It’s raining!

I have never been so excited to see rain as I am now in Cabo Verde.

September 2018, Santiago Island

When I arrived in Cabo Verde, the country had already suffered through a full year of drought. The rain hadn’t come, leaving the islands barren, dry, and dusty. Small family farms no longer had an income and rural properties were abandoned as families moved in search of work. Emaciated cows and goats were let loose to wander the islands in search of food and to defend themselves against the starving street dogs. The number of students in schools dwindled as families couldn’t afford transportation. Cabo Verdeans walked further and further each day to carry back jugs of water from government distribution points. The supposedly “Green Cape” was only shades of brown. Even the cacti started to wilt.

February 2018, Santiago Island

March 2018, Santiago Island

The rainy season in Cabo Verde usually starts in July and lasts through September. Back home, we know this as hurricane season. The rain that starts here in the East Atlantic picks up speed on its way west, turning into massive tropical storms that pummel the Caribbean and southern states. In fact, the only time Cabo Verde is mentioned on American news seems to be in reference to these storms. And while everyone back home stocks up on canned food, flashlights, and conveniently bottled water, Cabo Verdeans hope and pray that they don’t have to watch the rain fall into the ocean a few miles off the coast.

March 2018, Santiago Island

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my living room couch pondering whether I had time for another Brooklyn 99 episode before bed, when I heard someone run across my roof. I immediately grabbed a flashlight in self-defense (naturally) and leapt from the couch. As I hid silently behind my bookcase (because I’m sneaky, you see) I also heard someone on the roof of my deck. A two-person heist! Stealthily craning my neck out of my hiding spot, I could just make out a darkened corner of my patio. I squinted. Was that rain?!

The rain was coming down fast and heavy and made such a racket that I assumed my fortress was under attack. I jumped out from behind my bookcase and threw open the back doors to my patio. There were puddles! And wind! And water falling from the sky! I proceeded to record a series of poorly-lit and shaky videos because the moment felt so momentous.

September 2018, Santiago Island

September 2018, Santiago Island

It’s rained several times over the past few weeks and the islands have suddenly turned green. Dusty abandoned construction lots now look like the rolling hills of Ireland. Goats munch on grass instead of garbage. For the first time in a year, the seasons seem to have changed.

A few weeks of rain won’t fix the damage caused by the recent drought. And as these droughts become more common, there will likely be more serious problems on Cabo Verde’s hazy horizon. But for now the islands are happy. It’s raining.

September 2018, Santiago Island

September 2018, Santiago Island

September 2018, Santiago Island

September 2018, Santiago Island

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How to pass the QEP

PN Email

An official eagle seal!

After months of obsessive email checking, I knew the fateful day had arrived when I saw the subject line sitting in my inbox: “Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) Score Report Available Notification.” After crossing my fingers (because that’s what diplomats do), I opened the email, but through squinted eyes (which make bad news less painful) saw only a link to log into my online testing account. HURDLES. I incorrectly entered my password three times before finally seeing the spinning wheel of loading doom. I re-crossed my fingers, clicked into my score report, and felt a flood of adrenaline as I saw the word, “Congratulations!”

And congratulations, indeed! You’ve made it to the Personal Narrative hurdle of the Foreign Service application marathon. Well done.

The Personal Narratives are six short essay prompts in which you have 1,300 characters per essay to explain why you’re the bee’s knees. These essays are read by a group of diplomats known as the Qualifications Evaluations Panel, or the QEP. I can only assume that these poor people are sitting in a fluorescent lit, windowless cinder block basement, where they are required to finish reading hundreds of essays before they are allowed their government-sponsored bologna sandwich and milk carton lunch.

But in all seriousness, the QEP reads every applicant’s submissions and all applicants receive a decision within a matter of weeks. These people are reading a lot of essays very quickly. So much like in college applications, the name of the game in this round is to grab their attention. Below are my tips!

  • Answer the question they way they want you to. The Personal Narrative prompts are based off the Foreign Service’s Core Precepts (the rubric they use to determine promotions within the Foreign Service). And conveniently, this rubric is publicly accessible. Read this rubric, because the way the State Department defines “Innovation” and “Problem-Solving” may be different from the way you do.
  • Use State Department approved vocabulary. The QEP will compare your essays to the 13 Dimensions, (the list of character traits exemplified by a Foreign Service Officer) so work this vocabulary into your essays. This will make the QEP’s job easier, effectively getting them one step closer to their bologna sandwich, and you, one step closer to the Foreign Service.
  • Don’t be dull. The QEP panelists must be so. Incredibly. Bored. So do them a favor and make your essays interesting. I was very formal the first time I went through the Personal Narrative round and didn’t pass. So the second time, I dialed up the story-telling. Start each essay with a hook. Be clever. Be witty. Be yourself (but only if you are clever and witty).
  • Be multi-faceted. A Diplomat in Resident (side note: contact your Diplomat in Residence, they are very wise and useful people) told me that each of the responses should come from a different experience in your background. So don’t tell six stories that are all vaguely similar. If you can, tell only one story from each job, extracurricular, or study abroad experience.
  • Self-compliment like your career depends on it. Were these experiences a team effort? Probably. But the QEP doesn’t care what everyone else on your team did, they only care about what you did. Don’t waste valuable characters on other people. Use the STAR Method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to explain only the awe-inspiring things you accomplished.

