Until Next Time!

Today is the day! In just a few hours, I’ll be off on one heck of a big adventure.

My apartment is as empty as it was when I first walked through the door. My little sister, who graced me with her presence here in DC, has left me to start an awesome new job at National Geographic. My patriotic Flag Day decorations have finally been taken down. And the veritable mountain of sunscreen in the corner of my living room has been whisked off to West Africa.

I’ve been in DC for ten months and have learned a lot. I speak Portuguese now and can ram a car through a barricade. I’ve finally mastered submitting a travel claim through the State Department’s online system and know which vending machines at FSI accept credit cards. I’ve single-handedly fixed three State Department printers, can [maybe] detect a fraudulent passport, and can [somewhat] patch up a bullet wound. I’m now able to eyeball when a pile of my belongings weighs about 200 lbs and discuss U.S. visa ineligibilities at length. I can issue both U.S. passports and visas and am a pro at getting vaccinations. Most importantly, I can finally go through the diplomats line at JFK.

I’ve spent the past few weeks seeing family and friends, both old and new. I’ve shopped and sorted and packed and repacked yet again. I’ve taken long walks that smell of fall and have found a home for all my house plants. I’ve annoyed my cats and squeezed in one last movie night with my family. I even managed to sneak in a New York City bagel.

It’s bittersweet to be leaving so many people and places behind, but as a wise bear once said, “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I must be even luckier than Pooh, because I don’t plan on saying goodbye at all. Rather… until next time!

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Love you all!

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A few of my favorite people!

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More of my favorite people! (Who are all better at squatting than me…)

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A diplomat once told me it’s important to document your Foreign Service homes and the memories they hold. So here ’tis: me and my sister’s lovely little home in Washington, DC.

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A diplomat once told me it’s important to document your Foreign Service homes and the memories they hold. So here ’tis: me and my sister’s lovely little home in Washington, DC.

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A Música em Cabo Verde

Toi Pinto

António Pinto and a photo of himself with his good friend, Cesária Évora

While in Portuguese training at FSI, I had the opportunity to interview António Pinto, a Cabo Verdean diplomat and musician here in Washington D.C. I was working on a thesis project about Cabo Verdean music and was lucky to interview someone with first-hand experience. And in Portuguese, no less!

It’s said that there are more musicians per square kilometer in Cabo Verde than in any other country in the world. And after having done this project, I don’t doubt it. Because it seems that all Cabo Verdeans simply live and breathe music. So without further ado, I present to you my thesis, “A Música em Cabo Verde.” (Psst: English translation below…)

A Música em Cabo Verde | Português

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The Music in Cabo Verde | English

The word “saudade,” is the only Portuguese word that does not have an exact translation in English. It expresses the deep emotional state of lacking a person or place that you love. This feeling is often found in the literature and art of Portuguese-speaking countries. And it is especially found in music. While Portugal has fado, the sad songs of lost love, today I’d like to talk about a smaller country, a country that dances with music, the country of mornas. Today, I’d like to talk about music in Cabo Verde.

Cabo Verde is an archipelago of ten islands. The country is only the size of Rhode Island and is 570 kilometers from the coast of Senegal. The islands were unpopulated until the 15th century, when they were discovered by the Portuguese. Cabo Verde soon became a commercial hub due the slave trade and whaling industry, but the islands were a Portuguese territory until 1975, when they became independent. Now, Cabo Verde is a vibrant, developed, and growing country with a unique blend of African and Portuguese cultures. And with a diaspora larger than the population of the islands, this culture has spread around the world. The most famous aspect of these islands? The music. The music that seems to live in the hearts of all Cabo Verdeans.

I had the opportunity to speak to António Pinto, a diplomat at the Embassy of Cabo Verde in Washington, DC, and a successful musician both in Cabo Verde and the United States. He has been singing since he was a child and it all began, as so many stories do, with a girl.

“I started singing when I was 10 or 16 years old in Cabo Verde. When a boy wanted to impress a girl, he would get a group of us together and we would sing serenades underneath her window. A group of us with a guitar and a violin. So I learned to sing in Cabo Verde when I was very young. Once I was out of the military, I continued to sing in Angola. I originally went to Angola to play soccer, but after Independence on April 25th, I started singing with an Angolan group. We went to Brazil for four months and then sang for six months in Cascais in Lisbon, a very famous neighborhood. In 1981, I started working for the Embassy of Cabo Verde here in D.C. and I continued to sing for Cabo Verdean communities in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Florida.”

