Monday, March 28, 2011

Google search and why it's weird

So, as far as I can tell, I write the only blog by a pickering fellow, for other fellows. In fact that's why I started the blog, because there wasn't one for me to read and it seemed like a shame. So it seems wrong (despite the fact that I'm not really in this for fame and glory and all that) that in the search results for "Pickering Fellow Blog" my blog comes up number 5, after 3 sites that look seriously sketchy and one that was written almost a year ago. Why google, why?

Proof:


*Oh, and I have occassionally searched for other blogs. But I haven't had much luck. Mostly the ones I've found have been started and quickly discontinued, but if anyone knows of another feel free to send me a link and I'll give them some press.

Presents!

My dear friend T from my first overseas job just sent me some reading material to help me keep up my language skills. I told her to pick easy things, things I would have already seen the movie for.*

So what did I get? 10 points to the person who can correctly name all three.

To start things off, a little light reading. I'm sure you'll recognize this one.

Seriously, don't judge me. This is very much at the top of my ability level.

Next comes something a bit trickier. I suppose I should have mentioned to her that I'm lousy at cirilica...


And to round things out, most likely because she was embarrassed buying the Twilight book:

Clearly someone has a lot of faith in me. ;)

* Incidentally, if your language skills are intermediate I highly recommend this route, because you know the story enough to piece together the language. I read Bridget Jones' Diary and About a Boy and Sex and the City specifically because I could watch the movies first and while they weren't classics they're certainly easier on the beginning reader than, oh say Orhan Pamuk, which is what I first bought in Serbian. It's still sitting on my shelf, collecting dust. Oh, and Harry Potter? Forget about it. Apparently the vocabulary gets exponentially harder when it's translated. Or maybe it's just full of words that you only learn as a kid...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Diversity in America


Hey!

Check out this fascinating link from the New York Times. It maps out census data so you can see things like population density and diversity in each community. My old neighborhood in Columbia Heights was really diverse. My new apartment near campus is much less so. But my childhood community? 99% white. Though to be honest, most places I have traveled are pretty similar and they don't find it odd at all. In Bosnia people would actually stop and stare when the 1 black person in town walked by. In China I visited a village where they said they had never had caucasian visitors before.

The one exception would be Kuala Lumpur, which was the most diverse place I had ever been, not just racially diverse, like many places in the US, but culturally as well. People from all different backgrounds seemed to retain a lot of their home cultures and so there would be conservatively dressed Muslim women, right next to people in shorts and tank tops and no one batted an eyelash. It was a really great atmosphere, and I'd love to go back.

Anyway, no real take-aways for you, just found the comparison interesting.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring. (finally)




I caught all these beautiful flowers on my way home from the doctor's today.
*sigh* I love spring.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Food, and update to FAQs page

First off, here's what I've been cooking lately:



From top to bottom:
Most amazing scones ever. I followed the Southern Living recipe for ginger apricot scones with two changes - first, I skipped the ginger because it's expensive and second, I added about a quarter cup more cream than they suggest. (I tried the recipe once their way and it was terrible. Just saying.)

The bruschetta recipe from Julie and Julia (the movie). The tomato part was perfect, but I thought the toast tasted awful. Next time I'm just going to make regular toast instead of trying to fry the toast as they suggested.

Eggplant and dried tomato pesta pasta. I hate eggplant. (But the pesto was good!)


And the update?
I owe a shoutout to the amazing Stephanie for letting me know that the information on the Pickering FAQs page regarding the finalist interviews is likely wrong. So, if you are chosen as a finalist (Stephanie or any other random reader) please let me know what the new deal is with the interviews, so I can stop misleading the masses.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Catch-up

*sigh*

I've been tired/busy/uninspired to write this week, but I had a lot of thoughts about writing. That counts, right?

Anyway, in no particular order, these are the things I've been thinking but not writing about.

#1 The foreign service blog world hosted a mini-contest where people show off their unpleasant foreign service furniture. I really feel like I could have won that one, if they allowed any furniture overseas to enter. Sadly I didn't photograph any of this, so you'll just have to imagine based on my vivid descriptions:

*My couch in Sri Lanka was a bench. Yeah. Ow. And In fact there was nowhere comfortable to sit in the entire apartment except the bed, which you couldn't sit on during the day or the mosquito netting would get all messed up and you'd spend all night getting eaten alive.
*In Bangkok I didn't have a couch, so when my parents came to visit I slept on two chairs and a side table all pushed together. (really.)
*In Bosnia there was no couch in the apartment that I shared with 7 Bosnian roommates. There were 4 hardback chairs. And one table. (And beds of course in the bedrooms, but still, very spartan.)
*In Belgrade my couch was also my bed, so I had to fold and unfold it every day (including taking off the sheets and stashing the pillows in a drawer) so there was room to walk around in the studio apartment.

So bring it on FS! I would love some reasonably comfortable, highly functional, free furniture. Oh, and here's a link to the blogger who's hosting the contest. *Just a note, I'm not trying to imply that these people have no right to complain, I'm more interested in a little friendly competition.

#2 This whole insane process to join the FS seems so unique, but as I talked to people this week I realized that everyone has 'their own FS' so to speak. For example, this blog I follow talks about something called 'match day' for the medical world. It sounds just like Flag Day and her post about it made me smile. A friend is joining the navy, and her process sounds eerily familiar too, lots of waiting, and testing, and waiting. ;) I guess there's no real point to this observation, just that I find it comforting to know that everyone has to go through the wringer at some point in their lives.

#3 I just watched Waiting for Superman and it was great but it really broke my heart and got my blood boiling. I've become a bit of a documentary fiend, so if anyone has any suggestions for what else I should see let me know.

