Recife Readiness Initiative, and beyond…

12 06 2012

It’s been a beautiful Spring here in our nation’s capital and things at DiploCollege (i.e., the Foreign Service Institute) have been great. Portuguese is slowly, but surely, coming along and I’ve been able to meet many of the wonderful people I will be working with at Consulate Recife.  The most exciting development in the last couple of weeks has been that I now know where I’ll be headed to for my second post: Istanbul, Turkey! I will be there in August of 2015 after returning to FSI for four months of Turkish re-training. The only ‘downside’ is that it’s not a Public Diplomacy position, but there should be plenty of opportunities for me to volunteer with the PD section in Istanbul. It will be a great chance to solidify my Turkish and spend time in an amazing city.

This is probably the only time in my career when I’ll know what I will be doing–and where–for the next 5 years. Since I accepted the Critical Needs Language points (briefly known as RNL) I am required to serve in a Turkish position in one of my first two tours. Since there wasn’t one available during my A-100 and I was posted to Brazil, I was able to bid on my next post early. After years of being in limbo and not knowing where I was going to be or what I’d be doing, it’s a nice change of pace to have the next several years mapped out.

Last week, State announced a change that reminded me just how lucky and fortunate I’ve been. Starting with the June FSOT testers the CNL/RNL program has been pretty much eliminated and most languages, including Turkish, no longer qualify for the extra points that helped me secure a spot in A-100.  It’s just another reminder to thank my lucky stars!

For now, the focus is on the Recife Readiness Initiative (RRI) for both Terrence and I. We’ve had a wonderful time these last few months and have enjoyed a lot of the great food this area has to offer. However, we will soon be living on a beautiful beach near the Equator, surrounded by Brazilians in teeny little bikinis. So it’s time to get in shape, learn Portuguese and get ready for Brazil! Terrence starts Portuguese classes this summer and will be joining me in the joy of verb conjugation and gender agreement, so it should be a good time in the Dowling household. Last week we were even able to get a taste of Brazilian life when we went to the Brazil vs. USA soccer match. Although the Stars and Stripes came up short in the match, it was a great game and reinforced the overarching theme that life is pretty damn good these days.

Terrence and I cheering on Team USA with fellow 166th-ers Vicky and Mich

SRO on our tickets…who wants to sit during a match anyway?!

Todo bom no DC

6 05 2012

(All’s good in DC)

After A-100 ended a couple of weeks ago I started my newest foreign language adventure, learning Portuguese for my future post in Recife, Brazil.  Portuguese is spoken in two main forms, Continental (by those in Portugal and some of its former colonies) and Brazilian.  Brazilian Portuguese is animatedly spoken throughout Brazil in a variety of regional accents.  In short, it’s a really fun language to learn.  Many of the words look similar to Spanish and there’s a grammatical similarity between the two, making it a little easier for me to learn.  That said, the pronunciation of most of those words is completely different from Spanish, making it a little harder for me to actually speak.  In Spanish a letter has a sound and that sound is pronounced pretty much the same no matter how the word is spelled.  Not so in Portuguese where a letter’s sound can change depending on the letter that follows or precedes it.  To me, it sounds like a beautiful mix of Italian and Spanish when spoken and I can’t wait to be able to speak it myself!  Luckily, I will have 22 more weeks of language, which should put me at a functioning fluency in time for my arrival in December.

It’s a really exciting time to be heading to Brazil.  Their economic growth has created a booming middle class that is eager to travel to the U.S. (requiring travel VISAs that I will be helping to facilitate) and the creation of Science Without Borders, an educational exchange program that will send thousands of Brazil’s brightest students to American universities for post-graduate education.  In the next four years they will host the world’s largest sporting events–the World Cup in 2012 and Summer Olympics in 2016.  With the popular President Dilma Rousseff to lead them, Brazil is poised for continued economic growth and global influence.  A strong Brazil and U.S. partnership is important to the success of our common goals in the Americas and beyond.  The Obama Administration and State Department are showing our commitment to that partnership by opening additional consulates in Brazil and expanding the existing consular services.  There are five of us from my A-100 class going to Recife, and we are essentially doubling the size of the consular section to help expedite and accommodate the demand for VISAs.  We are truly lucky to be going to such a dynamic country and working to strengthen the ties between Brazil and the United States.

In addition to learning Portuguese, life in DC has been great in many other ways.  Most of my A-100 class is also in training and we have been able to have dinners, go to concerts and just have an overall good time in this cool part of the country.  You can find cuisine from all over the world here and every taxi ride can become a new cultural adventure.  Yesterday we went to the Brazil and Botswana Embassies, ate dinner at a Salvadorian restaurant, and learned all about the Oromia region of Ethiopia from our cab driver.  He came to the U.S. by himself several years ago and will be graduating from college in a few weeks time.  He proudly showed us pictures of his fiance and we congratulated him on his new job at Georgetown University.  It was one of those days where you feel so connected to everyone that is sharing this great human experience with you, made only more rich by all the different cultures and stories still left to explore.  It was one of those days that remind me that I made the right choice and I am in the right place in my life and career.  I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here, with these great new friends/colleagues and a great new adventure before me.