The independence of Cabo Verde in 1975 changed everything. When Cabo Verde first gained independence, 60% of the population could not read and the country did not have a formal education system. But in only 40 years, this rate has declined to less than 12%. The country now has a formal education system and educational partners in the United States, China, and around the world. Music education on the islands is still informal, with private teachers, and many people learn about music like Antonio, with their friends. However, there is a growing trend towards formal music education. There are many primary schools with music lessons, and legislation published by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources, discusses Musical Expression as a facet of primary education. Due to a lack of resources such as teachers, instruments, and space, progress is slow, but progress does exist. However, sometimes it is possible to use the resources that are literally washed up on the beaches. According to a Cabo Verdean tall tale, in 1968, a shipwreck was discovered on the beaches of São Nicolau. The ship was filled with electronic organs and keyboards that were originally on their way to Rio de Janeiro. The government decided to donate these instruments to the country’s schools and suddenly, students from Cabo Verde had access to the latest electronic music technology. Was it this supposed twist of fate led to the development of Cabo Verde’s electronic music industry in the 1970s?

It was this sound and identity that modernized traditional music in Cabo Verde – and there were many strong traditions. For example, there is the coladeira, the cheerful music with joking themes of satire.

Then there is the funaná, the fast songs with an accordion base. These songs are sensual, fast, and tribal. So tribal, in fact, that the Portuguese colonists banned them on the islands of Cabo Verde.

Then there is the batuque, one of the oldest types of music in Cabo Verde. This genre developed when the colonists stole the drums from the slaves on the islands. A woman in the center of a circle creates a rhythm with a cloth sack.

And of course, there is the morna, the longing songs of a people with roots in the slave trade and who now face a widespread diaspora, who understand well the pain of being far from home. These songs are about pain and ruin. And we can not talk about the morna without mentioning Cesária Évora.

Cesária Évora was a Cabo Verdean singer who died in 2011. She was, without comparison, the most famous Cabo Verdean in the history of the country. She was the Queen of Morna and The Barefoot Diva because she performed barefoot as a tribute to her childhood, when she grew up without shoes. She came from a family of musicians, and began singing in local bars and on cruise ships when she was only 15 years old. But her career lasted for more than 50 years and her legacy will survive for much longer. She won many awards, including a Grammy, and received lifetime achievement awards from Cabo Verde, Portugal, and France. However, maybe she is best described by someone who knew her personally.

“I met Cesária when she was just singing in little bars in São Vincente. That’s where she started. And many times, in those bars, she would introduce me to perform. Then she went to Portugal where she met Jose da Silva, a Cabo Verdean entrepreneur who marketed her in Europe, where she had enormous luck. Then she came to the United States to sing and I was in charge of the backstage. I organized everything and was always with her, even in the limousine, everywhere. There were many events, including the Wolf Trap, where she sang.

In Cabo Verde, it was very difficult to visit her house. Lots of people visiting Cabo Verde wanted to visit her, but there were so many, that she couldn’t let them all in. But she said I could come any time and I used to go there a lot, even escorting people who wanted to meet her. Once, a girl came all the way from Norway to see Cesária perform at the Baia Festival. I told her that if she wanted, I could take her to Cesária’s house. I was busy with my family that day so I dropped her off at Cesaria’s at 11am. I came back to pick her up at 7pm and she was on the floor drunk! They had been drinking together and she just couldn’t keep up with Cesária!”

Cesária often performed in Cabo Verde and sang in Criolo, the country’s native tongue which is a mix of Portuguese and African languages. Her legacy still exists in the music festivals of Cabo Verde and every year, thousands of people from around the world travel to Cabo Verde to attend festivals like Baia das Gatas, the biggest festival in West Africa, and the Sal Music Festival. And why? Because the music in Cabo Verde is addictive. Cabo Verdeans have a clear passion for their country and their music.

“In all parts of the world, I think music is essential for the life of people. For both young and old. Because music transmits everything. And the music of Cabo Verde and the music of Africa – they have the flavor of jazz. When I perform, with my intent and with my style, I want people to understand my message. I want to transmit a point. Music is a remedy for people’s souls.”

