Friday, June 24, 2011

Decisions, decisions

Sometime in the next few weeks we (myself and all the other fellows) are supposed to hear about applying for the overseas internship that we'll complete next summer. (In true FS fashion, the moment you start in one job you start thinking about the next.) The main reason we're hearing about this a year in advance is because we'll probably be applying in August or September like we did for the domestic internships, so we need to decide soon where we want to apply.

This has led to quite a bit of discussion about everyone's different strategies. I've heard it all, but my own strategy is ... evolving.

Initially I was (rather shamelessly) drawn to places where I would like to vacation, like...
Rio de Janeiro
South Africa
New Zealand

Then I thought maybe I should try out something more challenging; a place that would be difficult to handle for a 2 year stint, just to see how it goes, like...
Sudan (do they let interns go there?)
Congo (Kinshasa)

Then I thought I should act like a (Type-A) grown-up and start trying to build up my 'career'. This would basically entail sticking with the region where I'm doing my domestic internship, where I have in-country experience and language skills and connections, ie the Balkans, especially...

Then again I've been advised to try a region where I don't have much experience, to broaden my horizons. Maybe...

It's a difficult decision. Not because there's nowhere interesting to go, but because there are too many interesting places. I think I have it narrowed down finally, but I'll wait to see what the rules are and how I'm feeling in the fall. Either way, I'm glad to know that the final decision doesn't rest with me and whatever I choose to apply for, and whatever I get, I'll learn a ton and get my feet wet 'at post'.

Where would you apply to go?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Video of the Week (6)

Yes this is a day early. I've discovered that Friday is a bad day for my blogging memory. So I thought I would continue what I started two weeks ago. (If you remember, I had a video from Serbia, where I lived in 2008.) So now, in honor of the place where I first lived overseas....

Fun fact: This song is from a musical about chess (in Bangkok I guess?) with music by the guys from ABBA .... yeah.

Notice the amazing campiness, the horrible asian stereotypes mixed haphazardly, and I think there's a thriller dance move in there at 3:27. The first time I heard this song, and then the first time I saw the video, I just about died laughing. Let me just say for the record that it's amusing because it's the polar opposite of Thailand as I know it. While any country has its challenges, I loved Thailand. The people were friendly, the food was delicious, the weather was great and the country itself is gorgeous. Not to mention the amazing history, religious tolerance, cheap travel and beautiful language. (Seriously, drop what you're doing and move to Thailand.)

P.S. If anyone is heading to Thailand and wants more information, just leave a message for me in the comments and I will write you a novel about what to see and do there.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

healthy people and lots of them

I woke up this morning to a very different sound than usual. Usually there is a constant rushing noise outside my window. (I like to pretend it's a waterfall that I'm hearing.) But this morning there were no cars, just the sound of someone clapping and occassional shouts of "On your left...your LEFT!".

Turns out the DC Triathlon is this morning. (Not to be confused with all the other crazy marathons and triathlons I've caught a glimpse of this year.)

I took these shots:

See that woman in the blue shirt with the sign? I'm not sure if she was protesting or cheering, but she inspired a lot of yelling as people rode by.

Can you believe that there were this many people willing to get up early on the weekend just to swim in the Potomac, bike on the road and then run in this humidity? (I can't.) I'm always impressed with the number of athletic people in DC. I'm almost tempted to get out there and join them.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Video of the Week (4)

Only 2 days late! This song was really popular when I lived in Belgrade a couple years ago.

Language Testing Part II

Sadly, FSI didn't exactly jump at the chance to test my Serbian speaking and reading skills. They agree it makes logical sense, but logical and possible are two different things, so I'll be testing elsewhere. And, sadly, on my own dime.

I did, however, learn one interesting fact when I made my request. It turns out GW uses the ACTFL scale of language fluency, with their 'intermediate-high' corresponding to a 1+ on the ILR scale. This is a big relief, because intermediate high sounded a lot like a 2+ to me, and I think that's right at the edge of my ability level.

How long did it take me to hit a level 2 or maybe 2+ in Serbian?
*an 8-week intensive summer program
*a 3-week in-country immersion program
*1 semester of regular language class
*1 year of very half-hearted tutoring
*1 year of being in country (3 months of which I also went to a once-a-week tutor)
*6 months of once-a-week tutoring
*And lots of time forgetting in between.

