Preparing for the Foreign Service (without studying)

So you want to be a Foreign Service Officer? You’ve read the news, you’ve learned a foreign language, you’ve purchased FSOT study guides? Great! You’re heading in the right direction. But being in the foreign service is much more than just a matter of perfecting your writing abilities and mastering your interview answers: the foreign service is a lifestyle. Those who are serious about joining should extend their preparations beyond the professional world; they should prepare their personal lives as well.

How do you do that? I’m here to tell you a few salient things I’ve picked up from the almost two year journey of joining the foreign service. Continue reading

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The Freetime Paradox

Have you ever noticed how when you have more time you get less done?

I’m not sure if that’s a universal thing, but for me, I’m waaaaay more productive when I’m working within time constraints. While I was still in school and had classes all the time? I was a get stuff done machine. Now that I’ve graduated and have spent the last three weeks with nothing on the schedule? Complete lump of uselessness.

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Vietnam – Saigon

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My time in Vietnam ended in Ho Chi Minh City, or as the locals prefer, Saigon. It was hot and sticky, and I was for once glad to have packed shorts. The city felt more modern then the rest of the country, more metropolitan, and more like the rest of SE Asia. The traffic was indescribable, the shops were bustling, and western companies were around every corner. The country’s first McDonald’s was under construction when I visited. Beautiful monuments and official buildings cluster in upscale districts, wedged between designer malls for wealthy tourists. In the less pristine areas, taxi drivers harassed tourists for fares, something unheard of in the rest of the country. In some ways, even this was refreshing. In the northern parts of Vietnam, there is a stiffness. In Saigon, it feels like the city has collectively decided to breathe.

Why We Travel

I just think it’s good to have your luggage stolen every once in a while. What would you do if your passport was inside? Say you don’t have lodging for a night. You’re renting an apartment and you don’t have hot water so you have to go and talk to your landlord, but the guy doesn’t speak Japanese. Those experiences build character. When face with a challenge, you’re struck with the feeling of conquering the world. You feel like you can do anything, like a new seed has sprung up inside you. You seen afraid of things you can’t do, like speaking a different language. Your little comfort zone break down, and you begin to think before you act so you won’t wind up doing something foolish. You stop panicking as much. It’s a good thing.

Amrita, by Yoshimoto Banana (214)

Food Thoughts: Salad

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, eating salad for dinner. It’s only half of my dinner, but I make myself eat the salad first–the other stuff is the reward. I’m eating my salad, and the leaves taste sort of fuzzy, and I wonder if I should have washed it first. Probably. I never think about it in America, but vegetables need to be washed here in Japan.

But the real thing is, while I chew on my slightly fuzzy, probably dirty mystery genus lettuce leaves, I realize that I don’t really like salad.

I think back to the past, and know that there are times when I have liked salad. Seriously, truly believed salad was delicious, preferred salad to anything else on the restaurant menu liked salad. But now I have to wonder, am I just horrible at making salad (probably), or at some point in the past did I just trick myself into thinking that I liked salad because I wanted to be the sort of person who liked salad?

If the latter is the case, I’m going to have to reconsider my “dislike” or pizza.

Kyoto – conclusion

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I leave you today with a view of Kyoto from Arashiyama, and some thoughts on the city.

Kyoto is beautiful, ancient, and full of more things than you possibly can do in a week. If you’re visiting, you must prioritize. Make a must-see list, and also a like-to-see list. Leave time for people watching, soaking in the city’s ambiance, and bad weather. And don’t worry about seeing it all. There are dozens of famous temples scattered around. You will miss some of them, but as long as you’ve experienced Kyoto, as a city, there’s no reason to rush to check boxes off a list.

More practically: unlike Tokyo, which runs on the trains, Kyoto is about buses and subways. Look into passes for those.

There are tons of places to stay in the city. Hostels are reasonably priced. But if you have a little more padding in your budget, a traditional ryokan is an experience worth having. If sleeping on the floor doesn’t strike your fancy, the Sakara Hotel is a great blend of Western and Japanese styles. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there.

Finally, bring good walking shoes and an umbrella. Armed with these and a map, the city is yours.

Kyoto, the Walking City

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They call Kyoto, “The Walking City,” and for good reason. While an extensive network of buses, subways, and JR lines do serve the area, the city itself begs to be walked.

Winding side streets, tree lines boulevards, temples tucked in hidden corners, streams running along lantern lit roads, everything combines to create a picturesque walking scene. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that all the attractions are close enough that it’s hard to justify the subway fare, but just far enough that it’s a reasonable walk. And, as soon as you finish one sight it’s only a tad bit further to walk to the next.

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After only four days here, I’m starting to feel all this unplanned exercise. My thighs muscles ache every time I so much as glance at another flight of stairs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I never exercise. I run regularly, I love hiking, I’m pretty outdoorsy. But something about all of the whimsical strolling I’ve been doing recently is taking it’s toll. So, when I warned my family that there was going to be a lot of walking in Nara (where we’re heading today), rather than their enthused response, what I was really hoping for is “oh, we’ll take it easy then.” No such luck.