It is said that there are more musicians per square kilometer in Cabo Verde than in any other country in the world. And perhaps this is because all Cabo Verdeans live and breathe music. Indeed, it is clear that there exists on these little islands, a culture that is much larger.

I passed my Portuguese test!

Passport Pic

Who’s got a diplomatic passport and Portuguese fluency? This one!

It’s official! I passed my Portuguese test! However, the enthusiasm of those two statements somewhat hides the sheer panic I felt following the test. Allow me to explain.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 | 12:00pm

I wait nervously in the testing center, surrounded by other fear-stricken diplomats. This two-hour performance will be the culmination of six months of studying and is just that – a performance that can either go well or not so well. The scoring rubric is strict and the expectations are high. Testers enter the waiting room like doctors, selecting their next victim, and my heart thumps as all my compatriots disappear shakily into individual testing rooms. Eventually, I see a friendly Portuguese face, and I’m led to my own bright blue exam room (the best recording background color). I wore red to avoid a floating head situation. Prepared, I tell ‘ya.

For the next two hours, every aspect of my Portuguese was tested, twisted, and tugged. Thanks to a pesky confidentiality contract I was forced to sign, I must keep secrets from you, but what I can say is that the test has four parts, each as grueling as the next. First is a biographical conversation in which you introduce yourself and are then grilled on your background and the current events of the day. In the second section, you have only a few minutes to prepare a presentation on a surprise foreign policy topic. In the third section, you must interview your tester about another surprise topic and then translate everything he or she says into English. The final section focuses on reading and determines how complicated a text you can read before having a complete mental breakdown.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 | 2:00pm

I stumble out of the testing center, relieved that the test is over and happy with my performance. I was told to expect my score via email within 24 hours. The wait begins.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 | 5:00pm

It’s been three whole hours since the test, which is close enough to 24 hours for me to start obsessively checking my emails. I try to distract myself with English TV (how I’ve missed it!), but I’ve now replayed every aspect of the test several hundred times, and I’m feeling less confident. Why didn’t I use subjunctive in that sentence? Did the testers smile or grimace at me as I left? Does that word I used even exist in Portuguese?

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 | 9:00pm

Still no email. I eat cheese for dinner. There’s a knot forming in my stomach, which is either stress or cheese-induced. Surely something has gone terribly wrong.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 | 11:30pm

Still no email.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 | 11:31pm

Still no email.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 | 11:32pm

Still no email. BLARGH.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 | 6:00am

My brain decides to wake me up at 6am so I can get a jumpstart on my worrying. I wonder whether they misspelled my personal email address so I roll out of bed to try logging into my Department of State account. The server is down so I can’t log on. I begin pacing.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 | 10:00am

No one I know has had to wait this long for a weekday test score. Then, I notice on the news that the State Department’s global email system isn’t working. Maybe they’re not able to process the scores? There’s hope!

Friday, August 18th, 2017 | 12:00pm

It’s now officially been 24 hours since the start of my test and I realize that I will have to either call the Language Testing Unit, which I’m pretty sure is practically forbidden, or wait through the weekend for my score. Hmmm.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 | 2:04pm

It’s officially been 24 hours and four minutes since I finished my test. That’s fair game. I call the Language Testing Unit from the safety of my closet and they confirm that the systems are down and that I’m not the only one making frantic phone calls. I knew my compatriots were trustworthy. Finally, I get the good news. 3+/3!

Since I’ve officially passed Portuguese, it’s onto six weeks of Consular training. And now that I’ve had some time to destress, I can appreciate how lucky I am to have learned a language in so short a time and to be working with 13,000 colleagues who are all able and willing to do the same. This is a pretty cool career. And that, my friends, é o fim!

How to pass the FSOT

I’ve received several questions about the Foreign Service application process, so for the next few posts, I’ll outline how I approached each step. Up first? The FSOT.

The first hurdle in becoming a diplomat is passing the Foreign Service Officer Test, or the FSOT. This four-part computerized test is administered at testing centers around the U.S. (and abroad) and tests the “knowledge, skills and abilities that are necessary to the work of a Foreign Service Officer.” Many will tell your that you can’t study for the FSOT because it’s too broad. Do not listen to these people. There are strategies to taking any test and below I’ve outlined the strategies I used to pass the FSOT. Woohoo! Studying! Fun!

