That would be a bad day…

I’ve completed the visa portion of my consular training, and have moved on to the American Citizen Services part of the class.  We spent last week learning exactly how US citizen parents transmit their citizenship to children born abroad.  Contrary to what I remember learning in high school civics, merely having a US citizen parents does not necessarily guarantee that you qualify for citizenship.

america image

The entrance to our last July 4th party at Embassy Malabo.  It’s hard to capture what it means to be American since it varies so much from person to person, but we tried!

Congress wanted to ensure that US citizens who have children abroad have enough American-ness in them to pass on to their children, so there are stipulations about how long a parent must have been present within the borders of the USA before their children were born in order to have US citizen kids.  It’s not exactly cut and dry, either.  The qualifications vary based on whether the child of the US citizen was born in, out, or of wedlock, and whether the US citizen was the mother or father. Then there were some years where Congress decided that people who were born US citizens also needed to live in the USA for a certain period of time in order to retain their status.

So today, we practiced telling our classmates that their pretend children were not, in fact, US citizens.  Yikes!  Can you imagine receiving the news that your child did not qualify for the citizenship that you believed they had received at birth?  Or learning that you had actually lost your claim to citizenship somewhere along they way?  That would be a very very bad day.

Curious what the law actually says about citizenship and nationality?  Check out these resources provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:

Citizenship by Birth

Children Born Abroad in Wedlock

Children Born Abroad Out of Wedlock


On to ConGen!

I have successfully completed my Serbian language training!  Although my teachers assured me multiple times leading up to the exam that they felt I was ready to test, I still felt nervous walking in to the testing center last week.  Since I had been in a class all by myself for several months, I wasn’t sure how my speaking and reading abilities matched up to my peers.  But I tested well and have enjoyed spending the past two days of classes that were entirely in English!

I am now in a course that we call “ConGen” that is designed to teach basic consular skills.  It covers a wide range of topics including immigrant visa policies, non-immigrant visa policies, and American citizen services.  So far, we have practiced interviewing each other about mundane life events and determining whether two photos are of the same person or different people (harder said than done if the person has different hair, age, or weight).

For homework tonight I had to read about the different types of non-immigrant visas.  Having traveled abroad a bit in the past, I knew that there are differences between a student visa and a tourist visa but have never thought much about the wider range of visas available.  Did you know that there are special visas available for air and sea crewmen? And for athletes, artists, and entertainers?   Or, my personal favorite, for aliens of extraordinary abilities?


то су кључеви!

I have finally reached the end of my Serbian language training time.  I have to take my final test on Thursday morning.  I’ve learned a couple of things about trying to learn a language while studying Serbian over the last seven months.  My top three tips for mastering a foreign language are:

1. You have to become a human thesaurus.  After only seven months of classes, the majority of which was spent trying to master a rather complex grammar structure, there are huge holes in my Serbian vocabulary.  So I think about what I would like to say, in English, and then try to match the verbs and nouns to words I know in Serbian.  For example, I may not know how to say “off the beaten path”, but I do know how to say “on a road where a lot of people do not walk”.

2. Sometimes you have to say things you don’t really mean.  Sometimes, no matter how creative you are, you just don’t know the words to say what you want to say.  So you say something else.  During class, I have routinely supported policies and politicians that I would never in a million years support in real life simply because I don’t know how to say otherwise.  It takes a while to adjust to the idea that you’re practicing speaking, not practicing diplomacy.  There were a couple of weeks when my purposed resolution to any problem involved violence, because I knew the verbs “to bomb” and “to attack” but not the verbs “to discuss” or “to change”.

3. Learn to prioritize your vocabulary lists.  Each week I had a list of 60-100 new words thrown at me.  I was never great with learning new words in English, so trying to learn that many new words in Serbian was a struggle.  Each week, I would sort the list into three groups of words: memorize, recognize, and forget.  I memorized important and high frequency use words, learned to recognize words that were likely to come up but that I was unlikely to use personally, and didn’t waste time learning the words in the “forget” category (words pertaining to opera and outdated technology).


And those are the keys (то су кључеви!) to earning a passing score on your language test after seven months of studying.  Or at least I hope they are. We’ll see how well my strategies worked on Thursday!