Good luck, folks!

A Day in the Life

The never-ending mountain of applicant folders

A never-ending mountain of applicant folders

I’ve been living in Cabo Verde for six months! I’ve visited four of ten Cabo Verdean islands, adjudicated more than 1,200 visas, and submitted my bid list for my next post. Yikes. And now that I have a better understanding of what I do (it was a long learning curve), I thought I’d fill you all in as well. So below, I present: A Day in the Life of the American Vice Consul in Cabo Verde. Also known as, me.

7:40 AM

I nudge the curb and gear my car into park, proud of myself for once again surviving the seven hectic traffic circles between my house and the U.S. Embassy. I open the car door, letting myself adjust to the buzz of street noise before swinging out onto the cobblestones. I say hello to the group of women who sit on plastic buckets selling fresh tuna to pedestrians and walk through the sunny breeze while rummaging through my purse for my security badge. As I pass the line of visa applicants outside the embassy who certainly woke up much earlier than I, I wonder who decided that American embassies should open an hour earlier than any other American office on the planet.

8:00 AM

I settle into my chair and flip on the desk lamp I brought to improve the office’s fluorescent lighting. As I pull a Tupperwared muffin out of my purse, I ponder if any of my houseplants could survive a move to my window-less desk. I log onto my computer and start typing out responses to last night’s emails.

By 9am, the Consular section’s local staff have gotten a head start on applicant intake and my boss and I are called to the windows to begin our interviews for the day. All Cabo Verdeans need a visa to visit, study, or work in the United States and must come to the U.S. Embassy for a visa interview. My boss and I will spend the next few hours interviewing applicants in Portuguese through bullet-proof glass to determine if they are eligible for visas to the United States. There are thousands of U.S. immigration laws, exceptions, and ineligibilities to consider. I often stare blankly at applicants as my mind spins through the rolodex of immigration rules that may apply to any one particular case. In the end, there is only time to speak to each applicant for about three minutes. This is also the most heartbreaking part of the job, as it often involves denying the visas of perfectly nice people who don’t qualify for the visas for which they applied. Parents argue. Children cry. Grandmas glare.

11:30 AM

I return all my checklists and guides to their blue folder, switch off my window’s microphone and return to my office, rethinking the morning’s cases. I check emails and hope I don’t see anyone that I denied at lunch.

1:30 PM

Following a sunny lunch at one of the outdoor cafes near the Embassy, I head back to the office to fight back the growing stack of applicant folders that have begun to pile up on my desk. This involves running name checks, checking fingerprint and facial recognition databases, requesting and sorting additional documentation, and looking up the finer details of immigration law in the State Department’s 800+ page guidance. I feel very academic and lawyerly. But usually at about three cases in, I remember why I’m glad I’m not a lawyer.

3:30 PM

Once I’ve sorted through all my applicant cases for the day, I have a few hours to work on some long-term projects. These projects include everything from revamping our applicant waiting room, to planning educational videos for the Facebook page, or organizing outreach trips to the other islands to answer Cabo Verdeans’ visa questions in person. The Consular section does data validation studies to determine if people are using their visas correctly. We write editorials to explain the finer points of immigration law to the Cabo Verdean public. We debate new U.S. immigration policy changes and research how these changes will affect our adjudications. At the end of the day, our goal is two-sided: to prevent illegal immigration and visa misuse, but to also encourage legitimate travel to the U.S.

5:30 PM

The U.S. Embassy in Praia is small, and unlike most embassies, we don’t have U.S. Marine guards for security. This means that one of us diplomats is responsible for kicking everyone out of their offices each night and making sure the embassy is secured until the next morning. So at 5:30pm, I usually find myself scrambling to answer one last email, making sure all the Consular safes are locked, and hitting the lights.

Until tomorrow – até amanhã!

First Impressions

You know how sometimes you feel like you’re in just the right place at just the right time? That’s how I’ve felt ever since stepping off the plane in Cabo Verde!

