the register, my lease was ending. Under State Department rules, people who live more than 50 miles from DC get per diem during training. The government pays for housing, utilities, and food. For people who are assigned to DC for a post, they get 'locality' pay (which is a 23% raise). For local hires during training, they don't get either of these things. Since I had to move anyway, I decided to move to Fredericksburg, VA and commute to DC for work each day (I was back working at the Coast Guard). It would likely only be for a few months, so I moved to Fredericksburg in November.
Unfortunately for me, there was a longer than normal gap between A-100 classes after I got on the register. This coincided with many other people getting their clearances as well. So, though I started out ranked 28/35, I quickly dropped down 45 or lower. I did not get invited to the January class and I began to worry I would be stuck in Fredericksburg forever. Then, on December 16, 2009, I got invited to join the February 16 A-100 class. I immediately accepted.
So, now I am preparing to move back to DC (Chrystal City to be exact) in a few weeks. I have to inventory everything I own (only 6 pages), separate it into three piles - stuff they store til I go overseas, stuff they ship for me (250 lbs limit), and stuff I will move in my car.
I hope to use this blog to document my time in the Foreign Service. I will limit this blog to stuff about the foreign service and/or traveling. You can expect posts about once a week or so, or when anything interesting happens. For more generic blogging, you can view my stuff on the III Degree.