Officially sworn in to the Foreign Service, with Terrence

With Mom and Dad


14 04 2012


We’re headed to Recife, Brazil! What an amazing first post! Not only will I be going to a beautiful country, but I will be going to post along with four of my A-100 colleagues. A few other good friends will be posted at Rio, so I couldn’t be happier! All of this is just starting to sink in, so more info to come. For now, I’m going to enjoy a beautiful DC weekend with my family and hope you all get to do the same.

Receiving my flag from Ambassador Jacobson, our wonderful class mentor.

Five days until Flag Day!

8 04 2012

I am just about to start Week Five of A-100, which will end with Flag Day on Friday!  I am getting more and more excited by the minute, and can’t wait to find out where in the world we are heading.  Although it’s been an anxious couple of weeks, we have also had some great experiences in class and I am starting to feel like I know what I’m doing–or at least what I will be doing.  Above all, we’re learning about how foreign policy is promoted through our Embassies and Consulates around the globe.  It’s a dynamic process, but one of the great things is how we go about promoting American Foreign Policy.  In a nutshell, we are working to promote the safety and security of American citizens at home and abroad.  One of the ways we will go about this is by promoting the democratic process, human rights, economic stability and security of other countries around the world.  Seemingly simple, but when people have those basic fundamentals, then their lives are better and so are the lives of Americans.  It’s not always perfect, but with a service of dedicated people willing to try, to learn along the way, and engage with our fellow global citizens…well, that’s really the most we can do.  The more I learn about this process and the organization I am now a part of, the more excited and passionate I become about the work that lies ahead.

It will be a long week, but I’m sure Friday will come around before I know it.  Until then, I hope everyone enjoys their holiday weekend!      

Terry and I enjoying a Saturday at Great Falls


It’s official!

25 03 2012

My first two weeks as an official State Department employee have been, well, amazing. The days have been incredibly long and the amount of information we’ve been given borders on overwhelming, but it doesn’t matter. Every morning, no matter how tired I am, I am excited to get up and go to work. How awesome is that?!

I am just about to start week three of the 166th A-100 class, which is about 1/3 of the way through.  I am one of 63 new FSOs in my class and it’s a very cool, diverse and interesting group of people.  We’ve had quite a few social events already and it’s been great getting to know everyone as the days go on.  The sessions themselves are intriguing; we’re learning about the ins-and-outs of the State Department as well as each of the different tracks we will work in overseas.  In these two short weeks I have had both a Spanish and Turkish test.  The Spanish was much better than the first time around while the Turkish test was much harder than the one I had in January.

We have also been fortunate enough to meet some incredible people, including Ambassadors, Under Secretaries and in a totally unexpected surprise we got to see Secretary Clinton speak in the Benjamin Franklin Room! To say that I was excited is an understatement.  It was such an honor to be there and I was so inspired by her speech on the newly resumed–and State Department supported–search for Amelia Earhart’s remains (link below).  It was a fantastic way to start off this incredible experience!

Currently my entire class, and both Terry and I, are anxiously awaiting April 13th—Flag Day.  That’s the day we find out where we are going for our first overseas post.  I am obligated to serve one of my first two posts in Turkey due to the CNL points I received, but unfortunately there are no posts available there right now.  The good news is that my next post will be in Turkey, so I will get to return in a few years and continue my Turkish studies.  For those posts that are available, there have been many variables to consider as we bid: language, role, country, pet restrictions and fulfilling consular obligations to name a few.  We have submitted our preferences, but above all else, the needs of the Foreign Service come first.  We all came into this career knowing that we are ‘World Wide Available’ and that means we are prepared to go anywhere the United States Government needs us.  I’m definitely feeling a lot of anticipation mixed with excitement about what the future holds in this new career.  Until then, I’m going to keep learning and enjoying this opportunity to meet people and ask the millions of questions floating around in my brain.  Ultimately, I know that Terry, the dogs and I will be happy no matter where we end up.

With some of my wonderful new colleagues

The amazing Secretary Clinton

T minus two weeks…

27 02 2012

Two weeks from right now I will be at the Harry S. Truman building in DC (aka ‘Main State’) to take my first oath as a Foreign Service Officer. To be honest, the reality of this hasn’t fully sunk in, but every day I am getting more excited! The last couple of weeks have been filled with anticipation, LOTS of paperwork, and familiarizing myself with what lies ahead.Terry, the dudes and I will be loading up the car and leaving Alys Beach on 7 March with an ETA into our new place in Falls Church, VA on the 10th. The housing process was made very smooth by State’s contract with Oakwood Apartments which provide furnished housing close to the Foreign Service Institute(FSI) in Arlington, VA. The FSI is where I will spend most of my six week orientation as a member of the 166th A-100 class. I believe previous A-100 classes have been seven weeks, but ours will be six. The A-100 class is an orientation into the State Dept. and how it works, as well as an opportunity to network and get to know fellow FSOs. I can’t tell exactly how many people are in my class, but I think it will fall in the 30-50 range. We have a Google Group that we’ve been using to make introductions and ask questions, which has been very helpful. My future classmates appear to be a highly educated and experienced group of people and I’m excited to meet everyone in person. As with my OAs there are lots of attorneys but also a lot of people with government and international experience, so it should be a good mix.

