Saturday, November 26, 2011

It was a tough decision...

...but I can now confidently say that I will never be a cat owner.

I know that there is a strong contingent of cat-people in the foreign service, and it does make sense. Cats are quieter, more portable, and require less time-commitment than dogs.

But this weekend I did a bit of cat sitting and I have to say that it just about killed me.

90% of my problem was the shedding. You see, I have a dog that doesn't shed, so I wasn't prepared to deal with it. (And by that I mean I didn't bring any sort of portable breathing device or heavy duty air filter.) And OH MY GOODNESS. There was cat hair everywhere! On all the furniture - and by extension on all my clothes - on the counters and table tops, in the food, in the air, everywhere. (Did I mention it got in the food? Ick!) It didn't help that I think I might be mildly allergic to cats. I spent the entire time itching like mad and coughing. Utter misery.

The other 10% of my problems with cats relates to destruction of person and property. The person being me of course, and the property being everything within reach of the cat. Now granted, some things the cat didn't scratch. It didn't scratch the table. Or the cupboards. Or, um, the television... That's about it though. It has already destroyed the majority of its owners' furniture and clothes so it focused on my stuff this weekend. It tried to destroy my scarf, my coat, my bag, and my computer cord before I gave up and locked my stuff in the closet. Unfortunately, I'm not able to lock my skin in the closet, so it's a bit bloodier after a day with the cat. I joke about my dog being a biter, but I think there's a double standard going on here. If my dog made everyone that visited my house bleed we would have had to put him down by now. Just saying.

I want to clarify that I am not saying dogs are better than cats. I know after all that most dogs are shedders too. I guess my main point, in keeping with the holiday season, is that I am so thankful that I have a non-scratching, non-shedding pet. (He's even more low maintenance now that he lives with my folks. In fact, he's no trouble at all!)

All food for thought for a future FSO and prospective pet owner.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pictures!

To be honest, I have nothing much to say today. Thanksgiving is next weekend so everyone seems to be out of town and I find myself at home, writing papers and trying to organize my life.

However, this gave me the great idea to upload any pictures I might not have shared yet.

So in no particular order, here are some snapshots of my life.
1 & 2) The Marine parade at Iwo Jima memorial. I think it's on Tuesday nights, which is inconvenient, but it is a nice show. If you have time I recommend it.
3) My dog and his mouse friend.
4) The challenge coin I got from my supervisors at the internship this summer.
5) Care package my mom sent with me when I came back to DC this time. That's right, it's for making smores. Best mom ever.
6)The sign for my childhood Dairy Queen. Too nostalgic for words.
7)Reuben sandwich, it's that time of year again.
8)Pumpkin soup. Would have been less chewy if I had a blender, but still amazing.
9)Peaches and farmer's cheese. Yum.







Monday, November 7, 2011

Overshare

As promised, here is the detailed score breakdown from my first OA - in April. I got the report in mid September after filing 3 requests (ah bureaucracy). The scores were both better and worse than anticipated.

As you may recall I scored 5.1 overall and passed only the structured interview portion.

My specific scores for each section...
5.8 on the structured interview (which they broke down into 5.7 on both hypotheticals and experience/motivation and 6(!) on the past behavior)
4.9 on the group exercise ...likely because I did great on the presentation and lousy on the negotiation

...and are you ready for this?

4.5 on the case management. Wow.

This was particularly striking to me because writing was traditionally my strong suit. As in I got an 800 on that portion of the SAT. Not to brag, just to prove that in some contexts people used to consider me to be more of a 'pass' writer than a 'fail miserably' writer.

And then I met the State Department and the bar shifted up. (Way up.)

Whew. Given that truly terrible score I was amazed that I passed case management this time, but as I stated before, my summer was full of State Department writing practice and instruction. I think all that practice helped a ton and it certainly gave me a taste of what kind of writing they're looking for.

