Thursday, March 31, 2011

Giving Credit

I always like to give credit where credit is due. And so... Area studies was great today! Our speaker today talked about energy issues in the Balts and Poland. It was interesting, useful and relevant. It takes so little to make me happy! And more credit...immersions are great! I have to tell you that I really find that I feel more confident and fluid talking, reading and writing now. I am really glad I went. Wish it had been longer.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Welcome to the 160th!

My apologies for being late. The 160th A-100 began on Monday, but of course, I was on the other side of the planet. And then I was jet-lagging. So I only just around to doing my traditional graduation of the Future FS bloggers to the FS blogroll. But I am rectifying that now by welcoming the 160th and all of their bloggers to the Foreign Service. The following blogs have been moved to the FS blogroll: A Sojourning Life Diplochick Knocking About The Red Menace Abroad We Are Alive, Mom White Waters & Black Welcome!

Catching Up

Okay, I know you are dying to know who won the Amazing Race, so I'll just tell you. It was a tie. We got back at the same time...but you knew that already. So just as a wrap up (sorry about not blogging sooner, but I was really wiped out...Ii was even too quesy for sushi last night, so you know how bad that was!). Anyway, our time in Tallinn was brief, but good. We met with our sections at the embassy, as well as with the Ambassador, DCM and the person we are each replacing. And everything, everything, everything exceeded my expectations! The people are great, the place is great. I think we will love it there. Except. Yesterday, we were told that my wife was not approved for In Country Language Training. Which could mean we spend a year apart. Not something I am thrilled with, since we have already done almost 2.5 years apart during our careers. At this point, I don't know what we will do. We are going to appeal. We are going to try to get help from anyone we can think to ask. We are considering all options. Keep your fingers crossed for us that the appeal won't be rejected, though really we expect it will. I am not sure where we go from here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Amazing Race Estonia: Leg 5

Make your way to Koeru, a village east of the road from Tallinn to Tartu. Find a small home on a side road belonging to the Aunt of one of your teachers and deliver a package. Warning: Road block ahead.

I want to start off with my only complaint so far about the trip. No one should have to go through daylight savings time change twice in two weeks. Estonia is two weeks behind us in springing forward, so I got the joy of doing that for a second time. I don't approve.

We made our way to Koeru. I drove most of the way, until we got to a small side road in Koeru that was entirely ice. Then I turned the wheel over to my classmate, who has more than 1.5 hours experience driving a stick shift!

Koeru is tiny...teensy tiny. No stoplight kind of tiny.

But thanks to our teacher KK's directions, we found her aunt's home with no trouble. However, since we were nearly an hour early, we drove around a bit.

We found a store that has a big sign saying "Avatud Iga Päev" or, open every day.

But as you will notice from the sign in the window, it is "suletud," or closed, on Sunday. Guess that is not a day.

We also found this interesting church...the stained glass looks oddly like a bomb shelter sign to me...

The "window" just above the stained glass is a door...wouldn't want to walk out of that accidentally!

Anyway, we made our way to KK's aunt's house. MV was incredibly nice. We gave her a gift sent my KK. She made us an excellent lunch of ham, potatoes and saurkraut, followed by a cake she made. Yum! I am still stuffed, six hours later.

ROAD BLOCK: A Road Block is a task that each participant must do alone. In this road block, interview MV about her family history and draw her family tree. Find out where she has travelled and wants to travel.

So I interviewed MV and found out she has travelled to all sorts of places, particularly in the former Soviet Union, but has never made it to America. I hope she comes to visit. Once we finished with our visit (and let me tell you that carrying on a conversation in Estonian for two hours is EXHAUSTING!), we headed back to Tallinn. We arrived at our colleague PM's apartment in time to wander a bit in the Old City of Tallinn.

And clearly, this place is already throwing out the welcome mat for me (I was too polite to tell them Carolina is spelled with a "C").

And for those of you who watch the real Amazing Race, and saw the season where they came to Estonia, I thought you might regognize this door:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Amazing Race Estonia: Leg 4

Here is your next clue: Make your way to Viljandi. Tour the city and visit the city museum

We got up this morning at about 8 since we didn't have meet anyone today.