I am incredibly lucky to have been sent to Cabo Verde for my first post. The embassy is small, which means that my colleagues are incredibly close-knit. They’ve all gone out of their way to make sure I’m taken care of: I arrived to a fridge stocked with banana bread and a desk stocked with Post-Its. My boss graciously lets me pester him with 473 questions a day and the consular section’s local staff have invited me to perform with their singing group. Even the Ambassador himself took me on a day trip around the island to get my bearings. Getting hungry? Choose from three different dinner invites. Need an emergency pie plate? Take two and a kitchen scale. House run out of water? An emergency water truck shows up in 10 minutes. The community here is impressive, to say the least.

There are plenty of things here in Cabo Verde to be thankful for (and since I still have a leftover Thanksgiving pie in the freezer, I’m allowed to make a list). For example, the awesome water pressure in my new shower. Or the Orca store, which is a cross between a NYC bodega and an American Target, and which is currently a winter wonderland with impressively decked halls. I’m thankful that Amazon can deliver throw pillows to an island in the middle of the Atlantic within two weeks. I’m thankful that I have a car and friends who are willing to repeatedly put their lives at risk as I drive them through the lawless-ish streets of Cabo Verde. I’m thankful for people who understand technology and know how to sync my computer to my TV and can make phones work internationally. I’m thankful for my Portuguese training, because I️ would quite literally be lost and hungry and bad at my job without it. I’m thankful for the movie theater that plays new release American movies in English with Portuguese subtitles and will mix the sweet and salty popcorns for you. I’m thankful for the guards who watch my fortress of a house all night and I’m thankful for the local plant fair that helped me make my fortress of a house feel more like home.

So thank you to Cabo Verde, for welcoming me with open arms. And thank you to the United States, for hiring me to do this awesome job!

Cidade Velha, Cabo Verde

Lunch views in Cidade Velha, Cabo Verde

Palm frond ceilings

Woven palm frond ceilings, complete with fish

Cidade Velha, Cabo Verde

It looks like Jurassic Park here!

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That’ll do.

Tarrafal, Cabo Verde

Spotted in Tarrafal, Cabo Verde

Tarrafal, Cabo Verde

Those lunch views just keep on comin’…

Mindelo, Cabo Verde

Spotted in Mindelo, Cabo Verde

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Entirely unposed… me in Cabo Verde!

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.

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!

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!

The Bid List

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Darn right I will.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. A downright whirl of wind. I’ve spent my days in A-100, State Department speak for basic training. And I’ve spent my nights bouncing between happy hours with my new 189th A-100 classmates. My pool game is improving.

I will delve into A-100 training in a future post, but for now I want to focus on The Bid List. The Bid List is the list of job openings for us newbies. Aka, a single piece of paper that determines the direction of our entire lives. Exaggeration? I think not. Somewhere on this piece of paper is the name of the city in which I’ll spend the next two years. The city that will determine what language I’ll learn, how long I’ll be in DC, and whether I’ll have guaranteed access to scones in the near future. The city that will impact the trajectory of my entire State Department career. How’s that for epic? You’d think such a document would arrive embossed and stamped with a wax seal. Or at least laminated. But alas, on an otherwise normal Wednesday afternoon, a single piece of plain paper was dropped on our desks. My subsequent thoughts:

Bureau: SCA (“South and Central Asia! I know where that is!”)
Post: Tashkent (“Wait. Where is Tashkent?”)*
Cone: CONS (“Behold my visa-processing future!”)
Language: TB 3/3 (“Tajiki. That’s fun!”)

*I get hollered at if I divulge state secrets. This is not a real bid list post. Please don’t fire me.

That’s all the information we get. Listed for each post is the region, a city name (no countries, that’s too easy), the cone (U.S. diplomats are hired to work within one of five cones: Public Diplomacy, Consular, Management, Political, or Economic – all newbies are required to do at least one Consular tour), and the required language level (based on the 1-5 ILR fluency scale – a 3/3 designating fluency in Speaking/Reading). We have two weeks to research and rank each post as a high, medium, or low based on our personal preferences. We then turn our completed lists over to our Career Development Officers, who compare the lists of us chipper hopefuls, cross-reference our preferences with the needs of the service, and assign us our first posts as U.S. diplomats. My internal dialogue for the past few weeks went something like this:

How cold is cold? Do they have Internet? How big are the bugs I’ll find in my shower? Will I have a shower? Will I have to drive on the other side of the road? Do they have cheese? Do I have to bleach all my vegetables? How concerned am I with air pollution? Do I want danger pay incentive? What do they mean when they say the air smells like fish? Can people come visit? Is learning Tajiki useful? Should I spend a year learning Mandarin instead? Why did I agree to be worldwide available? Do my preferences really even matter? Am I too manic for island life? Thank heavens I don’t have any pets. Or worse, children. Land mines? I need to be worried about land mines?!

