Language Training

Language Training

After you get your assignment, it’s often time to learn a new language. In my case, that means 24 weeks of Brazilian Portuguese.

Coming in with Japanese, I was both a little concerned and cautiously optimistic about this process. Portuguese is supposedly much easier than Japanese, but it’s not a romance language, so the grammar will be completely new to me. I won’t have the step up that French, Italian, and Spanish speakers have.

So how does it go? Continue reading

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Brasilia!

There’s a reason so many foreign service blogs end somewhere in the middle of A-100. First of all, it’s intense. You’re putting in a lot of hours, and it’s hard to absorb all the information being thrown at you. Literally, you’re in for 6 weeks of full time enculturation and job familiarization. Extremely important, but also overwhelming.

Second, you realize how hard it is to talk about the foreign service with people who aren’t already exposed to it in some way. So the above 6 weeks of enculturation…there’s so much ground to cover.

The six weeks of A-100 fly by, and at the end of the 5th, I found out where I’ll be spending my first two year tour: Brasilia, Brazil!

Am I surprised? Yes
Am I excited? Yes

Honestly, I didn’t know much about Brazil when I was assigned it, and it hadn’t been expecting it, but I think I got so lucky. It’ll be a great post for my dog, I get to learn the language, and I’m going to see a part of the world I’ve never been before. And Brazil looks beautiful!

Immediately following A-100 I had two weeks of Area Studies, when I looked intensely at the Western Hemisphere, and then, after a few weeks of online classes, I began Portuguese! The Foreign Service prides itself on its language programs, and I am excited to get to take advantage of them this early in  my career. Updates on Portuguese to come!

How Bidding is Like Picking Jam

How Bidding is Like Picking Jam

There is this famous jam study. In it participants in a grocery store were presented with a selection of jams to sample, and then were given a $1 off coupon. Here’s the catch, there were two stands: one was very large with 24 samples of gourmet jam; the other was small and had only 6 samples of more generic jams. Yet, the shoppers who went to the stand with only 6 kinds of jam were 10 times more likely to purchase a jar of jam than those who tried the 24 kinds.

Choice is paralyzing…and I’m feeling that pretty acutely now as I prepare to submit my first bid list. Continue reading

The First FS Challenge: Packing

With 19 days until I move to Arlington for my A-100, I’m preparing for my first challenge as a Foreign Service Officer (obviously not counting the application process): packing for my move.

So here’s the deal. Most of the time when I move I’ll get four categories of luggage 1) the stuff I bring on the plane with me, 2) the stuff that gets put on a plane to follow me ASAP (250 lbs, arriving ~2 weeks after I do), 3) the stuff that gets put on a boat to follow me (up to 7,200 lbs (WOW), arriving 1-3 months after I do), and 4) the stuff that stays in storage (whatever brings my personal possessions up to 18,000 lbs…the official cap on my consumerism). I’ll also have a good idea of how long I’m going to be wherever I’m going.

This first move is the one big exception from this rule. Continue reading

Thank you!

It’s a classic for a reason. Hand-turkeys with my special education class. Here’s my turkey, because photos of students online is a cardinal taboo.

 

Expat Thanksgiving Survival Tips

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving when you live on the other side of the planet? When you’ve finished your dinner before your loved ones at home have even started cooking it? When most people around you don’t even know the word for “turkey” in their language? (Hint: shichimencho, or 7 faced bird, if you’re in Japan).

With such a family oriented holiday, it’s easy to get swept up in homesickness and forget all the things that we do have to be thankful living abroad. So, here are my tips for getting through Thanksgiving when you’re the only one celebrating it.

1. Start early! This past week has been completely Thanksgiving oriented, with Thanksgiving classes at school and a themed bulletin board. If you’re cooking, you’re going to have to start more than a week early, though. Start planning out the menu and looking for ingredients at least a month ahead because there’s a good chance you’ll have to be ordering some if you want to duplicate your home spread.

2. Spread the word! All of my students have been making hand turkeys and I’ve been talking it up with my friends and coworkers. Celebrating a holiday alone can be really lonely, so it’s important to make sure that people around you know about it, so at the very least they’ll understand why you’re leaving work a few minutes early to go get the turkey in the oven.

3. Get others involved! I like to bake an extra pumpkin pie a day early and bring it in for my coworkers. Most of them have never had traditional American pumpkin pie, and they enjoy trying it and sharing my culture with me. It also starts my holiday early and guarantees that I’ll be getting a lot of “Happy Thanksgivings!” throughout the work day.

4. Find the other expats! This one is pretty predictable, but even if you’re deeply immersed in your own community, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to connect with the other foreigners in your area. Besides, it’s much less work making one dish than ten!

So how am I celebrating? All my other JET Programme friends and I are heading out to a huge traditional Thanksgiving dinner! As a devoted food lover, I can tell you that I’ve been looking forward to this meal for at least a month. I’d promise pictures, but realistically the food will be in my stomach long before I remember to take my camera out!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The beach, after Vongfong

Last weekend, typhoon Vongfong parked itself over Okinawa. The wind howled through the cracks in my windows like a person crying out in pain. Every now and then I’d hear a metallic thud as something left unsecured was flung into something unmovable, like a trashcan into a tree or a car into a building. Water flooded the streets and seeped into my apartment every way it could: the vent in my bathroom, the vent in my air conditioner, the crack in a bathroom window, door jambs and window ledges. Power on the island flickered on and off; I made it through Saturday, but sometime in the night it died, and I spent the next 24 hours eating canned soup and thanking my lucky stars that at least I still had water and gas.

Normally, the first trip to the beach after a typhoon is a bit depressing. The pristine sands are covered in trash and debris thrown up on shore–old washing machines and worn out jeans wrapped around downed branches. A few days ago I took my book and went out to survey the damage. I can only imagine that with the season drawing to an end, the currents have begun to shift, because this time, instead of rubbish, the beach was covered with bleached white coral, pristine shells, and sea urchins. I spread my mat on the sand, and played with the hermit crabs pinching at my toes as the sun set.