We passed a really cool old church and cemetery along the way. I thought I saw a sign nearby that said Mähla, but I can't find that or anything like it in my atlas. there was no sign on the was I guess 15 kilometers west of Tartu near Puhja. We stopped and took some pictures. (EDIT 5/24/2012: I discovered that the church was St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church in Mõisanurme. Like many churches, it was likely closed in the mid-1960s by the Soviet authorities.)

We made it to Viljandi, but no one old us nothing is open this time of year! The tourist office was closed, the museum was closed...even the restaurant was closed. So we made the best of it, driving and walking around the city, checking out St. John's and St. Paul's churches and the old water tower. Then we drove back to Tartu...just in time to drive through another snowstorm. At least this one was quick and mild!

Once we got back to Tartu, we decided to wander around the city for a while. I found the university bookstore and bought a nice road atlas and some postcards. Then I found a little cafe' on Raekoja plaza, ordered some soup and wrote my postcards.

On my way back to the hotel, I stopped in a souvenier shop.

And this is where I got my big score!

The clerk in the score spoke to three women who came in after me. She addressed them right from the start in English. Then she turned to me and asked if I needed any Estonian! Big score for me! I asked her about some of the items, and then got directions to the post office...all in Estonian.

I left the shop and found the postoffice, bought some stamps, and mailed the postcards. Then I headed back to the hotel. I think I earned a nap.

Tomorrow, back to Tallinn.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Remembering the Deportations

It is no exaggeration to say that there is not a single Estonian family untouched by the deportations. Between deportations, executions, and conscriptions into the Red Army, as much as 10% of the country's population disappeared. It would be like losing 35 million Americans...

In the plaza here in Tartu, there is a makeshift memorial I wanted to share with you. I promise to get back the the Amazing Race tomorrow.

From our Embassy's website:

March 25, 2011
Sixty-two years ago today, Soviet forces that illegally occupied Estonia and its Baltic neighbors launched an unprecedented wave of deportations. The human scale of these deportations is unfathomable; within three days, nearly three percent of the Estonian population had been sent to Siberia. Early Soviet mass deportations and executions had been aimed at destroying Estonian society, culture, production capabilities and defensive infrastructure. This wave of deportations was crafted to break the stiff Estonian resistance to collectivization; it was targeted at the citizenry and included vastly disproportionate numbers of women and children. The train cars that bore over 20,000 Estonians east included a one year-old infant and a ninety five-year old woman.

History bears testimony to the indomitable Estonian spirit and the tenacity of this nation's culture. Today, Estonians will gather to reflect on their unique and oft-harsh history. Our Ambassador and Mrs. Polt will participate, laying a wreath and lighting candles in Tallinn's Freedom Square, in memory of those who suffered during this tragic time. In a society that has come so far since the restoration of its independence, memories are never too distant. Together with Estonia, America recalls the past and lives for the future.

Amazing Race Estonia: Leg 3

Here is your next clue: Make your way to Võru and meet up with TK, the director of the daycare center in Võru. She will give you your instructions. Warning: Road Block ahead

We got up this morning at 7:30 and helped ourselves to the free breakfast at the hotel. I had some cheese and turkey ham, plus a few pickles. And coffee...really good coffee. Caffeine is the best thing ever, especially when you are jet-lagged.

We left about 8:30 to head to Võru, not wanted to be late. Being late is extremely rude in Estonian culture.

So we got there about an hour and a half early.

We used the time to check out the frozen lake (people were ice fishing on it) and the local market. Then my classmate offered to teach me something I firmly believe every foreign service officer should know but I did not.

How to drive a stick shift.

Don't judge me...I had a traumatic experience with a stick when I was a freshman in college and haven't attempted it since.

And to my credit, I didn't stall the car even once. I didn't attempt any hills though. Baby steps...there was a lot of ice in that lot.

So we finally headed over to the daycare, now only 20 minutes early (well within acceptable arrival time in Estonia). The director, who it turns out is our instructor's first cousin, showed us around the is pretty big and has more than 200 students between the ages of about 3 and 7. Estonia has no need for daycare for children under three because they have very generous maternity leave.

After we listened to some children sing and dance for us (they were VERY cute), we were treated to some excellent soup and some sort of bread pudding for dessert. It was very tasty. Then we walked around the city.

