Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some Movement

This morning I received my first call regarding my security clearance. It came from an investigator who is focusing on my time in another city. I'm starting to realize that getting a security clearance is a difficult process not only because you have to provide exceedingly detailed information on friends, contacts, places lived and employment; but also because you are forced to examine your life for all your misdeeds and missteps. It's not pleasant to think about things you might have done that you're not proud of and then have to disclose those deeds to a complete stranger. All of which might result in you not getting a clearance.

I am now going through my head and asking myself, "Did the neighbors across the street like me?" "Did that one partner I worked for have a grudge that could torpedo this?" "How were my performance reviews?" I don't think I have to really worry about this. I think I have led a decent life. Based on the fact I never missed a bonus, I have to think my work product was okay and that I was liked. I'm still in touch with most of my neighbors in Charlotte (which is weird, since I know none of my actual neighbors here in Atlanta). But you never know.

I think this might actually be worse than the waiting. Now I know there is some progress, but I have no control or knowledge of what's being asked or what's being said about me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, GW!

Today is George Washington's birthday and to mark the date here are some quotes of his I find fascinating.

George was a proponent of the 2nd amendment:

"Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth."

Was he, as a slaveowner, a hypocrite?"

"I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery."

George the libertarian?:

"It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse it."

Or not:

"Mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government."

GW the futurist:

"Some day, following the example of the United States of America, there will be a United States of Europe."

George as Poor Richard?:

"Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble."

George would not approve of my potty-mouth:

"The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it."

George the diplomat:

"Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Muppet Interlude


I've come to the realization that the waiting over clearances, which haven't even really begun yet in my case, and the register must slowly drive all the candidates (and their families) insane.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Medical Documents Away!

In order to meet the "worldwide availability" requirements of the Foreign Service, FSO candidates must pass a medical screening. Last week, I spent a lovely day at my physician's office being poked, prodded and fondled (and not in a good way). They also took at least a pint of blood for various tests.

My physician, being a bit curmudgeonly, required convincing (several times) that he actually had to do all the tests required and that he did in fact have to fill out everything on the medical forms. Finally, after checking, double-checking and triple-checking that everything required was done (anal retentive? Yes, yes, I am), I emailed my documents to State's Office of Medical Services today. Given the Snowtorious B.I.G. going on in DC the last several days, I will be lucky to get confirmation that they have received my information by the end of next week. I can't imagine how backed up everything is getting. So I expect to wait a while to hear if I am cleared, or if I have to undergo any additional testing.

Hopefully, to distract me from waiting and to give me something else to obsess over, DSS will contact me soon so I can begin the security clearance process.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Trailing Spouse

One of the potential challenges facing the FSOWannabe family is what to do about Mrs. FSOWannabe's career. She is a senior attorney at a major international law firm and over the years has developed friends, clients and regular work that she cherishes. Giving that up in order to become a trailing spouse, moving every couple of years to wherever State decides to send us, and leaving a career and profession behind that she has worked very hard for, would be a tremendous sacrifice.

Obviously, I'm not springing a FS life on her (she is, and has been, very supportive). But the potential and the reality of FS life are very different things. Given that her firm has offices in DC, as well as offices worldwide, there is a slight hope that she might be able to continue working for her firm either in different offices, if possible, or by telecommuting. The likelihood of that, not to mention the sustainability, is rather low.

The AAFSW website devotes serious attention to the work (or lack of work) issues that my wife may one day face. And a recent post by Diplopundit links to the State Department's Expanded Professional Associates Program, which is designed to provide Eligible Family Members with employment at post by filling unfilled positions (which, from the description, include FSO positions).

In our private discussions, we have talked about her continuing to apply for a FSO position; as well as to think about opportunities to either work with, or possibly start, a NGO. Alternatively, there is always the possibility of finding legal work in most countries, since American trained lawyers are valued (even in non-common law jurisdictions). Granted, these discussions might be worthless if I end up not receiving my clearances, failing final adjudication or dying on the register.

Regardless of our fortunes on the FSO trail, thinking of these issues makes me respect all the trailing spouses out there; particularly the ones that left careers behind. I think State should be providing annual awards to you men and women, too.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Musical Interlude

All my friends and family in the DC area are enjoying/suffering through the snowpocalypse, which made me think of this song.

So What Happened the Last Six Months?

Now that the easy part of the FSOA process is behind me, I feel like I can blog a bit more regularly now. I'm a bit anal when it comes to preparing for things within my control. And although I never do as much as I would like, I spent the last six months working on PNQ's and gaming the FSOA rather than spending time on the blog. And really, who wants to read a blog about studying? Some of the joy of blogging about this process evaporated when Mrs. FSOWannabe didn't make it past the PNQ stage. The lack of feedback at the PNQ stage, I think, has discouraged her from trying again, although she recently mentioned testing again in June. I hope she does, because it would be fantastic to be a tandem couple.