#4 And finally, you have to check out this website. It is pretty much 100% accurate about the expat types I knew in Sri Lanka. In fact, I recognized quite a few of these things in myself (especially the passport thing, omg I love my passport).

#5 Actually, just kidding, there's one more: Food Trucks. I just want to say that these have existed for awhile but I only recently discovered them and I think I've found my new hobby. More on this important topic later.

Ok, that's all. For real this time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

OA study group : to go or not to go?

ANSWER: Go, no contest.

I probably could have answered this before meeting with the study group, just because I personally find that practice is always a good thing, but today confirmed my suspicions. I met with a group of really awesome individuals that I found through the FSOA yahoo group (who uses yahoo anymore?) and we went through a Group Exam practice and it was hands down the most useful prepping that I've done so far. We had a participant who has passed the oral before and wants to get a better score, so there was an added bonus of getting feedback from an 'expert'. But even more than that, it helped to see how I would perform under time pressure, with a group of strangers, with a major case of nerves.

And how did I do?

Well, no grade obviously, but better than I thought. My initial assumption was that I would pass case management, fail the group exercise and cut it really close (one way or the other) on the structured interview. -This is just based on my own assessment of my strengths.- Now, I think I might actually have a shot at passing the Group Exercise. I should have spoken up more, and spoken a bit slower, but overall, it wasn't half bad. Who knew?

So, for all you potential Pickering fellows out there, join a study group (the sooner the better) because it is likely the best practice you have for the real thing.

I'll try to include some more posts about studying in the next couple weeks, since right now that's basically all I have time for.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Best essay ever.

My preparations for the OA are in full gear.

I joined a study group, I've got my paperwork filled out and ready to go, I'm sure you know the drill.

I'm also working on my Statement of Interest. (You have to bring this when you take the Oral Assessment, though I'm not clear on what effect it has on your score.) My SOI is not quite finished. So far here's what I've got:

I would like to be a foreign service officer because that would be awesome.

I would make a good foreign service officer because I am awesome.

And even when it isn't awesome...it will still be awesome.

.


More of a rough outline actually. Maybe I shouldn't post this until after I take the test. I wouldn't want anyone to steal my idea.

In other news I found a yahoo group for Pickering Fellows. Oddly, I was never invited to join. But I took the liberty of inviting myself, so I am now 'officially' in the in-crowd. Of course, the downside of talking with other fellows is that they are all amazing and passed the OA on their first try, seemingly without studying. I am a little too type-A to not study, but I'll treat their experience as inspirational. After all, someone has to pass. It might as well be me, right?

And if that's not inspirational enough, here's the flow chart that I found today. (I swear I will give credit to whomever it's due the moment I figure out the chart's origins.)


I'm down in the 'test practice' box. I love the part about identity crisis though. So true...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Digression



First off, just wanted to show off my attempt at ratatouille. (I didn't have a big pan, so I had to make do with a pie tin and the cupcake pan... resourcefulness. That's what I'm going to call this.) I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It's the same site where I got the failed marshmallow recipe though, just so you know. It's very good, I highly recommend it and it makes up for the guilt-trip I got eating an entire pumpkin pie by myself this week.



So enough digressing... I've been studying for the OA and thought I would share my thoughts. Well, actually I've been psyching up and preparing, not so much studying. I read an article today that a friend sent me. It reminded me of how much I was originally stressing out about the OA and about attempting to join the FS in the first place. (Here's the article) The author argues that smart girls don't attempt challenging things because they believe their abilities are fixed - thus if they can't do it on the first try they won't be able to do it ever.

I disagree!

I was a smart girl in school (still am :) and I am definitely an exception to this 'rule' - if it is a rule at all. It might interest you to know that in kindergarten I was painfully shy (I'm talking crying because people spoke to me shy). I've now completely outgrown that shyness, in part just because I grew up but in part because I worked hard to become the kind of person I wanted to be. I've experienced the same thing no matter what the challenge. I have bad handwriting? Practice and make it better. I can't cook? Take a class! Everyone else knows something that I don't? Work twice as hard and prepare. In fact, I consider my ability to grow and learn and overcome to be one of my best qualities.

So I guess what I would say to Ms. Halvorson (the author) is "Maybe some smart girls don't think they can change who they are, but the smartest girls know better."

I don't actually have a better answer as to why girls apparently don't take on challenges as readily as boys. Maybe they don't want to risk failure, maybe boys have an inflated view of their own abilities, or maybe...it's just that they're choosing their battles more carefully. Either way, I look around me and I see women taking on huge challenges all the time, so to hell with the statistics.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

FSOA - logistics

Warning: This is a boring post. Just thought you should know.

I've been preparing all of my paperwork for the FSOA this week so that I can spend the month of March focusing on practice (and of course on my job and my schoolwork). So I thought I'd give a bit of information about the paperwork.

Everyone has to bring ID, the security clearance paperwork (SF-86), a Statement of Interest (DS-4017), and potentially a second form of ID (a passport fills both requirements, otherwise you can bring a driver's license and a birth certificate).

People with dependents must bring the SSN of all dependents.

People with foreign born spouses must also bring DS-7601, SF-86P, and SF-86PS.

(All of this information is available online, as are the forms.)

Finally, Pickering fellows along with Rangel and Diplomacy fellows must bring in a DS 1950 form.

I was also told to bring in a copy of my OA scheduling letter, though I'm not sure if that's for everyone or only the fellows.

I'll have to update soon about the paperwork required for the initial security clearance, because that process was extra confusing.

In other pickering news, I just booked my plane tickets for the summer internship. I came in exactly $5.20 under budget and that was the cheapest flight I could find. Flights are getting expensive, no?

In other non-pickering news, I am making ratatouille tonight, just like the one they made in the movie. Hopefully it will go better than the marshmallows...