The lofty plans of a diplomat wannabe, (who has better hole-punching skills than demonstrated here).

Test Basics

Most importantly, know the test. How many questions are in each section? How many minutes do you get for each section? How is each section scored? Know how to play the game by their rules. And just as importantly, know thyself. Which sections do you feel comfortable with? Which sections do you most need to prepare for?

Read through the official State Department Application Process and the information they’ve posted on the FSOT, specifically the official Selection Process Information Guide, which contains an explanation of each of the sections as well as practice questions. They also have a separate practice test and a mobile app with additional questions. I suggest taking the practice test in the Information Guide before you start studying, so you know where your strengths and weaknesses are. The suggested reading list is nothing but overwhelming, so click that link with caution (I read none of these books and did just fine). Speaking of which, do not panic. There is a lot of information in the world and you will not know it all. You don’t need to. Prioritize and make a customized study guide for yourself. The test is bizarrely random, so the name of the game is simply to feel prepared.

I’ve heard several people recommend the FSOT Yahoo Group (an unofficial State Department chat group) and it’s always a good idea to reach out to your Diplomat in Residence. Furthermore, peruse the news (I recommend the BBC app’s top daily stories) and read a few Foreign Service blogs. They a great resource for study tips.

Part 1: Job Knowledge

In my opinion, this is the hardest section because the questions are so wide-ranging. In the State Department’s own words, these multiple-choice questions cover, “a broad range of topics including, but not limited to, the structure and workings of the U.S. Government, U.S. and World History, U.S. Culture, Psychology, Technology, Management Theory, Finance and Economics, and World Affairs.” And you were worried there wouldn’t be a question on price elasticity and economic demand! Phew!

My background prepared me fairly well for the Management, Finance, and Economics sections. With “fairly” being the operative word. But I hadn’t taken a history or civics class since high school, so my knowledge of history and the inner workings of the U.S. government was quite lacking. So to study, I lined up the below outline for myself:

  • Watch “America, The Story of Us,” a 12-part History Channel series. This was a good way to quickly review American history and see all the major events on a single timeline.
  • Take a few free online Khan Academy courses. They have a million useful topics and are very well done. I reviewed the U.S. history, World History, and U.S. Civics courses.
  • Familiarize yourself with the results of a few landmark U.S. Supreme Court Cases.
  • Memorize the ideals of a few major philosophers, such as Thomas Paine, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant.
  • Review some key Public Relations and Economic vocabulary. What’s asymmetrical communication again?
  • Know how the U.S. government works. This is an important one. Know how bills become laws and the difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate. Know the chain of command of the government. Know what all the U.S. Federal agencies do and about when they were founded.
  • Master the Sporcle global geography quiz. Know your countries. Also a useful skill on Flag Day.

Part 2: English Expression

This multiple-choice section simply tests your English grammar. In my opinion, it is very similar to the English Grammar section on the SATs and APs. If this is a tricky section for you, get yourself an SAT prep book and review the Grammar section.

Part 3: Biographic Questionnaire

For this section, know thyself and self-compliment effusively. The questions begin as multiple-choice. For example: How many times in the past year have you organized an event? Never? 1-2? 3-4? More than 4 times? Then the kicker: List these events in the box below, but surprise, a tiny character count! In my opinion, the hardest part about this section is the timing. There are a lot of questions and it flies by as you’re trying to condense all your accomplishments into a tiny text box. Finish the multiple-choice half of all of these questions, even if you don’t have a chance to fill in all the text boxes. For the text boxes, forget complete sentences and obscure event titles and try to give descriptions if you can fit them. So not: “Organized Paris Peace Treaties,” but “Negotiated end of WWII between nine warring superpowers.” And you know what else counts? Those weekly meetings you set up at work. And that study group you organized for your French class. And that charity run you volunteered at. So yes, you organized events like this more than four times in the past year. Self-complimenting. It’s an art.

Part 4: Written Essay

They’ve changed this section since I took the test. Currently, you get to choose one of three essay topics and have 25 minutes to write an eloquent and thought-provoking essay supporting your thoughts on the matter. The topics themselves aren’t overly difficult, but 25 minutes goes fast. So practice writing a few timed essays before you get to the test (especially if you haven’t written a proper essay since college). SAT essay prompts would be good practice here. Know what 25 minutes feels like and have a basic essay structure prepared that you can drop any topic into. Lastly, leave yourself time to re-read your paper. The computer will not have spell-check and typos will count against you.

