Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Why Did You Join?

I think there are two kinds of people in the Foreign Service: the ones who knew from the cradle that they were destined to be a diplomat and the rest of us who think "Sweet! How the hell did they let me in here?!" (followed closely by, "Oh my god, I hope they don't figure out they weren't supposed to let me in here!")

NoDoubleStandards has a great piece over at Muttering Behind the Hardline about how he got into the Foreign Service by accident. I can't wait for Part II.

My story is kind of similar. I managed to get my B.A., M.A. (both from a state school) and start a PhD (from a much better state school) before I ever heard of the Foreign Service. I thought diplomats were only people the President appointed.

Then my wife registered to take the test. And promptly decided to blow it off. No, I said, take it. It will give you more options. So she took it. And passed.

Then the orals came along, and she was thinking of blowing that off too. No, I said. We'll make it a weekend in DC, have fun, do the tourist thing.

And then she passed that too.

Time passed and we didn't think any more about it. I didn't know about the A-100 yahoo group, so we had no means of obsessing. We just continued with our lives.

And then they sent her an offer to join an A-100.

Oh crap. Now what do we do?

I know...let's just see how it goes.

So she joined. And we quickly realized that this would make it hard for us as a couple, because at the time, same-sex partners weren't on orders, couldn't get dip passports or protections, couldn't get EFM jobs, etc.

Oops. Now what?

Maybe I'll take the test.

I'm still working on my PhD, but we don't want to be apart for our whole careers, so we should start working towards it now. Because the test takes a while. So she started in March of 2002 and I took the test around October or so after seeing the cool folks she worked with. I figured I'd fail the first time since lots of folks lots smarter than me fail it many times. In fact, while I was testing, someone told me about a guy who had taken the test TEN times before he got in. Hmmm...not sure I am that dedicated. (There was also a girl there who worred that she didn't know what she would do if she failed because she had been preparing to be a diplomat for her whole life. I think she was about 12).

I thought I did okay on it. I mean, I had to do better than the guy who, upon learning that no, Clarence Thomas WASN'T the first black Supreme Court Justice, declared that how should he know ancient history anyway! In January, while I was in Azerbaijan for Christmas with my wife, I learned I passed, barely in enough time to agree to take the orals. The orals were scheduled from February through July. They gave me a date in July.

That's fine, because I still needed to teach field school that summer. So I didn't think much more about it (except I did take a prep session that was offered at my University).

Again, I thought folks lots smarter than me had failed the orals, but it would be good experience for when I was closer to being finished with my degree and therefore could more easily join my wife overseas.

And then I passed that. With a pretty high score. Meaning I'd get an offer quickly once my clearances came through. But of course the clearances take a long time, right? A couple years for my wife. So I have plenty of time to work on my degree.

And the security clearances took 2 1/2 months. My medical clearance took longer. My November, I was on the register and being offered a slot in the January A-100. Of course, I already had paid for a ticket to go back to Azerbaijan to spend Christmas with my wife.

So I declined.

And then I got an offer for March. That one, I accepted.

So here I am, six years later in a job I totally fell into. One I hadn't heard of a decade before. One I wouldn't have had I not talked my wife into going ahead and testing. One I had never intentionally prepared for but ended up being very prepared for (degrees and careers in Journalism and Anthropology are pretty good prep for a PD officer). And one that I really love.

Who knew?

Your turn. What brought you here?


Anonymous said...

Loved the autobiography! I so love hearing people's stories!

You two ladies are some seriously trailblazin' sorts of gals.

Digger said...

Trailblazing? Only if you mean we accidentally dropped a match while walking and oops! Everything is on fire now!

Anonymous said...

Ooh fun. About a year ago, I was chatting with my roommates from Cuba. They wanted to work overseas, and told me I should consider it. My first time out of the country was only about a year before this, on a day trip to Montreal. I didn't speak any languages or have fancy degrees, so basically I laughed and said, "yeah right" but still helped them look for jobs online. I stumbled across State's website, and registered for the exam because it was free and sounded cool. On test day, I woke up that morning and decided not to take the exam. I then read it would cost me $50, so I high-tailed it to the test center at the last minute and almost didn't make it in.
My "prep" involved reading 'Don't Know Much About History' and 'DKMA Geography.' I had never heard of the foreign service, and I could only casually lie my way through an explanation of what a diplomat or an embassy was.
I don't want to give the impression that I just fell off the turnip truck (given the hiring process, it's obvious they just don't let any Ma Clampett through the door), but I (and many many others) am still shocked I made it through the process, alive and in one piece. I am so grateful State looks beyond the Pale/Male/Yale requirement and sees everyone's (between 20 and 59 and a citizen) potential, no matter how unlikely at face value. From the time I registered for the test, I obsessively learned as much as I could about the process and FS life (aka, I started reading this blog everyday). Since then, I've fallen in love with the FS and I don't know what I would do if I HADN'T been given this opportunity!

hannah said...

Easy enough - my favorite high school teacher joined up a few years before I did, and he encouraged me to take the test as well. I see him at FSI every so often and take great pleasure in telling all his colleagues that he was my AP history teacher.

J Voltaire said...

I took the test (last June) on a whim because my friends were taking it. I was originally going to prepare and take it in Oct, but I have zero patience so I decided to take the June exam. Strangely, I passed but they didn't.

Shannon said...

I did not come willingly, I came kicking and screaming and protesting all the way. Of course I am the trailing spouse. This was my husbands dream and personally I thought he was nuts! He grew up overseas in Okiwnawa and Seoul (army brat) and one day just decided he wanted to give his kids the childhood he had.

I remember that day very clearly. We had landscaped a friends yard and she gave us gift certificates to a Chinese restaurant, it was a little hole in the wall and we were the only white people there, the only ones speaking English. It reminded him so strongly of his childhood that he spent the next several days talking about how great it was to grow up overseas. From then on he sent out application after application for any job that had even a possibility of living abroad. At one point we thought he had a job with a different agency but after flying to DC twice and a lengthy application process and even choosing where we would live they simply said no thanks. In hind sight I am incredibly thankful. He told me when he applied to the State Department but by that time he had sent out so many different applications I was like, "That's nice dear" When he got the offer I honestly couldn't remember him applying. I was a bit blindsided.

To say I was not a happy camper would be an understatement but by the time we left the first post I was a total convert. I truly think this job is an incredible blessing in so many ways.

Gia Đình Vĩnh Cửu said...

Hey Ladies: I've actually followed your blog for some time. I'm in the same boat as you. I always assumed (first mistake) diplomats had connections to the president so I never even thought of pursuing a career in the foreign service. Somewhat fortuitously, I was working in Vietnam and happened to make friends with two diplomats. Aside from being extremely smart, driven, and interesting, they were also extremely down to earth. They challenged me to take the test, and the rest is history. I start A-100 in June, so we're excited, nervous, and all the other emotions that come with joining the foreign service. Hopefully we'll meet someday in a foreign land and break some foreign bread. =)


Digger said...

Welcome to the FS Elijah!

John, Huntsville, AL said...

well i have been thinking about joining for a while but i am always scared because of the fact that in college i majored in EE although my heart and soul have always been into foreign affairs. This is enough encouragement for me to just go ahead and do something everyone in my family will scratch their head's over. Wish me some luck ;and thanks for this post...

Digger said...

Good luck John! There are some posts and links on this blog to help with the test. We'll all have our fingers crossed for you!