In addition, 2009 was a tumultuous year for my family, which definitely killed the blog for a bit. Shortly after taking the FSOT, I found out that despite my law firm's strident claims that they never engaged in layoffs, my entire department in NY (including dear friends and colleagues) was let go. Not that I blame the firm, frankly. My field of structured finance, a several trillion dollar industry at its height, ceased to exist almost over night at the end of 2007. I'd managed to escape the bloodletting but my billables were few and far between, and I was no exception in my department. After talking with my managing partner about being seconded to a client in Tokyo (which fell apart when when they offered a transfer...but without my family), there were no really good options. So I cut a deal, got a payout, and am now on funemployment. On top of that, my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer at the same time that my father fell down a mountain and broke a bunch of ribs while "hiking" (falling?) the Appalachian Trail. My daughter, FSOWannabe Brat Ichi (who suffers from febrile seizures) was hospitalized for a week; and Mrs. FSOWannabe, to show her up, decided to get hospitalized for a week as well. So...a stressful year. Luckily, my family is fine now (mother is A-OK following surgery, Dad's ribs are healed, Mrs. FSOWannabe and FSOWannabe Brats Ichi and Segunda are all healthy).

I had been looking for new work since last January, but unfortunately my skill set is fairly hard to place in the legal industry outside of NYC. At the end of December, I was grateful to receive a job offer for a position starting in August 2010. So my funemployment will continue while I focus on spending time with the Brats and hitting the gym everyday. And, of course, I hope to blog a bit more, too.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Foreign Service Oral Assessment

Now that a little time has passed since I took the FSOA, I thought I might write a little bit about the FSOA and my experience (within the bounds of the non-disclosure agreement all candidates are required to sign). I took the Oral Assessment in Atlanta on January 26th (over six months after I took the FSOT). Luckily, the FSOA was held a mere five miles from my house, so there was no need to deal with flights, hotels, directions or jet lag. I felt really bad for all the people who flew in from other time zones and were obviously a bit jet-lagged.

I arrived at the testing place just before 7am. There were 8 other candidates, which meant we were broken into two groups; one with a Group Exercise with 5 people, and another (mine) with 4 people. Initially, we were all herded into a room and left to wait, which gave us all a chance to introduce ourselves. You could tell everyone, myself included, was nervous. Two of the candidates had taken the FSOA before, and they seemed a bit calmer. One thing I can't stress enough was how impressed I was by all the people there. One gentlemen had just come back from doing rescue work in Haiti. Another gentlewoman worked in the San Francisco prison system doing pro bono work. Another was a former Peace Corp member. And then there were a bunch of lawyers. Everyone seemed so talented and calm that I had a hard time reigning in some nerves/panic at the time (along the lines of, what am I doing here with all these wonderful people?).

The FSOA is broken into three parts- the Group Exercise, the Structured Interview and the Case Management. The Group Exercise is a timed session where the candidates are given various embassy sponsored projects to promote with limited resources. Reaching consensus is the name of the game. The Structured Interview is your typical hiring interview mixed with hypothetical questions to gauge your common sense, as well as questions for you to demonstrate how you fulfill the 13 Dimensions. And finally, the Case Management portion of the FSOA is a written exercise where you are presented with tons of information and a problem to resolve. How you determine what information is relevant (and even what the problem actually is) seems to be the key. For me, the FSOA itself was a blur. Once one component was done, it seemed like we were off to another. A short lunch, a short wait, and then off to the final portion of the FSOA. Check out the FSOA Wiki for more detailed info on the contents of the FSOA (sorry, I'm a NDA compliant paranoid).

At the end of the FSOA, my group was herded into a room to wait for our results. After such a stressful day, the waiting was the hardest. And I swear to God, the clock on the wall got louder and louder as time went by. TICK! TOCK! TICK! TOCK! The woman next to me clearly was starting to panic, when an FSO came in and called the first of us out. Minutes went by, and then another was called out. I was called second to last. I thought it would be good news once we walked by, and past, the elevators. Once we received the good news (and frankly, I was shocked I passed), it was time for paperwork and more paperwork. We had a good day, with 6 out of 9 candidates passing. I was probably the third person to be done for the day, leaving at 430pm or so.