Done Waiting

Life in the Foreign Service can sometimes feel like one long, never-ending countdown.  You can get sucked into a pattern of waiting for one event or milestone after another.  First you wait for your invitation to join, then you wait for A-100 to start, then for Flag Day, and then for training to end, and then for your departure.  When you get to your new job, you start waiting to feel like you know what you’re doing, for your stuff to arrive, for your first R&R, for the one year mark, for new friends to arrive, for your second R&R.  Then you start waiting to leave and all the fun that goes with it: the pack out, airline tickets, long flights and layovers.  And when that’s done, you get to start the process all over again!

On top of that, there’s the personal life waiting game.  We’ve known since early January that we’d be adding a new member to our family in September.  So we waited, and waited, and waited.  Then September came and went, and we found ourselves still waiting!  Finally, after being induced and laboring for 24 long hours, baby D decided to arrive in October!  And for the first time since I can remember, we find ourselves truly living in the moment and not waiting for a thing.

The thing about always waiting and counting down for something, is that you are always willing the time to pass a little faster.  People have been lamenting that we need to “enjoy every moment because the time will go so fast” since we learned we were expecting.  That seemed pretty obvious to me, as each December 31st, I’m always surprised to find myself at the end of another short year.  But now that we are seeing how fast a baby changes and grows, both physically and mentally, I realize that life is moving at warp speed!  He’s packing on the ounces, learning to move new muscles in his face, and exercising his vocal cords a bit more each day.

I know that we’ll eventually fall back into countdown mode, especially late next spring as training wraps up and our departure looms nearer.  But I’m really quite glad that we’re done waiting for now!

Style by Grandpa!

Style by Grandpa!

Learning the AБСs

Cormac and I started Serbo-Croatian language training two weeks ago, and have been working hard to master the Cyrillic alphabet for most of that time.  I don’t know who I pity more, our poor instructor who has to make 50+ hours of alphabet learning engaging and somewhat entertaining, or those of us who are struggling to remember that “P” is now “rrrr”.  We are in a class with two other students and have all managed to remain in good spirits thus far!  We have five hours of classroom time each day, and then do three to four hours of studying on our own outside of class.  We can now read just about anything written in Cyrillic, but still have no clue what the majority of the words mean.  We spend our evenings making funny noises like “CHuh” and “DJuh” and “Shuh”, and repeating our favorite phrases.  The dog probably thinks we’ve lost our minds.

So far we’ve learned print and cursive. Eventually we learn the Latin alphabet, too!

A lot of people have asked what happens with my language classes once the baby arrives, so I figured I’d mention it on the off chance that it may be useful for other FSOs in the future.  The US Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates that employers provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees for incapacity due to pregnancy, prenatal medical care or child birth; to care for the employee’s child after birth, or placement for adoption or foster care.  So despite FSI’s “no leave during long term training” rule, maternity and paternity leave must be accommodated.  Depending on which language you’re learning, the leave/return from/to language class plans seem to vary greatly.

One source of anxiety for me after we found out we were expecting was how the baby’s arrival would play into our training schedule for Serbo-Croatian.  We really want to go to Belgrade, but I wasn’t sure how I could meet the language requirement of the job if I was going to take six to eight weeks of leave from classes after only two to three weeks of class.  I was so pleasantly surprised when the first reply I received from the instructors to my email about maternity leave during language training was “well, people have babies, so we find ways to work with them when they do!”   I was offered a mix of telecommuting, self-study, one-on-one classes, and tutoring to help me catch up to the rest of the students once I am ready to go back to class. Once the baby decides to arrive, I will go on leave status from training.  After a couple of weeks, I’ll get in touch with my language instructors again to set up a more concrete plan for transitioning back to work.  I’ll try to remember to post an update with what the final plan works out to be.

Ћао for now!

What a difference a year makes

We’ve been pretty quiet on the blog lately, and that’s largely because we found more activities to fill our free time, which leaves less time for us to sit around and wait for photos to upload. Sorry, family and friends, but we’re not that sorry!

Happy New Year!

We took our second R&R trip during the first two weeks of December, and split our time between our home towns.  We were fortunate enough to catch Cormac’s uncle who was visiting from Ireland, and were surprised to find that my grandparents had very generously given us the gift of my brother’s presence for Christmas this year (he lives on the West coast now, while everyone else is on the East)!  To add to the excitement of the holiday season, we also got a new puppy on the first morning we were home.  We were pretty close to overdosing on happiness for two solid weeks.

