Monday, October 31, 2011

The elusive diplomat in the popular mind

Funny, but this usually isn't what I picture when I think of diplomats.

In case you're wondering what inspired this topic, it all started last week. I've been watching mildly scary movies in the run up to Halloween. Last night I saw The Omen (the 2006 version, which was accidental, but it was scary enough) and I had another run in with Movie Diplomats. I've been lazily collecting diplomat stories from a variety of media, so it was a pleasant surprise. I should really write a blog post about them all some day. German diplomat?

Until that day however, these are the ones I can remember off the top of my head:
#1The Omen - The diplomats are the adoptive parents of the antichrist, and judging from their house, multi-billionaires. They're nice and smart and all that, but I can't help thinking that the career arc seems a bit far-fetched.
#2 The Constant Gardener - The diplomats are good, brave people who genuinely care about the country they live in. They get lots of points for representing.
#3 Julie and Julia - Julia Child.* Did you know that? She was also in the OSS in Sri Lanka. We have a lot in common.
#4 Dumbarton Oaks - If you remember, this is a fabulous estate in Georgetown owned by uberwealthy diplomat. (I realize this doesn't precisely count as popular culture, but just go with me here.)
#5 King Leopold's Ghost - The diplomat is the good guy who uncovers the truth about the Belgian Congo. He also gets lots of points for representing.
#6 The Bourne movie (forget which one) - This diplomat gets taken out by Matt Damon. No points for that.
#7 The Perfect Spy - Magnus Pym is a British diplomat and Soviet Spy. Again, no points.

Assigned to the Maldives, clearly.

*Before you write to correct me - I believe that the spouse of a diplomat totally counts as a diplomat as well, because he/she faces just as many hardships and is held to the same high standard as the person getting the paycheck. So Julia Child - totally a diplomat.
I need to see this. It seems very realistic, just judging from the cover.

Someday I'm sure I'll compile the definitive book on diplomats in popular culture but I need a few more examples first. If you have any good ones that I've forgotten let me know! Japanese diplomats. Way more attractive than American ones.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I wish daylight savings time was over....

Waking up at 7 o'clock in total darkness is getting old. Daylight Savings Time needs to hurry up and be over. I looked it up and this year we 'fall back' on the 6th of November, so it's just a little over a week until we all get to sleep in for an hour and I can wake to actual sunlight.

In other news, I spoke with that professor I mentioned in an early post. It went great. Of course he didn't randomly decide to give me an A+ with a gold star on it, but we had a respectful, lively discussion where I was able to defend my perspective. He undoubtedly still thinks I'm wrong, but I held my own in our 'battle of wits' and that was the satisfaction I was really looking for. It was also great to just have the professor one-on-one for an hour. I almost never make it to office hours since I work, but I certainly appreciate the chance to be able to lock heads with someone intelligent and interested in the world.

He also gave me some great advice for the foreign service: Keep your ideals, but temper them with pragmatism. Respect the lessons of history, but don't let them make you afraid. Always remember that life is complicated and politics more so. And finally, never be afraid to disagree with your professor. (It's a good lesson, even if he didn't say it out loud.)

Next time I promise to post actual pictures. This blog has gotten a bit word-heavy lately.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Anger Management

I came home today absolutely furious. The particular details aren't important, but basically, I got a bad grade on a paper that was among my best work ever - not for poor writing, the professor actually didn't find any faults with my writing, but because of the political stance I took.

The old me, who was timid to say the least, would have fumed in silence, but the new me is a bit too assertive for that. I plan to set up a meeting with the professor to state my case, once I'm not quite so angry. I'm certainly not planning to yell, plead, or insult anyone (wouldn't be very diplomatic), but I'm also not willing to let this one go without arguing my point. My point of course, being that students shouldn't be penalized for disagreeing with the professor.

Especially if the professor is wrong.

Just saying.

The plus side of all this is that when I'm angry I can't sit still, so I channeled all that energy into cleaning the entire apartment and cooking a week's worth of food. I suppose I should thank the professor for all the inspiration...nothing says 'I respectfully disagree with you' like a pan full of brownies.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Video of the Week (9)

Absolutely fascinating.

I realize this is not my normal video-of-the-week fare, but I do occassionally enjoy learning new things, and TED Talks are particular favorites. Even though my degree is in development studies, and I sometimes feel that I have read everything ever written about the subject, I learned a great deal from this 20 minute talk.

Who knows...maybe my v.o.t.w. will be nothing but documentaries from here on out...

Or maybe I'll start back in next week with Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry. It's a tough decision.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I'm sure the suspense was killing you...

As you may remember, I have been stressing out recently because in addition to my slightly-more-than-full-time course load, my 20 hours a week job (that needed me for 32 hours a week til the end of October), my questionable decision to volunteer with my church, my eventual goal of passing the FSOA, my ongoing battles with the health insurance company, and my attempts to have a life, I have been stressing out about passing my Serbian language test.

You see my program requires 'fluency' (rather loosely defined) in a foreign language to graduate. Unfortunately, you can't take language classes and use them towards the degree, you just have to study on your own time and pass a test.

Even more unfortunately, they don't have any Serbian (or Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, whatever) testers at my school. And they are too cheap to pay for one.

And even more unfortunately, DoS isn't willing to pay for me to take the test. Even though I'm in the same stage of the testing process as all the other people who take the language test. And even though they will have to pay for it eventually. And even though it would save them time and trouble later and they have a whole Institute just for that.


