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.

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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

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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!

 

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!

One Year Later

One year ago today, I started my career as a Foreign Service Officer.  Five weeks of PowerPoint briefs, hours pouring over a bid list, and one crazy, stressful, shocking afternoon later, and we knew we were heading to Malabo for our first tour.  After three more long months of training (which is nothing compared to my friends who had to learn languages, I know!), we packed our bags and finally got on a plane.  I can still remember the moment of panic when Bioko Island came into view from my window seat.  What in the heck have we gotten ourselves into?!  Here’s a short list of my favorite things we’ve gotten into thus far:

Sharing the adventure with our families

Sharing the adventure with our families

A dog who may believe that he is a parrot

A dog who may believe that he is a parrot

Learning to make everything from scratch (the buns, black bean burgers, buffalo bites,and ranch dressing)

Learning to make everything from scratch (the buns, black bean burgers, buffalo bites,and ranch dressing)

The best kitchen window view

The best kitchen window view

Beautiful sunsets

Beautiful sunsets

Eating fresh vegetables

Eating fresh vegetables

Gardening

Gardening

Snorkeling on the weekends in clear, warm water

Snorkeling on the weekends in clear, warm water

Gearing up for second tour bidding

Second tour bidding

 

Another marriage milestone

Tonight we did something we hoped we wouldn’t have to do until years into our marriage.  We bought a new (to us) car.  And we were actually pretty good at it!  It was Cormac’s first time buying a car, and my fourth or fifth time (including my role as purchasing agent for my mother).  Thankfully, I took a negotiation metohds class last week so I was fresh on my bartering basics.  

We decided to finally go look at a car that we had been stalking online for a week or so.  It had been a little over priced, until Tuesday, when they finally dropped the price.  So we hopped in the car, agreed upon our final price point, and hoped for the best.  

Negotiating as a couple was actually way easier than flying solo since we both knew what our magic number was ahead of time.  When the sales agent gave us his price, we countered with our set number.  He gawked at our offer, but when we told him we had to sleep on whether or not we could go over our budget, he magically found a way to make our price work.  It only took him twenty minutes, several trips to a back room, and consuming half of a bag of jelly beans to get his boss to approve.  

And so we are now the proud owners of the unofficial car of the Foreign Service: a RAV4!

 

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And it's sporty, too

Getting Healthy

Cormac and I realized shortly after being assigned to Equatorial Guinea that we need to start prepping our bodies for a new environment and new health threats.  One of our first stops was the health unit at the State Department where we received a list of all of the vaccines and pills we will need for our tour.  We absolutely must have the yellow fever vaccine, or the customs officers in Malabo will turn us away.  We also need to update our hepatitis A, typhoid, tetanus, and rabies vaccines.   Before we leave we will have to decide which of the three malaria medicines we want to use.

If you asked either one of us, we are lucky enough to say that we are in nearly perfect health.  However, we both complain almost daily about back and joint pain.  So in addition to our required vaccines and medications, we’ve been working towards taking care of our skeletal issues before we leave.  We found a fantastic chiropractor who not only does adjustments to make us feel better in the short term, but also prescribes exercises to strengthen our weak spots to prevent long term issues.

We signed up for classes at a yoga studio and have been attending five or six days a week.  It’s amazing how much better we feel after stretching, and how much improvement we’ve seen in our posture since we started.  I hope we keep up with our yoga after we move.  It would be such a shame to lose all of the progress we’ve made!

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My favorite posture. I’m just so good at it!

And in order to stay healthy abroad, I’ve purchased a ton of “pharmacy” items for our consumable shipment!  Here’s a list of what we purchased, just in case someone else wants an idea of what to pack in their consumables.  Let me know if you think we forgot anything!

First Aid

  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Neosporin
  • Band-Aids

OTC Medicine

  • Ibuprofen
  • Mucinex
  • Loperamide (anti-diarrhea)
  • Loratadine (Claritin)
  • Dayquil
  • Nighquil
  • Antihistamine (benadryl)
  • Hydro-cortisone (anti-itch cream)
  • Pepto
  • Meclizine (Motion Sickness)
  • Calcium and Magnesium supplements
  • Multivitamins

UPDATE: Items Added Based on Suggestions of Friends/Family/Bloggers

  • Eye Drops
  • Eye Drops with antihistamine
  • Tums
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Sunscreen
  • Aloe
  • Tylenol
  • A 220v Heating Pad
  • Gatorade Powder