For anyone looking to prepare for the FSOA, I suggest practice, practice and more practice. I had been meeting about twice a month since October with four other local candidates and practicing the FSOA. To date, four out of five of us have taken the FSOA and we have all passed. The last man in our group is scheduled to take his FSOA on February 8th, and we are all crossing fingers and lighting candles in the hope that he'll pass. Given our current record, I strongly recommend to anyone taking the FSOA to practice with other candidates using the various sample exercises on the Yahoo FSOA board. It's a good board for getting advice on the FSOA; it's also a good board to get completely overwhelmed by the volume of emails.

What's next? Well, once the medical clearance, security clearance and final adjudication are finished, you are put in a register for your track based on your score. It's a dynamic register, with subsequent FSOA passers with higher scores added in front of you for hiring, so obviously it's important to get the best score possible. I passed the FSOA with a score of 5.5 out of 7.0 (you need a 5.25 to pass). That doesn't sound too great, but I hear anything above a 6.0 is pretty rare. I'm on the Economic track, so I think my score puts me somewhere in the middle of the pack. Hopefully, I'll be able to add my Japanese language to the score and boost it to a 5.67. I have no idea how long the clearances, final adjudication and register will take before an invite to an A-100 (assuming that all happens). I'm guessing that if all goes smoothly and quickly, I might be invited to next year's January A-100 class. But who knows.

I guess it's time to show the 14th dimension of patience.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Statement of Interest

As part of the process towards becoming a Foreign Service Officer, applicants are required to fill out this form. DS-4017, the Statement of Interest, is disturbingly simple. In the short space provided, and only in that space, you are asked to write why you want to become a Foreign Service Officer. According to the FSOT Wiki, it is used to prepare the examiners who conduct the Structured Interview portion of the Oral Assessment with additional information about the applicant. Since I started this blog so many moons ago, all I had to do was look at one of my first posts to use as a basis. Here is what I prepared:

On many levels, it's readily apparent why one would want to become a Foreign Service Officer. It's a life abroad. It's a job that actually pays one to experience foreign cultures and learn foreign languages. The allure of being a diplomat is compelling. But those are the selfish reasons to join. A deeper and more relevant reason for wanting to be a Foreign Service Officer, however, is for the chance to serve. I can't imagine a more satisfying career than to represent my country on a daily basis and doing my best to serve its interests. Moreover, the Foreign Service offers an incredible opportunity for me to combine my natural interests in foreign cultures, languages and international relations, with both the linguistic and cultural skills I have developed living extensively abroad and my experience as a finance attorney.

It may sound cliché, but I love my country and believe it is the greatest nation on earth. I write this not out of a sense of jingoism, but out of a sense of gratitude for all the opportunities I have been afforded as an US citizen. In particular, I am thankful for the rule of law, a stable political system, the opportunities to advance in society regardless of one’s background; these are all things that I am deeply grateful for, and yet I think most Americans take these advantages for granted. Having lived and travelled extensively abroad, I am keenly aware of these freedoms and opportunities that cause so many people in other countries to want to immigrate to the US. These advantages have given me the ability to travel throughout the US and the world, allowed me to enter law school and develop my practice as an attorney, and provided a stable life for my family. I now feel that I am at a point in my life where I can, in some small part, give back to my country for all it has provided me.

Growing up the son of a career Air Force officer gave me the flexibility and adaptability necessary to adjust to the life of a Foreign Service Officer. I spent most of my childhood moving every few years, adjusting to new schools, making new friends, and adjusting to new regions of the country from urban east Los Angeles (where my neighbors spoke primarily Spanish or Vietnamese) to rural southern Maryland where most of our neighbors had never travelled beyond the state lines. That childhood shaped my interests and talents, and I was instilled with a love of travel and learning about foreign cultures and languages.

Additionally, my experience over the last eight years as a structured finance attorney has given me the skills and experience necessary to perform the duties of a Foreign Service Officer in the Economic track. I have worked long hours under stressful conditions while negotiating billion dollar transactions between US and foreign corporations. I have advised US corporate clients on their marketing strategies in Japan, pointing out the need to be sensitive to cultural and business norms that differ significantly from those in the US. I have researched and informed US clients of regulatory developments in China that would significantly affect their businesses, and developed strategies to mitigate those impacts.

I don't think I have any illusions about being a Foreign Service Officer. I expect long hours, challenging work, difficult assignments, rough local conditions and stress from moving my family every couple of years. Despite these challenges, I believe that being able to use my lifetime of experience and skills in service to my country, plus my lifelong interest in learning about and experiencing foreign cultures and languages, as well as sharing with others all the things I believe are unique and wonderful about the United States, confirms to me that becoming a Foreign Service Officer is the right choice for me.