Go get ’em, Tiger! Good luck!

Happy Independence Day!

I interrupt our previously scheduled content to wish you all a happy Independence Day! Because there’s little I could write that would do this day justice, I’ll leave the rest of this post to the professionals:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of a right ought to be free and independent states and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour.”

– The Declaration of Independence, 1776.

Because there’s nothing more American than blue marshmallows!

Best seat in the house!

Happy birthday, America!

A Timeline: My Pursuit of the Foreign Service

It’s been another busy month here in the nation’s drizzly capitol! I received the required 1+/1+ on my first language exam and now have just three weeks to get to a 2+/2+. Ha. Ha. GULP. Portuguese continues to test the elasticity of my frazzled brain, but my English is definitely faltering so let’s hope that means that my Portuguese is improving. I also received my official Senate confirmation, which I assume passed with much gavel-pounding and hip hip hooraying. And I’ve had a lovely string of visitors, including my sister, who is gracing me with her presence while she job-hunts in Washington, D.C. Most importantly, she and I started watching The Great British Baking Show and have decided to become master bakers in our spare time. Attempt #1 was a success. Mary Berry would be proud.

In just nine hours, you too can create a Swedish Prinsesstårta!

I’d also like to thank those of you that have reached out recently with questions about the application process. While I was applying to be a diplomat (a painstakingly slow process that took well over two years), I read several Foreign Service blogs that were incredibly helpful in explaining the process. So for the next few posts, I’d like to add my two cents and delve into my pursuit of the Foreign Service. I hope you find these posts useful!

First up: the timeline.

June 19, 2014: ‘Twas a quiet summer morning in New York City. Birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and my study notes were flapping in the wind as I frantically debated whether or not I needed to understand the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty. I rushed through the three-hour Foreign Service Officer Test because, as luck would have it, I had to report to jury duty that same day. At the same time. I skidded into jury duty an hour late and then promptly fell asleep in a waiting room chair. A month later, I found out that I passed the FSOT (yay!) but a few months later discovered that I hadn’t passed the following QEP essay round (how dare they!). I vowed to right this injustice and returned to my studying.

June 12, 2015: The State Department allows applicants to test only once per year, so I waited several months to take the test again. During the test, I plodded through hundreds of questions, but while I was supposed to be recalling obscure facts on everything from world history to economics to math, I was instead distracted by the giant computer font size and the provided ear plugs: does anyone actually use them? I stumbled out into the light a few hours later. I ate a bagel. A month later, I find out I again passed the exam.

July 2015: I have three weeks to write, obsessively edit, and submit six 220-word personal narrative essays. I struggle to summarize my many inspiring accomplishments in a mere 1,320 words. I attempt to add more pizzazz to my narratives in the hopes of impressing the QEP review panel, although I’m irked at them for not recognizing my brilliance the previous year. Luckily, pizzazz works! I receive an email three weeks later inviting me to the Oral Examination in Washington, D.C.

February 4, 2016: I spend the fall of 2015 in a perpetual state of panic. I annoy my friends with constant in-depth explanations of the three part, all-day Oral Examination, which involves a timed group negotiation challenge, a situational one-on-one interview, and a written case study. Evaluators watch silently throughout the day, and even the lunch break feels like a test. At the end of the day, as our heads bob from exhaustion, we nerve-wracked interviewees are led into individual rooms where we are told whether we pass or fail. Those that fail are literally escorted out of the building. Luckily, I pass! I take a celebratory nap.

February 2016: I spend the rest of February filling out giant stacks of paperwork in the form of medical and security clearance applications. Not only must I list every trip I’ve taken out of the country in the last 10 years but the name and contact information of almost everyone I’ve ever met. One day at work, a security officer interrogates me for three hours and then meets with all my nearest and dearest friends in a variety of deserted office lobbies and lonely park benches. My security officer is pleased that I’ve never done anything scandalous enough to warrant decent gossip. I received my medical clearance later that month, which means that I’m healthy enough to be sent to a country without doctors: must not fall off any ladders.