When it was time for us to fly home, just five days before Christmas, it was hard to say good-bye, but not nearly as hard as saying good-bye was in March after our first R&R ended.  For one, we were pretty distracted by the stress of flying with a 12 week old puppy, and secondly, we knew that there were friends and our Malabo family here to celebrate the upcoming holidays with.

Christmas 2013, I may have sat at our giant 10 person table and silently wept pity tears because I missed our families so much.  Calling home was heart breaking, as we heard the laughter of our loved ones in the background and listened to the narrations of holiday traditions we missed.    Fast forward 365 days to Christmas 2014, and we were busy cooking up a storm for our own Christmas dinner with friends and packing for a weekend camping trip.  It wasn’t until after dessert that we found time to call home, and cheerfully swapped stories of the day.

The days between Christmas and New Years dragged on and on last year.  I believe we rang in 2014 from the comfort of our bed, perhaps already asleep.  This year, we spent the time between holidays on the southern beaches, swimming under water falls, cooking over an open fire, and I even had my first drill sighting!    We rang in 2015 with a dance-karaoke party with friends, which we had to leave prematurely in order to get on the roads before drunk drivers became an issue.

While the last half of 2014 is going to be tough to beat, we have a lot to look forward to in 2015.  In true New Year’s tradition, here’s our top ten favorite memories of 2014, in chronological order:

  1. Cormac going on the BBPP Expedition, and Lauren visiting.  Seeing sea turtles and monkeys for the first time.
  2. Going on our first R&R to the USA.  A whole month in America flew by quick!
  3. Going to Sao Tome for a long weekend.
  4. Going to South Africa for training (each of us got to go on separate occasions).
  5. Going on safari and seeing all of the big five (elephant, lion, leopard, rhinos (both black and white!), buffalo, and hippo)
  6. Touring Cape Town: hiking Table Mountain, standing on the most southern point of Africa, seeing a penguin colony, tasting wine, beer, and olives.
  7. Celebrating Cormac’s birthday and Thanksgiving.  Finding seats for 22 people to eat, and then gather around the TV.
  8. Going on our second R&R to the USA.  Seeing family, picking out a Christmas tree, hiking Pilot Mountain, taking our nieces and nephew to a trampoline park.
  9. Getting our new dog, Molly.  Managing to get her to Equatorial Guinea without a hitch.
  10. Visiting the southern beaches after Christmas and seeing a small family of drills.  Eating s’mores, visiting the turtle research camp, and not getting drenched by rain.

The Crazy has ended, almost

The past week has been a little bit crazy here in Malabo.  Equatorial Guinea hosted the African Union Summit in Sipopo from June 20-27th.  The USA sent a small delegation of people to observe and hold meetings, but for our little Embassy, it seemed big!  I was kept busy running the logistics of the visit, while Cormac got tapped to sit in our Control Room (meeting and office space at the hotel) for the first half of each day. Though we had a few stressful moments, the week was a fun peek into what life in a bigger embassy, which regularly host delegations of the same size or larger, would be like.

In addition to our delegation, delegations from all over the world showed up.  Many of the African heads of state came to town for two to three days during the week.  Since Malabo is a fairly small city with only a few major roadways, we caught glimpses of many of the presidential motorcades coming and going.  It was interesting to watch the varying sizes and grandeur of each delegation. Egypt was readmitted to the African Union only days before the start of the Summit after being suspended for almost a year following the coup last summer.  Rumors around town claimed they had the largest delegation in attendance, perhaps to celebrate their reentry to the Union.  Many Egyptian expats lined the highway to greet newly elected President Sisi when he arrived in Malabo, which made their motorcade extra exciting to watch.

Our delegation made it out of Malabo without a hitch.  To celebrate wheels up, Cormac organized a Two-Pi plus One-Hundredth Pizza and Dessert Pie Competition (6.29…. get it?) for the Embassy.  The pressure is on, as reigning champs of the vegetarian pizza category, to out do ourselves.  I’m headed out for toppings shopping as soon as the stores open this morning!

We have one more week of crazy left as the Embassy hosts two Independence Day events in the next week.  Living abroad always makes me feel more patriotic and thankful for the rights and freedoms we enjoy as Americans, so I’m sure it will be a sentimental week for me.

And now, a few random photos from life out and about in Malabo:


The Sipopo Conference Center decorated for the Summit


Two love bugs


Cormac and Lauren at a going away party