My only option turned out to be an accredited (read - expensive) testing agency in Arlington, where I could be tested in Reading and Speaking, with listening thrown in for free for only $450.

Lesser grad students would have fainted at the cost, but clearly, I am a warrior. So I showed up yesterday after work, sick as a dog and with no clue what the test was supposed to cover and with about 10 minutes of studying rattling around in my head. (I've been busy.)

Apparently they use the FSI method and even do testing for FSI students sometimes, so it was very offical. Basically, there's a conversation first. Then you give a presentation, then you give the gist of 5-6 articles (you have 6 minutes to prepare), then you explain to them in rather excruciating detail the meaning of a couple longer articles, finally you 'interview' one tester and report back (in English) to the other.

I learned a lot about myself during this experience.

First, I am apparently good at having conversations under pressure. You'd think it would be awkward, but it was kind of fun.

Second, my so-so public speaking skills in English translate to horrifically bad presentations in the target language. I'm not sure if I didn't take it seriously enough or what, but it was just painful.

Finally, I like reading because you don't really need to know grammar.

As I may have mentioned, I needed a 1+/1+ in order to graduate. No passing score, no diploma, no diploma no Foreign Service, so the pressure was on. I was pretty sure I'd score a little higher than I needed to in reading, maybe a 2. But my speaking skills have deteriorated a ton - I haven't had anyone to speak to really for years - so I worried about getting the necessary 1+ in speaking.
My final scores were...drumroll please...

I got a 2 in speaking!
I got a totally free 2+ in listening.
And finally, a 3 in reading!

Congratulations mom and dad, your daughter can read!

There was a bit of consternation on the part of the testers about the disparity between my reading and speaking skills. I think the general consensus was that I will probably need to learn grammar someday and work on using my full vocabulary. But considering how long I've been away from Serbia - just studying on my own and reading what I can - I am pleased with the results. And I am very, very pleased to not have to pay to take the test again.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hello again, it's been awhile!

So if you haven't heard from me in a while it's because I've been buried under a small mountain of homework. These past few weeks have been mid-terms and I've had a lot of side projects on top of all the paper writing.

#1 My Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/whatever test is coming up this Friday. I'm kind of doomed. The only practice I've had has been following the Montnegrin press for the past 7 weeks for another class. The other complicating factor is that the test costs $450. It would be free of course at FSI, but State has sort of a weird relationship with fellows where we are part of the family, but kind of not really. We're like the foster children of the DoS. We can stay for 3-5 years and if we pass the tests then we get 'adopted'.

So that ridiculous metaphor was just to say that State wouldn't let me test at FSI. And sadly my school doesn't have anyone to test me either, so I had to find someone independently.

And the only agency that seemed willing was kind of expensive. Just a little bit.

So in addition to reading and writing, I've also been studying Serbian.

#2 My office also needed me to pick up a bunch of hours. They wanted me to work full time for two weeks, but I'm not superwoman, so that idea was nixed. Instead I'll be working 75% til the end of October.

#3 And in addition to reading and writing and Serbian and working I've also taken on some random volunteering. Namely, I'm in charge of the 3 year old nursery at church. People who know me will laugh when they read this, because I'm sort of terrified of small children. But I figured it was time to face my fear and spend an hour keeping the little people from destroying themselves, each other, the entire building, and most importantly, me. I still haven't mastered the art of toddler conversation, but I'm pleased with my progress so far.

#4 Finally, there are lots of ongoing and vaguely stressful projects that I'm working on. There's the FSOA, which I will have to take again (unfortunately). There's my death battle with my health insurance company. There are my half-hearted efforts to work out at the gym. And my classic novel reading list, and my monthly dinner club, and my list of 100 things to do in DC which I've been working on writing - but first I have to do them... etc.

All of this is basically my excuse for not writing. That and writers block...but I promise a newsy update when I finish my Serbian test. That is unless I fail. Then no update, only lots of self-pity.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It was cold and stormy weekend...

Luckily I spent the entire weekend hunched over my computer, so I didn't really notice.

Fall has certainly arrived in Washington DC. And not that cutesy apple-picking, dog-walking, cider-drinking kind of fall. No, this is more of the so-cold-I'm-wearing-three-layers-indoors kind of fall. (Of course, that could also have something to do with the fact that the apartment managers don't turn on the heat until mid-October.)

I only ventured out into the beautiful wind/rain/cold a three times this weekend. Once to visit the Thai Village in Georgetown. It was great, btw. I got some Mangosteen Juice, and some inedibly spicy somtam and larbgai. They also had muay thai (thai boxing) and sword fighting demonstrations along with traditional music and dancing. Despite the unpleasant weather it was great. It brought back all of my memories of Thailand from college (I was an exchange student in Bangkok). Though I suppose there are many things to like about every country, Thailand is one of my all-time favorite places - beautiful scenery, friendly and polite people, cheap travel, amazing food and rich culture. What's not to love?

My second escape was to the Honey Pig, an amazing Korean BBQ in Virginia somewhere (I wasn't driving and it was dark). I had a great time, and my friends all agreed we should meet up every month for foreign food. I'm counting my blessings that I'm in DC this year where I can get almost every kind of food available. (Though there aren't enough African cuisines in my opinion.)

Then of course there was my study group. I like the group, but could have done without the studying. Did I mention I have less than 7 months of grad school left? Not that I'm counting down or anything...