One of the most exciting parts of A-100 is learning about the bidding process and how we will be assigned our overseas posts. At the end of week five we’ll have Flag Day, which is when we’ll find out where our first overseas post will be. We’ll each be presented with the flag of that country and details about what training is to follow and when our departure date will be. The average person will spend at least three months in DC for further training, so we should be there through July, if not later. Since I accepted CNL points in Turkish one of my first two posts must be one in which I use that language. I would love for Turkey to be my first post so I can keep the language momentum going, but the reality is that my first assignment could be anywhere around the world. To me, that is nothing short of thrilling!

We have about a week and a half left here at Alys Beach and we are trying to enjoy it as much as possible. Since most of our stuff is in storage in California, our pack-out will be relatively easy and we’re pretty much set to go. With the help of my Mom I have managed to build a respectable business wardrobe and am ready to make the switch from jeans and flip-flops to suits and heels. This week we’ll be piling into the car with some friends for a celebratory trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando! Terry has kindly agreed to stay home with the dogs, but I think we all know he’s just scared/embarrassed to see how crazy excited I will be. On the cusp of this great new adventure, I have a feeling the Butterbeer will taste even sweeter!

I’d like to thank all of you for your kind words and tremendous support. Terrence and I are so grateful to have such wonderful friends and family in our lives. My next post will be from DC…wish us luck!


Celebrating with family, friends and Butterbeer!


Liz and I in front of Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

When it rains, it pours

10 02 2012

Merhaba! It’s been a month since my last post and a lot has happened in that time. I spent January back in Izmir and it was an amazing experience. I decided to live with a Turkish family in order to increase my exposure to the language, and I am so glad I did! My Türk family was wonderful and I immediately felt like a part of the family. From the moment I arrived in Izmir I spoke Turkish all day, everyday. My Turkish greatly improved and I had a fantastic time learning more about the culture and spending time with my family. I took the CNL test (over the phone) on Tue Jan. 31, my last day in Izmir. Upon getting off the phone I felt that the test went well, but the more I thought about the conversation the more worried I became. I had been so nervous and my answers were nowhere near as good as they could have been.

The next morning I said a tearful goodbye (or rather, ‘gürüşürus!’) to my Türk family and headed back home. Unfortunately, there was a historic blizzard in Istanbul and I was stranded overnight. 42 hours later I finally arrived home, having spent that time convincing myself that the test went horribly and I failed. I was soon distracted from my worries; I came home to find Terry very sick and we spent our first night together in the ER. The poor guy had to leave for Singapore soon, but slowly began to feel better over the next couple of days.

After a grueling week the test results finally came on Tuesday…I PASSED! I was so excited and amazed that I had learned this language in 5 months! I was advised by State that I went from #89 on the register to #12, quite a jump. The next–and final–step is getting an official offer letter to start the A-100 training class in Washington DC. I was advised that offers had already been sent for the next class in March. The classes I could hope for would be (budget approval pending) late May or July. My candidacy expires on June 6th and I need an offer before then or I will have to start the entire process over again, a prospect too daunting to think about. I enjoyed my victory on Tuesday and prepared to do what I have done after every step in this two year process–to wait and hope.

And then, yesterday happened. I had made plans to visit Spokane in mid-March and was about to book my airline ticket. I happened to click on my Inbox before purchasing and there it was: MY OFFICIAL OFFER LETTER FROM THE US STATE DEPARTMENT! There was a last minute opening in the March class and I got the offer! I accepted in about 5 seconds and called my parents screaming/crying/overjoyed. 26 months of slowly going through this process and suddenly I went from #89 on the list with only four months left (which is basically a 0% chance in this economy) to being offered my dream job! It is still surreal yet such an amazing feeling. Unfortunately, Terry wound up getting sick in Singapore again and was headed back to the ER when I called with the good news. Nothing like getting life changing news when you feel like death. Poor guy is finally doing a bit better and will cut his trip short and come home tomorrow.

This experience has been truly wonderful in spite of all the frustration and stress. I have learned so much about myself and what I am capable of. I have also been extremely fortunate to have not only a supportive husband, but wonderful parents who helped make this dream possible. Parents who have allowed us to live in their home for two years and who have dog-sat countless times for weeks on end. Parents who are loving, caring and always supportive. I will spend the next three weeks getting ready to start my newest adventure and hope to make them, and my country, proud.

Terry, the dogs and I will leave for DC in early March and I will start my 7-week training class on 12 March. On the last week I will find out where my first overseas post will be and if I will need to stay in DC for additional training. There’s a lot to learn and even though I feel like I’ve been down a long road to get to this point, the truth is, I’m only just beginning. I get to be a Diplomat for the United States of America! How lucky am I?!