July 15, 2016: After months of obsessive email-checking, I officially receive my security clearance and am put on the Foreign Service Register, a list of super-qualified diplomat-wannabes. We are ranked only by our Oral Examination scores, so many people will make it this far and still never receive a job offer. We can wait on the Register for 18 months before we’re dropped from the list and have to start the application process over from the beginning. Eek.

September 26, 2016: I officially receive an offer to join the January 9, 2017 189th A-100 class! I spend a good part of the morning bouncing around a conference room at work and send dozens of ALL CAPS TEXTS to everyone I know.

January 9, 2017: I spend a few months wrapping up my current job, seeing my friends and family, and let’s not forget: packing. I arrive in D.C. the afternoon before I’m scheduled to start and neatly hang my first-day-of-work outfit in the closet. The next morning, I nervously approach the highly guarded entrance to the State Department. My heart nearly stops as the security guard scans his list of new employees and I breath a sigh of relief when he lets me through the gate. Let the fun begin!

Only about 40% of applicants pass the Foreign Service Officer Test, and then only 40% of the remaining applicants pass the QEP essay round and are invited to the Oral Examinations. 20% of the interviewees pass the Oral Examination, which is only 3% of the original applicants. Most diplomats went through this process more than once, as did I. So to those of you interested in applying, stick with it!

Portuguese Will Be the Death of Me

Being paid to learn a language is an incredibly cool part of this job. For diplomats, foreign language fluency is both a logistical necessity and a nod of respect to other cultures. As Nelson Mandela once so eloquently summarized, “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

However. The joy I feel at someday being a bilingual representative of the United States does not prevent waves of terror from crashing through my very core. Because I have a total of 24 weeks to become fluent in Portuguese. A mere 168 days. I’m currently on my eighth week, which means that I have just 16 weeks left. This also means that I have my first formal evaluation next week, in which I must prove that I can speak/read at a 1+/1+ level.

[The audience hears a thud as the protagonist topples to the floor.]

The State Department uses the ILR Scale of Fluency, which ranks individuals on a 1-5 scale. At 8 weeks, I must speak/read at a 1+/1+ level. At 16 weeks, a 2+/2+, and at 24 weeks, a 3/3. If I miss any of these benchmarks, some lucky language teacher will call my future boss and tell them that I won’t get to post on time. Even more stress-inducing is the fact that I need fluency in at least one foreign language to receive tenure as a diplomat. The stakes are high.

[The audience hears the panicked crinkling of chocolate egg wrappers.]

The timing and required level of fluency vary based on the language you’re learning. If you’re learning Russian, you have 32 weeks to reach a 2/2. If you’re learning Mandarin, you have 36 weeks to reach a 2/1. But fear not. No matter what language you’re learning, the timing is short enough to give you crazed panic eyes. The mark of a true language-learning diplomat.

For reference, below are three videos, showing what an English learner sounds like at a 1+, 2+, and 3 speaking level. Now, please excuse me. I must go locate more chocolate.

ILR Speaking – Level 1+

ILR Level 1+

You got this, self.

ILR Speaking – Level 2+

ILR Level 2+

Dear heavens above.

ILR Speaking – Level 3

ILR Level 3

MAYDAY. MAYDAY. EVERYBODY PANIC.

So what exactly does a diplomat do?

Desk with Portuguese Homework

Português! O meo cérebro dói.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a lot to talk about! We could talk about my Portuguese class (Exames! Pânico! Desastre iminente!), or the rumored hand-to-hand combat training I have to take in October, or how one goes about buying a car on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I promise to revisit these stories in future posts. But first, I’d like to finally answer a pressing question on everyone’s mind: so what exactly does a diplomat do?

American diplomats “represent and protect the interests of the United States abroad,” and I’d argue that this mission falls into two categories. Bear with me now. On one hand, American diplomats push information out. They explain U.S. import policies to Italian business owners, ensure that Nepalese radio stations are reporting correct information about the United States, and encourage Ethiopian students to study at American universities. They are master negotiators and effective communicators. On the other hand, American diplomats pull information in. They are the United States’ eyes and ears on the ground and report back to Washington on the political and economic environment in more than 190 countries around the world. They know whether clean water or new schoolbooks are needed in a rural community in Liberia, or which political party in India is most likely to win the next presidential election, or whether a country is deteriorating into civil war. Even more importantly, they know how each of these issues will impact the safety and prosperity of the United States.