And here I will just insert that LIES! It had said no snow while I was to be here, and then only a day or two of snow. But it has snowed EVERY day.

Luckily, the roads have been great...until this afternoon. I'll get to that.
So we walked around town in the wasn't much snow...just fits and starts. But it was windy and cold. We walked to TK's home, accompanied by her son, who was along in case we needed a translator (he's a teenager...I think we bored him! And we only asked him for the occasional word anyway). We met their dog (not friendly) and their cat (nearly stuffed her in my sweet!) and then walked though the park in town, past the Orthodox church, to the F.R. Kreutzwald museum. Kreutzwald was Voru's doctor and is famous for his writing, his scientific work, and much more. He penned the Estonian National Tale, Kalevipoeg, based on an old oral tale. He also did archaeological research, so he in now near and dear to my heart.

After we finished at the museum, we walked back down to the lake to see the statue of Kreutzwald. Then we headed to the kohvik (coffee house...remember the trend?).

ROAD BLOCK: Answer a series of questions about the cultural life of Voru. Each participant will have his our her own questions.

We each have individual assignments. TK asked about our plans for tomorrow, and when I pulled the schedule out of my pocket, I had with it my questions. She went through them with me and told me about what was available in this small town of 14,000 (answer...not a lot...they call go to Tartu or Tallinn).

We left the Kohvik and headed back to their house. At this point, the snow started in earnest. You know it is bad if an Estonian calls it a snow storm. In the 15 minutes it took to walk to their house, probably an inches was already on the ground. So we said quick goodbyes and headed back. The snow was really blowing for much of the trip...there were white outs at points.

There was even an accident on the way back...luckily no one seemed to be hurt. But the roads got crappy fast. Luckily, they use good salt here, so they also cleared up pretty quickly.

Make your way back to the hotel London in Tartu. This is your pit stop for this leg of the race.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Amazing Race: Estonia Leg 2

Here is your second clue. Make your way to Tartu by car to the main building of Tartu University. There you will meet a university instructor (aka LP) who will give you your next clue.

We got up at 7 am…we were told the drive to Tartu would take about 2 hours and we needed to be there by 11 am…wisely, we decided to give it more time. It takes more like 2 ½ to 3 hours. But the drive is beautiful. Once you get out of Tallinn, it is farmland and woods dotted with tiny groups of old houses. There are a few restaurants of the mom and pop variety (like the one below) and some gas stations.

We stopped at one place to take a potty break…you had to pay to use the restroom, which was fine. Except that the country has converted to the Euro…but the restroom had not. Luckily, the cashier keeps 1 Kroon coins on hand for just such an occasion.

We made it to Tartu at a little before 11, found great parking, and called the person we were supposed to meet. Unfortunately, she wasn’t supposed to meet us until noon. So we went to the University Coffee House and got an early lunch.

The food was amazing…I was expecting snack food. What I got was a wonderful grilled salmon!

Interesting thing happened at the restaurant…our waitress at one point accidentally spoke in English…she then apologized and went back into Estonian! She was Estonian, and I heard her speak perfectly good English to some tourists who came in afterward.

Here is your next clue. Go with the university instructor to her class. Speak in English on a topic of your choosing and listen to the students interpret. Answer questions. When you have completed this task, the teacher will give you further instructions.

We actually got our onward instructions before the class started…we were to meet another Estonian, AU, at 3 pm in front of the main building at the university to go on a scavenger hunt of sorts. More on that in a bit. So anyway, we went to a classroom across the street from the Main Building (our teacher was right, you can't miss it).

In class, I chatted for about 7 minutes about PeeDee Indian history (gotta spread it where I can!) and answered questions. My classmate, being braver than I, chatted about Iraq. The students did a pretty good job of interpreting, though at one point, I took the headset off and just listened to the Estonian because the student doing the interpreting was having a few difficulties. As was the headset…it kept cutting in and out.

When we finished, we went and located our hotel, which was about a block away. We moved the car over and put our stuff in the room. By then, it was time to meet AU for the scavenger hunt. She sent us all over the city center finding out what the names of bridges are, what the monuments in Toomemagi park are for (magi means mountain, but where I come from, that is a hill…same for the rivers…they are more like creeks, except Suur Ema Jogi, which means Big Mother River and it is), where the giant pig and the kissing/compass statues are, etc. I feel like I got a good overview of the city….I am still not sure about the building that seems to be intentionally leaning.

