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.
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
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?
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!
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!