“Thank heavens these issues don’t affect me,” you think. But they most certainly do! Because it is a diplomat who helps make it safe for you to travel abroad. It is a diplomat negotiating the treaty that prevents sending American troops to war. It is a diplomat who determines which foreign individuals will be granted visas to enter the United States. It is a diplomat who dissipates anger against the United States with careful communication. 

Despite having done vast amounts of research prior to joining the State Department, I’m still boggled by how many issues the State Department’s 13,980 diplomats manage to juggle. That being said, there are five types of diplomats who obtain, process, and communicate all this information. As described by the State Department, the five career cones are:

  • Consular: Consular Officers facilitate adoptions, help evacuate Americans, and combat fraud to protect our borders and fight human trafficking.
  • Economic: Economic Officers work with foreign governments and U.S. agencies on technology, science, economic, trade, energy, and environmental issues.
  • Management: Management Officers are resourceful, action-oriented leaders responsible for all embassy operations from real estate to people to budget.
  • Political: Political Officers analyze host country political events and communicate effectively with all levels of foreign government officials.
  • Public Diplomacy: Public Diplomacy Officers engage, inform, and influence foreign societies in order to promote understanding and support of U.S. policies.

While I am officially a Public Diplomacy Officer, I will serve as a Consular Officer in Cabo Verde. Which means that in only a few months, I’ll be giving visa interviews in Portuguese. Gulp.

Swearing In

It’s official!

On a sunny Friday in February, my foreign service colleagues and I escorted our families through the halls of the Harry S. Truman State Department Building, attempting to show off our newfound insider knowledge, but instead getting lost in the maze of white hallways. We gathered in one of the formal auditoriums and listened as Under Secretary Tom Shannon welcomed us to, “lives of significance and consequence.” We then stood, raised our right hands, and took the above oath of office.

Pretty powerful stuff. We’ve been reminded many times throughout our training that our lives are no longer ours; we serve a greater purpose and must put the needs of American public ahead of our own. Nothing makes that mission resonate more than pledging your commitment alongside 100 of the brightest people you’ll ever meet.

Even the oath itself has historical importance. The oath was originally created by George Washington and the Founding Fathers, who were explicit that U.S. government officials not swear allegiance to an individual (as had been done in Great Britain to the king), but to the Constitution. This oath was later amended by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, when officers had to swear that they in no way supported the Confederacy. Following the Civil War, this oath was again amended by Congress, who developed the wording that is used today. And now this is the same oath that the Vice President takes!

Congratulations to the United States’ newest diplomats!

My family: the best cheerleaders in the house!

Flag Day!

Flag Day has come and gone and my classmates and I have all survived! The energy of the room was electric as nervous parents fretted over color-coded bid lists and State Department employees lined the walls, reliving the excitement of Flag Days past. My friends readied their cameras and specially-made Flag Day bingo cards, ready to provide emotional support should I happen to trip on my way to the front of the room.

I was one of the last people called, so I sat with my stomach in knots as the number of remaining flags dwindled. What countries were left? Should I exit my row to the right or left? Was the panic making my curls frazzled? Suddenly, I heard my name called from afar and found myself shaking the ambassador’s hand.

So where will I be going? Cabo Verde!

“Don’t tip over. Don’t tip over. Don’t tip over.”

One of my highs! Cabo Verde is a chain of ten islands off the coast of West Africa. Combined, the islands (including three volcanos – gulp) are about as big as Rhode Island, but what Cabo Verde lacks in land mass, it makes up for in exuberance. The country is known for its music, beaches, and people, yet more Cabo Verdeans actually live abroad than in the country, which boasts a population of just 500,000. Cabo Verde has a higher standard of living than any other West African nation and gained independence from Portugal in 1975. As a result, the country’s official language is Portuguese, although many citizens also speak Crioulo, an African/Creole/Portuguese mix. Perhaps most importantly, there is one goat for every two people in Cabo Verde. Goats mean cheese.

My new home!

Let’s zoom in a tad…

There it is!

I’ve listened to other people’s Flag Day stories for years, but being in my own was surreal. The Foreign Service is now tangible. The job exists. I can mentally picture the next two years of my life. And I can’t wait to get started. I will spend the next few months in intensive Portuguese and Consular training and will depart for post in October. Time to get to work!