Afterward, we met our guide at a coffee house and discussed our results. Then my classmate and I had dinner at the Gun Powder Cellar, which allegedly has a mug with our instructor’s name on it on the wall…I couldn’t find it, but I am sure it is there.

This evening, we went with LP to the theater. We had a bit of a mortifying misunderstanding…our instructor had said something about the possibility of going to “a play” if there were tickets, and I thought at some point we were told there were none. So when LP gave us tickets to something, we thought it was a movie. And when she said Evita, we assumed a movie dubbed into Estonia.

No, it was Evita…full stage performance with small orchestra. People dressed to the nines. Except us…dressed more like to the fours…in jeans. At least I wore a sweater….

The performance was exceptional…all in Estonian with a sign for English and Finnish subtitles. Amazing performers. I had a really good time…after the performance, we went to a coffee house (sensing a trend?) and had some dessert.

Oh, and lest you doubt how fully wired this country is (as I used the hotel's free wifi), this is across the street from our hotel (yes Virginia, there IS an iPhone in my future!):

Next Clue: Make your way back to the Hotel London for a mandatory rest break. In the morning, make your way to Tartu, where you will receive you next clue.

Amazing Race: Estonia Leg 1

Welcome to the Amazing Race. This is a race from Washington, D.C. to Estonia and back. Two Estonian language students will compete for an (almost) all expenses paid trip to Estonia for three years. Along the way, there will be tasks you must complete in order to continue.

This is the Amazing Race Estonia!

Here is your first clue:

Make your way from Washington, DC to Tallinn, Estonia. Fly into the airport and rent a car. Make your way by car to an apartment on Roosikrantsi, and wait your next instructions.

So we caught the 10:50 flight from Dulles to Frankfurt. And I have a confession...I felt a true sense of panic when I hit Frankfurt. It was a total Jerusalem flashback. I thought, oh my god, what am I doing? I don't want to live overseas. Living overseas is AWFUL! I want to go home. I can't go through this again.

It took me until the next morning for the feeling to completely pass (but it did...I'll get to how awesome this place is in a bit). Anyway, we made it to the airport in Tallinn, which as you can see from the picture, is interesting looking. We made our way to Budget, where we had a reservation for a car. My classmate brought his GPS, so we were able to find our colleague's apartment pretty easily. It is a really nice place (covet, covet...hmmm...he IS leaving right before I arrive....) and you can see Herman Tower from his living room. It is walking distance to the old city and so guess what we did for dinner?

We walked to the Old City.

And ate at an Indian Restaurant.

Don't judge me. It was his suggestion and really good.

You have reached the pit stop for this leg of the race. You have a mandatory rest period before the next leg.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Going Dark

I sometimes wonder how many potential recruits we lose when a good blog suddenly goes dark.

One of my favorite ones just did, and I am pretty bummed about it. Some of you have figured out which one and have asked me about it.

I asked the author why they shuttered the blog, and the blogger told me that post had asked that it be deleted.

And why??

This blog never that I saw mentioned anything of "official concern." The blogger had a really funny take on our experience, and anyone who knows me knows I place a high premium on humor. (It is one of the main reasons I married my wife...she is seriously a riot!).

It is sad for me to see this happen, because this blog was just the kind that would convince good folks to join the service. And if there is anything we need, it is more good folks.

I have asked the blogger to consider going anonymous.

I really hope it happens.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

P.J. Crowley's top 10 tweets

This is from Josh Rogin over at The Cable.

P.J. Crowley's top 10 tweets

When State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned on Sunday afternoon, the U.S. diplomatic establishment didn't just lose its top spokesman -- it also lost one of its most prolific, entertaining, and sharp-tongued tweeters. Since Crowley began tweeting in May 2010, he's told off dictators, criticized Congress, and talked some baseball as well, 140 characters at a time.