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A list of languages taught by the State Department. Kinyarwanda, anyone?

Having ranked and re-ranked the posts hundreds of times, I have officially submitted The Bid List. My future is no longer in my hands. And it is absolutely thrilling. In less than a week, I’ll be sitting anxiously in an auditorium among my shaky peers as we clutch highlighters and copies of our lists. The name of each post will be called out randomly to an audience of 500 family and friends. And then through the suspense hanging in the air we’ll hear the name of one of our classmates. When my name is called, I’ll walk shakily to the stage, where I’ll accept the flag of my new host country, pause for an official picture, and try to remember to address the flag-hander-outer as Mr. Ambassador. Wish me luck.

Inauguration Day

 

“We the people of the United States…”


Today is a fascinating day to be in Washington, DC. The city is resplendent in red, white, and blue and people from all walks of life are seeing our nation’s capitol for the first time. A president who served this country and its people for eight years is stepping down and another is assuming his responsibility. Our nation is in the midst of change.

It is also a fascinating time to be working for the State Department. Many offices contain nothing but cardboard boxes as the former occupants find themselves looking for new employment. Career ambassadors who have served their country for 30 years have left their posts, their jobs suddenly back up for grabs. Last week, we were briefed on the State Department’s structure, with the caveat that in just a few days, entire bureaus may no longer exist. Meanwhile, hallway upon hallway of transition team staff work furiously to figure it all out. And even though I’ve spent the past two weeks being briefed by everyone from ambassadors to security staff to resilience counselors, I’ve not heard a single person complain.

The reason? Because there’s still work to be done. No matter what’s happening here at home, other countries in this world still depend on the help and example of the United States of America. And as rocky as the past year has been for this nation, millions of people in the world are far from enjoying our many privileges. There are still people in this world without access to food or medicine or education. There are people in this world whose homes have been turned into war zones. In very few countries do people have the freedom to attend their president’s inauguration one day and then protest peacefully in support of issues they care about the next. And in very few countries can an ordinary citizen not only share their political opinions, but openly affect change in their country. We are lucky to have been born in the United States of America.

Last week, my class was briefed on the mission of the U.S. Department of State: To shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world, and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere. The striking thing about this mission is that it is built upon the idea that our freedom depends on others being free. Our prosperity depends on others being prosperous. And our security depends on others being secure. The best way to help ourselves is by helping others and that is a mission I am proud to represent. We are all we the people.

Goodbye, New York City!

In a few hours, I’ll be boarding a flight with a one-way ticket to D.C., which means that in a few hours, I will also say goodbye to New York City, my home for the past five years.

I was seven years old when I decided to move to New York City. It was a snowy December and my mittened family took a day trip to see the Radio City Rockettes. I remember weaving through the bundled crowds on Fifth Avenue and stomping through snowbanks as yellow taxis flew past. I was handed a giant pretzel from a vendor beneath a red and white umbrella and later craned my neck to see the arched ceiling of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As Christmas carols jingled merrily in the background, my sister and I leaned over the edge of the Rockefeller Skating Rink and listened to the happy shrieks of the skaters below. And oddly enough, I don’t remember the Rockettes at all, because all I could think about was the city on the other side of the doors.

Rockefeller Center in New York City

I will miss New York City. I will miss the constant onslaught of new people and places, 3am cake delivery, and scone and cheese nights. I will miss the creaky front door of my first apartment building, the one that in five years, never properly locked. I will miss falling asleep to distant sirens and waking up to mariachi bands warbling below my window. I will miss the rumbling subways, Central Park picnics, and the ever-watching Empire State Building. I will miss afternoon tea at the Pembroke Room, backstage Broadway tours, and singing at Carnegie Hall. I will miss walking into a shiny midtown office building every day, feeling important, but then feeling like a imposter whenever I found myself in Saks or the Ritz-Carlton. I will miss having my friends and family camped out on my living room floor and opening my apartment door to find my boyfriend holding a bouquet of flowers. I will miss the grinning tourists who are thrilled just to be taking pictures of the city in which I was lucky enough to live. And oh how I will miss New York City bagels.

Rockefeller Center is still my favorite place in New York City. Not because of the busy crowds or the sparkling tree or the hundreds of flags waving in the breeze, but because that’s where it all started. Even today, some 20 years after I saw New York City for the first time, I can sit near that same bustling skating rink surrounded by skyscrapers and feel the city’s magic. Each day that I lived here was, quite literally, a dream come true.

Until next time, New York City!