Just in case you're interested there was nothing else listed about my scores and how they were determined. The only comment was how I reacted to the news that I didn't pass. (I think they do screen out the crazies, so behave yourself, at least until you pass the OA.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

OA Debrief

Now that I've had a full day to absorb the awesomeness of passing the OA (and the glorious knowledge that I never have to take it again) I am ready to start passing on my vast stores of knowledge.

I took the test Thursday with 9 other people. Only 2 of us passed, I think. (The assessors were kind of cryptic, so there may have been a couple other passers who left early, but it's hard to say.)

Since this was my second time around I was less charmingly enthusiastic. I didn't arrive 1/2 an hour early. I didn't pack an extra copy of every single document they requested, I didn't even do much studying. The only prep I did this time was to have a former FSO mentor talk to me about the test and grill me for a couple of hours.

The group exercise was both better and worse than the last time I took it. They threw us all for a loop by changing up the content of the test. There was still a presentation phase, followed by a negotiation phase, but the stuff we were presenting was totally different than what I expected and practiced with. Several members of the group were so thrown by this that their presentations really suffered. I said a prayer and just dove in and I think my presentation was one of the best. I also did much better at the negotiation than last time. I spoke up quite a few times, helped organize the group, and made some substantive observations - rather than just saying 'I agree'. That said, I was still a bit too timid, probably spoke quickly and softly (as is my habit), and made a judgment error when advocating for my project. I thought I had passed that section, but in fact I didn't. (I'll have to wait for the FOIA request to come back to find out how close I was.)

The structured interview was next. I had prepared several of the questions they asked, but otherwise my answers were all a bit rusty. I thought I did worse than last time, but not significantly so. This is the section where the mentor helped me really refine my performance. He grilled me on short and substantive answers and broke me of the habit of starting every response with "So, ..." They definitely played good cop, bad cop this time and I felt like I impressed them by remaining composed and warm despite being challenged on my responses. I ended up passing this section again.

Finally, I had case management. This section killed me last time, so I was a bit nervous. However, I had also spent an entire summer writing for State, in addition to attending writing workshops put on for fellows and reading a series of articles from State magazine about diplomatic writing style that were particularly useful. I figure that if there was a way to prepare for Case Management that was it. (Although no one I know who has taken the test in the past 10 years seems to have passed that part, so mostly I was just trying to not fail as badly as before.) I had a minor moment of panic 3/4 of the way through when, due to my total inability to tell time using normal clocks, I thought I had 2 minutes when in fact I had 32 minutes left. Happily, this helped me work really, really fast for two minutes and get a lot accomplished, though I think it also took a couple of years off my life. I ended up passing this section, much to my surprise.

We all went for a walk to the American Indian Museum to blow off some steam while we awaited our results. Then we returned for the very awkward period of sitting in the case management room while one by one we were called out. We waited forever until only me and one more test-taker were left. They called me out and took me to one of the rooms where several testers were waiting. They brought in the other remaining test-taker and herded us into the corner and I knew we were either going to pass or this was the cruelest fail-speech ever. The first words they said were congratulations and I honestly forget the rest. There were handshakes all around and then we sat down to hear the whole speech about language points and medical tests and whatnot. It was really sweet to see how happy the testers were for us. They all stuck around just to watch us hear the good news.

In the next few days I'll publish me detailed scores from the first test, just for comparison. I held off on doing that before - and on giving my faithful readers a heads-up that I was testing this week - because I was too stressed about passing. But now I'd love to share what I can if it will help someone else.

Over Christmas break I will hopefully have enough time to also upload some of the writing tips from the State magazine articles and the writing workshops for fellows. Til then, I'm off to go celebrate a bit and continue telling random strangers on the metro that I'm going to be a diplomat.

Best day ever.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thank you Jesus

Today I passed the Oral Assessment.

I'd say more, but I have no words right now.

...

And I have class in 15 minutes.

But in my mind I'm definitely having a party tonight and you are all invited to my imaginary party. I hope your day was as good as mine!