Crowley's Twitter personality mirrored his real-life personality -- affable, edgy, sometimes sarcastic, and occasionally a little off-message. Crowley's energy and willingness to take measured risks by going beyond the Obama administration's standard talking points is what endeared him to the reporters he worked with each day. It was that same openness that cost him his job, after he admitted that he believed the Marine Corps' treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning was "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."

Crowley's last tweet before resigning was a gem, but he deleted it. "We've been watching hopeful #tsunami sweep across #MiddleEast. Now seeing a tsunami of a different kind sweep across Japan," read the March 11 tweet.

Of the remaining 400-plus tweets he sent out to his 24,000-plus followers, here are The Cable's top 10, in reverse chronological order:

March 1, 7:08 a.m.: "#Qaddafi tells #ABCNews: All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me. The #Libyan people tell Qaddafi: You go first!"


Feb. 22, 7:28 p.m.: "We are surprised that #Argentina has chosen not to resolve a simple dispute involving training equipment. And we still want our stuff back."

Feb. 16, 7:56 a.m.: "#KimJongIl's son attended an #EricClapton concert in Singapore? Actually, the #DearLeader himself would benefit from getting out more often."

Jan. 22, 5:40 a.m.: "The claim by the lawyer for #JulianAssange that his client could go to #Guantanamo is pure legal fantasy. Save it for the movie."


Aug. 27, 5:38 p.m.: "Americans should heed our #travel warning and avoid North Korea. We only have a handful of former Presidents. #DPRK"

You can read the entire article here.

PJ started tweeting while I worked for him, and I used to love to listen to him come up with some zingers (the best ones never got published). The Cable left out two of my favs that did though:

June 11:
@chavezcandanga sings to @SecClinton? Can #Vegas be far behind? Maybe he should stay in Vegas.

May 12:
Heard that Hugo Chavez has 200 people helping him tweet. Here at State, I have two. Out-numbered, but not out-gunned.


Friday, March 18, 2011


Soon, you will be able to insert me into this picture.

On Tuesday, one of my classmates and I are heading to Tallinn for our immersion.

Our poor spouses don't get to come.

We have our plans from our instructor, and have begun emailing people we are to meet there. People who alledgely don't speak English (except for the one who actually teaches English, but she has been instructed to refuse to speak it with us!).

One of the things I am most excited about though is getting to meet the folks in my section. I have heard positively awesome things about them, and I can't wait to meet them in person. I am certain working with them is going to be incredible.

I am also looking forward to being adventurous in eating. I'm willing to try almost anything...still not sure about the meat jello though.

Our hotel has free wifi, so I expect to be able to post some pictures and stories while I am there.

I probably won't be in the pictures though...this blog is anonymous you know! ;)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy and A Little Sad

We had a great turnout for the GLIFAA brown bag. Fifteen people showed up.

That should make me happy, right?

Well, it does...except...

The new A-100 has seven out LGBT folks, including a tandem couple. To my knowledge, it is the most that has ever been in an A-100. Which is awesome...I love that more and more LGBT people are joining the Department.


The previous record for the most LGBT people in an A-100 was six.

And it was held by my A-100.

So it is bittersweet.

You ARE coming today, right?

Today is our regular GLIFAA A-100 lunch.

We will be meeting from 12:55-1:25 in room F2304 just across the breezeway from the cafeteria.

I hope you will be there. I am going to be late to area studies (which you know just kills me!) just to have lunch with you!

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 17 - Save the Date!

We will be having our regular GLIFAA lunch, Thursday, March 17 at 12:55-1:35.

We are meeting in a room just outside the FSI cafeteria...of course, I don't have the room number with me, but I promise to post it tomorrow. Mostly I just wanted you to plan to be there.

Yes you.

I don't care if you are LGBT or not.

We LOVE allies!

ON EDIT: We will be in room F2304. See you there!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Welcome to the 119th Specialist Class!

Today starts the 119th Specialist class!

We have two Foreign Service bloggers in this class:

Foreign Obsession

Seltzer Water and Other Things

Tabbies In Tow

I will be moving them today from the list of Future FS bloggers to the FS bloggers blogroll.

Welcome to the Foreign Service!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

PJ Crowley Resigns over Manning Remark

I saw this today over at The Skeptical Bureaucrat, and I am sad to see it. As you probably know, I worked for PJ in my last assignment and I had, and continue to have, a lot of respect for him.