Yeah, it apparently takes an act of God to teach me Serbian. My two biggest take-aways after all that studying?
1)The only thing half-hearted or occassional tutoring is good for is maintenance.
2)Unless you make a point of studying the language in-country immersion isn't as easy as it sounds. In a perfect world we would all learn in intensive in-country programs I guess. In this, less-than-perfect world I'm just going to have to settle for reading Sumrak and the paper.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Proof of Life

It's always nice to know there are people out there who occassionally stumble across my blog.

So I was very excited to get a shoutout from a fellow blogger and a fellow fellow. Check out her blog for the facts on the undergrad Pickering. It's particularly nice to have someone to fill in all of the blanks that I couldn't.

I'd write more, but I'm exhausted and I still have to do the laundry and wash the dishes and ....

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I almost forgot! Video of the Week

Actually a comparison. The Jay-Z version of Forever Young:

...and the original by Alphaville:

So, what do you think? Who does it better?

Language testing at FSI

So my big project this month is to wrangle my way into FSI for a language test.

My grad program (IDS at GW if you're interested) requires 'fluency' in a foreign language to graduate.

I plan on testing in BCS, for which GW wants me to test at the 'intermediate high' level. (Easier languages require an Advanced level, harder ones get intermediate high.)

Unfortunately, GW doesn't have any testers for BCS, so my brilliant idea is to get tested at FSI, and kill two birds with one stone. I figure I have a good case because a) it's directly related to my work this summer and b) I'll have to get tested by FSI at some point anyway. The only problem of course is to find that one person who can make it happen bureaucratically.

Well, the other problem is that I haven't had any formal training in BCS since, well, undergrad, which was 5 years ago. I do have a year in the region though and have used tutors/language partners/self-study to try to keep up my fluency, but I'm not sure if that will be enough.

The other potential snag is that I think the scale GW uses to rate fluency is quite a bit easier than the scale FSI uses.

For example: I took GW's Spanish and French tests this past fall (it was an accident on their part - long story) and with only 1 year of Rosetta Stone French and nothing else, I was able to pass the French reading test. I get the feeling that FSI will hold me to a somewhat higher standard. Don't you?

So am I shooting myself in the foot here? Stay tuned to find out!

Four week recap

It's been a busy four weeks at my internship (which is no excuse for not writing, I know) and I finally feel like I'm settling in nicely.

Week one (and most of week two really) were crazy. The phrase 'drinking through a firehouse' was bandied about quite a bit, and I think that adequately describes work at Main State. There are tons of rules for keeping everything secure, there are dozens of formats for all the writing we do, and most of all there are the acronyms and jargon. S5? EAP? G+5?

Week two I discovered two things. #1 was that everyone knows more than me. And not just a little more. The people in my office have decades of experience, in the region, in the issues, even in the department. This inspires both a lot of respect and just a little bit of intimidation. #2 was that I am in the best bureau. My bureau really goes out of its way to introduce interns to everyone - even the higher-ups - and helps us learn the culture of State. If I'm interested in something they'll point me to the experts and send me links and take time out of their very busy schedules to explain the long, sordid political history of country X.

Week three I got to go on some 'field trips'. I don't feel comfortable sharing the details, but basically I learned that the government does a lot more communicating and sharing among the different agencies and departments than I thought, which was very refreshing.

Week four I took the first of the Pickering workshops, on writing and the FSOA. First off, the FSOA one was just a standard prep session, but they explained the logistics of passing and failing for fellows. No extra hints or practice. The writing sessions were really useful. They gave us sample exercises based on the day-to-day writing tasks at State and gave feedback for each and every one of us. Again, I really appreciated that. If you aren't a fellow, I'll sum up the lessons from those sessions. #1 Be concise. #2 BE CONCISE! (You aren't writing for your professor, where there's a minimum page limit. There's a maximum word limit usually and you must respect it.) #3 Be precise. (Did the minister agree? Or did he agree to think about it? Did the FSO sexually harrass the FSN or did the FSO allegedly sexually harrass the FSN? It makes a difference.) #4 Be clear. You aren't trying to impress them with what you know, you are trying to communicate. #5 Use the active voice. Or else.