To me, this is just one more reason to hate Bradley Manning, Julian ASSange, and Wikileaks.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - P.J. Crowley abruptly resigned Sunday as State Department spokesman over controversial comments he made about the Bradley Manning case.

Sources close to the matter the resignation, first reported by CNN, came under pressure from the White House, where officials were furious about his suggestion that the Obama administration is mistreating Manning, the Army private who is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, under suspicion that he leaked highly classified State Department cables to the website Wikileaks.

Speaking to a small group at MIT last week, Crowley was asked about allegations that Manning is being tortured and kicked up a firestorm by answering that what is being done to Manning by Defense Department officials "is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."

Crowley did add that "nonetheless, Bradley Manning is in the right place" because of his alleged crimes, according to a blog post by BBC reporter Philippa Thomas, who was present at Crowley's talk.


Crowley has told friends that he is deeply concerned that mistreatment of Manning could undermine the legitimate prosecution of the young private. Crowley has also made clear he has the Obama administration's best interests at heart because he thinks any mistreatment of Manning could be damaging around the world to President Obama, who has tried to end the perception that the U.S. tortures prisoners.

Nevertheless, Crowley's political fate was sealed on Friday when Obama was asked at a White House news conference about his comments regarding Manning.

Obama revealed that he had asked Pentagon officials "whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of (Manning's) confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards."

In a comment that drew howls of protest from liberals, Obama added that Pentagon officials "assure me that they are. I can't go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning's safety as well."


Crowley is highly respected on foreign policy matters, dating back to his time as National Security Council spokesman under then-President Bill Clinton. He has been the Obama administration's public face on many international stories as the daily briefer at the State Department for Secretary Hillary Clinton.

But he has not had a completely smooth relationship with officials in the Obama White House, and eyebrows were raised several months ago when White House aide Mike Hammer was sent over to the State Department to serve as Crowley's deputy.

Hammer will replace Crowley as the assistant secretary for public affairs, Hillary Clinton said in a statement Sunday.

She said she accepted Crowley's resignation "with regret."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Immersion Trip, Here I Come!

For me, today had a very auspicious beginning...(not so much for Japan. I have several friends there, including two folks I have served with and one of my very favorite A-100 classmates. I hope you will join me in keeping them and all of the people in Japan in your thoughts and prayers.)

I woke up in a really good mood. You wouldn't think I would have, since I had my progress test today. The one I needed to do well on because you are supposed to be within a 2/2 range in order to go on an immersion trip.

Which I am scheduled to eleven days. The ticket is already purchased.

And yet I did. Our new kitten was cuddled next to me, my dog was snuggled at my feet, and our other cat come over to see me as soon as the alarm went off. I snuggled with all of them.

I had class for two hours and felt really relaxed...that NEVER happens to me before a test...ANY test.

And then there was the test.

I was a little nervous but not terribly so. And I felt pretty good with my performance. Not perfect, but where I felt I should be.

And I got the score I needed.

The LTS made me feel pretty good...she said that I seemed very comfortable and fluid when I was speaking, which she said was hard to do with these hard languages. And she said I was very good at talking at my level and at talking around something if I needed to say something or understand something and didn't have the words.

That said, I could tell exactly when my teacher was pushing to see how far I could stretch. I didn't handle that part as well as I had hoped. All I can say about that is "ow ow ow. Brain cramp."

But it is I can relax.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It Was The Best of Times...

...and then it was area studies.


First the good stuff.

Despite the fact that I have a progress test tomorrow (and on a slight tangent, please please please cross your fingers and toes, pray, send positive energy, or whatever other assistance you can offer that I do well...), I had a really good day in language class.

Specifically, I was really happy with my performance during speaking at length. We had Culture Shock as a topic, and I felt like I did pretty well with it. I was comfortable. I had anecdotes. I had a point I wanted to make and I feel like I made it. And I spoke for six minutes. And when the teacher asked me a follow on question, I had an answer and an example for why I thought my answer was true.


And then we went to area studies.

I so shouldn't have gotten my hopes up.

Last week was great...I foolishly thought we had turned a corner. And the topic this week seemed relevant.

Sadly, it wasn't. And our countries weren't mentioned. And he took the whole three hours. And at one point, he was taking so long on each slide that the computer went into screen-saver mode. He literally spent 45 minutes on the first three slides...and he had 32 slides.

Just painful.

Next week is supposed to be on the Balts. But I am afraid to get my hopes up.

In better news, how cool is my post?! They assigned me a control officer for my immersion trip.

I don't need one, of is an immersion trip. Even so, their doing so makes me feel welcomed and valued.

And that means a lot to me.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

In Case You Needed Proof of Congress's Disdain for Federal Employees....

If you needed more evidence for Congress's utter disdain for the Foreign Service and other Federal employees, look no further than Joe Davidson's piece in the Washington Post.

One particularly telling section:

The Senate federal workforce subcommittee hearing was chaired by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii). He was alone on the dais, except for a brief appearance by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). The top Republican on the panel, Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), was a no-show because, he said, he attended a Budget Committee hearing.

Coburn arrived a half-hour late, told witnesses to expect even less money for staffing and training, and was gone in about eight minutes. He asked no questions.

Coburn's reaction to overseas comparability pay is particularly infuriating..."it's going away." How someone who is supposed to represent Americans and who certainly benefits from the Foreign Service, particularly when he travels overseas, can be so glib about handing us a 24% pay cut is beyond comprehension.

I certainly hope that the next time he travels overseas, he travels economy class, because in his words, "we just don't have the money."

And I hope he gets very little assistance from post, because he doesn't seem terribly interested in us.

Hearing highlights need for Foreign Service training, lack of congressional interest

At a time when some North African and Middle East states are in chaos and America is posting large numbers of civilians in war zones, the United States is sending Foreign Service officers abroad poorly equipped to deal with the critical situations they face.

That's the takeaway of a report by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center, which was discussed at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

"There is little question that under-investment in diplomacy over the last decade or so has left our Foreign Service overstretched and under prepared," the report says.

Yet, despite the gravity of the situation, the hearing had a distinct lack of urgency. The poor attendance by senators was indicative of scant attention too often provided issues involving federal employees - except, of course, when they can be convenient whipping boys.

Former ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, president of the academy, supplied a shot of energy when he told the hearing that "our government lacks sufficient trained Arabic-language-speaking officers to fully understand and assess what is happening - to go beyond the glib, English-speaking reporters in Tahrir Square to take the full measure of what Islamists, younger people, the demonstrators and the jobless are saying off camera."

"We lack these capacities because for years the Department of State has lacked the resources to train enough officers in language skills," he said.

Although the hearing focused on Foreign Service officers, training is a universal issue in the federal workplace and often among the first items to be cut. For State Department workers - and the nation - it's also a matter of national security.

In a forward to the report, Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush, said the study "emphasizes that on-the-job training alone is no longer a sufficient method, if it ever was, to develop a US diplomatic service that is second to none."

The Senate federal workforce subcommittee hearing was chaired by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii). He was alone on the dais, except for a brief appearance by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). The top Republican on the panel, Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), was a no-show because, he said, he attended a Budget Committee hearing.

Coburn arrived a half-hour late, told witnesses to expect even less money for staffing and training, and was gone in about eight minutes. He asked no questions.


Coburn's single focus was saving money. He dismissed State's plans for a 25 percent Foreign Service increase by 2014, saying, "It's not going to be ramped up because we don't have the money to do it."

About overseas locality pay for Foreign Service officers, Coburn said: "It's going to go away. People ought to be expecting that."


You can read the entire piece here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

How Did You Get This Number?

Okay, this is not my story, but I had to share.

Today, my wife got a phone call transferred to her from the operator at Main State. She wasn't in the office, so he left a message.

Several messages in fact.

Saying he is sick of the way this country is going and he wants to defect.

Yes, really.

He didn't mention to where.

Now seriously, what about that suggested to the operator that he should be transferred to the Poland Desk???

Well Crap.

Cue doomsday music.

The test has been scheduled.

Our teacher came to class today and asked if my classmate wanted to do his test on Thursday and me do mine on Friday.

I said "want" was a very strong word.

So if I can get through Friday, I can start to enjoy the anticipation of heading out for an immersion trip.

And can I just tell you that I am going to have the best colleagues ever there?

I wrote them asking for hotel recommedations in Tallinn and Tartu, and they said they would find us rooms with embassy folks instead.

How nice is that? I can't wait to work there!

Monday, March 07, 2011

That was fun!

It is official. I am a nerd.

Yesterday, Estonia had elections. Naturally, we spent a lot of time talking about it today.

It was awesome!

It was so much fun to just talk about politics. Estonian politics.

What is even cooler, is that I can!

Yep, big ole nerd.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Don't Know Much About History

Actually, that isn't true. I'm pretty good with history.

But I suck at economics.

And so of course, our topic for speaking at length was economics.

I knew it was coming. Our teacher, who is incredibly organized, has us do our readings each week on the topic that we will speak on the following week. We get new vocabulary and we write sentences, paragraphs and stories using that vocabulary.

It is a great system that really prepares you for speaking on a topic.

Well, sort of. Usually it has worked that way.

But our teacher then gave us the specific topic.

"How do we fix the world's economy?"


If I had that answer, I would be making lots more money than I am!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Pleasantly Surprised

It is no secret that I have been incredibly frustrated with area studies. The countries we are going to haven't been discussed AT ALL for weeks. In fact, before today, we had gone six weeks with no substantial discussion of any of the countries alledgedly covered by the course. Five of those weeks had been spent discussing Russia. The sixth was the manditory Appeal of Conscience (where they asked for a show of hands from "believers." Really? In a government class?)

And today's topic was Russian Foreign Policy. To say I was not optimistic is an understatement.

But I can admit when I am wrong.

Our speaker, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was interesting and knowledgable...about our countries!

He talked about Russia's policy towards our countries. When I relayed some of what he said about Poland to my wife, she said it was an incredibly accurate assessment.

Numerous people went to our course coordinator (the one who returned today after a two month absence) after class today to tell him how this was about the best class we have had so far.

I agree completely...more please!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Telling Our Stories

The Washington Post had a good piece today on the impact the unrest in the Middle East has had on the children of our diplomats who have been evacuated.

Children of diplomats displaced by strife often caught between two worlds

With each regime that teeters, each uprising that forces a U.S. embassy to be evacuated, more American diplomats, aid workers and their families seek shelter at a nondescript Falls Church apartment complex with a nondescript name: Oakwood. The only hint of its connection to international affairs is the United Nations flag flying overhead.

You can read the whole article here.

This piece is exactly the kind of story the State Department and AFSA need to be getting out.

Our biggest problem, the reason we keep being the whipping boy for the budget cutters, is that we are no ones constituent. We are small and not well understood, so that makes us an easy target.

These kinds of stories help the American public get a better idea of the challenges we face.

Let's do more. Let's let the public hear the stories from our folks serving in Libya, Cairo, etc. Let's hear from those who experienced the earthquake in Christ Church.

We have an awesome, exciting job that we are priviledged to get to do. We also have a frightening, challenging job that demands great personal sacrifice.

America needs to know.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Oh, Hello Wall!

Walls hurt. They leave bruises.

I felt like I hit one on Monday.

I was just feeling stupid. Like simple things I should know weren't coming. And to top it off, there is the guilt.

Yes, guilt.

I was raised Catholic. I have said before that we have a guilt sponge inserted at baptism and for the rest of our lives, whether we practice Catholicism or not, we will absorb any free-floating guilt in the room and make it our own.

I just have this overwhelming feeling that our teacher is disappointed. Disappointed in me.

For today's fun, we decided to add a bit of panic to the bruises and guilt.

I was just discussing with my classmate my feelings of guilt and my fear that I wouldn't get a 2/2 on my next progress test. And my classmate suggested that maybe I could take the test after my immersion trip, which is coming up in a couple weeks.

And I thought, yeah, a week of immersion in language, I'll be good to go!

But no.

We got back to class, and out of the blue, our teacher says, "so we need to schedule a progress test before you go to Estonia."


Yes, before. Because I have to be in the range of a 2/2 before I can go.

In the range of apparently being the key phrase. She said not to worry, I was in the range.

Okay, but what if I don't test that well? I have already paid for my ticket! I am supposed to leave in like 22 days!

And of course, to me, in the range of means, no, not yet a 2/2.