Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Forbidden Liaisons

Forbidden Liaisons, or les Liaisons Interdites, sounds like a sexy French movie. In fact, it's a pretty boring French grammar rule that decrees when one should not liaise the last consonant of a previous word when pronouncing a word that begins with a vowel sound. Hmmf. Well, my experience so far in the French program at the Foreign Service Institute has been somewhere in between sexy French movie and mundane pronunciation rule.

On one hand, I've settled into a pretty daily regular schedule: Up at 6am, five hours of class with the same four people, one hour of lab, French conversation table at lunch, a few hours of homework and flashcards. I'm averaging about 8 hours of French a day, which is good because the American taxpayer is paying for me to learn it full time, so I had better not slack!

On the other hand, it's pretty smooth sailing so far! I'm really enjoying learning French, I often get the feeling that I'm pretty good at it, and the resources, professors and fellow students I work with every day are top notch.

Additionally, I've been able to combine my love for productivity/education technology with an actual need to use it. I'm fully on the gamefication train, with Quizlet turning my flashcard studying into a game and Duolingo teaching me vocabulary and listening comprehension while I level up.

I'm about four weeks into a 32 week regimen, let's see how good I can get!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Seen in DC #10 - Cien Montaditos

Cien Montaditos is a Spanish chain whose business model of tiny little sandwiches and cheap beer has apparently made it across the Atlantic. Never thought I'd eat these guys again!

And who better to eat these cheap little sandwiches than my cheap (but lovable) roommate from Madrid, Mat?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

And the winner is...

A couple of weeks ago, I turned in my bid list, which is a list of the Foreign Service posts open to first tour officers in my class. My criteria for ranking posts high on my list included the opportunity to learn French, a cool econ job, and maybe bit of adventure (which is obviously a bit more subjective of a measure). Given these criteria, my top choices were economic jobs in Tunisia, Burundi and Canada.

Yesterday was Flag Day, which is the ceremony in which our first tour assignments are revealed. About halfway through the 100 names they called, this flag flashed onto the screen.

Hmm. I wonder what country that weird flag is, I mused.

"Bujumbura, Burundi - Economic, consular and numerous other duties as assigned - Bryan Schell!" exclaimed the announcer. Surprised, unsurprised, giddy and calm all at once, I walked up to the front of the room to the cheers of my colleagues.

They handed me a little flag, took my photo and gave me a folder with my onward assignment information. It didn't really start to sink in until the ceremony ended and I was walking through the green lawns of the Foreign Service Institute campus with my friend Jane and her daughter Claire. I am about to learn to speak French at an even more advanced level than I can speak Spanish. From scratch. I am going to live and train in DC for a year. I am going to move to one of the most out-of-the-way places in sub-Saharan Africa and live there for two years. I'm going to have an extremely interesting job at an exceptionally tiny embassy, with lots of amazing opportunities to take on a lot of responsibilities.

I paused to take a photo with Claire and Benjamin Franklin.

The the crush of thoughts came back. This time next year, I'm going to be living on the equator on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. I'm going to meet pygmies and make faces at hippos. I'm going to live in a country that has outlawed jogging. I'm going to be in a fascinating corner of the world. I'm going to be blogging up a storm! Holy moley. I'm super excited and it's all just beginning!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Seen in DC #9 - Thinking Outside the Box

One of the tough things about my new work schedule is that I can't ever do things during normal work hours. No one is going to boo-hoo with me, because this is probably is probably what a lot of adults have to deal with. However, for me that means that I've been going on two months with the same pair of contact lenses because my optometrist is only open from 9 to 5.

Cue out-of-the-box thinking!

One of the employees cleverly offered to just tape my new contact lenses to the door of their closed office. Nice.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Modern Minister's Guide to Marriage - Part 3

I'm a big believer in love. As for the awesome parties that people call weddings, don't even get me started on how much I love those. These past three months, however, I've had a chance to experience love and the process of marriage through the weddings of six friends, all of whom decided to have a friend officiate their wedding. And in two of those weddings, that friend was me!

Part 3: Megan & Dustin - 5 July 2014

I first met Megan in 8th grade and I count her as one of my oldest and closest friends. I've known Dustin even longer, since our time in the Boy Scouts starting in 6th grade. Both of these friends shared a lot of really great experiences with me in high school: at Pizza Hut, in the Mt. Carmel Band, on the cross country team and various hi-jinks around San Diego.

Unfortunately, this couple has been rumbling around the American West and I don't get to see them as often as I see some of my San Diego-based friends. However, I was super excited when they told me they were coming in town for a beer tasting festival last fall, and even more excited when they asked me to officiate their wedding (after a few beers, I assume to make sure I said yes).

These two are so important to me that I flew back from Washington, DC after my first week of A-100 to attend their wedding. Rule #5 of officiating a wedding: never send a bride an email titled "I missed my flight" ever, even if the body of the email details how it's not a big deal and you won't miss the wedding.

Megan and Dustin had a beautiful ceremony at the San Diego Rowing Club and I was honored to help them recite their vows to each other and read some advice given by their parents.

After the ceremony, we ate, drank and were merry as I caught up with old friends from high school, Megan and Dustins' families (who also played big roles in my life), and met Megan and Dustin's fun Air Force friends.

This wraps up wedding season for me and I've never been more humbled by the love that my friends have found. Although someone else stood in front of them during their wedding to talk about marriage, Michelle, Ryan, Valerie, Colin, Megan and Dustin have taught me a lot about the love, commitment and joy you need to make one happen.

A-100, Week 3

A-100 continues and I'm learning that it's much more of an orientation than a training. I'm continuing to meet my classmates and get to know them much better.

One of the most interesting exercises from Week 3 has been a discussion on the Meyers Briggs personality indicator.

Even though it's based on a buzzfeed-quiz interpretation of Carl Jung's 19th century psychological theories (which are obviously problematic in of themselves), the State Department is all about Meyers Briggs. And, despite my protestations, I kind of am too.

In my opinion, the MBTI (Meyers Briggs Type Indicator) is not really any better than a horoscope. There are a myriad of ways that humans can be, and MBTI is often misinterpreted and misused as a personality catergorizer, rather than an indicator of how we tend to act on a spectrum of four different measures. However, like horoscopes, MBTI gives us a vocabulary and framework to look at our personalitis and how we interact with others. In this, it's been very helpful.

I tend toward ESTJ. How that comes out in my personality (in my own opinion and words):
E: I get my energy from being around other people. I often think by talking.
S: I think this is a big-picture vs. details type thing, but I don't really remember. 
T: I value decisions based more on logic than on emotion. I like solutions that "work well" rather than those that "feel good"
J: I like to plan, I like lists. However, I'm les consistent on this spectrum, as I'm often late and I don't get flustered (in fact, I thrive) when things go off-script.

Knowing about how I perceive of and interact with the world has helped me be more self-aware when working with my new colleagues, and maybe it will also help me understand my relationships with other people in my life as well.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A-100, Week 1

After a day of HR stuff at the main State Department building in Foggy Bottom, on Tuesday I headed down to the Foreign Service Institute, where I'll be spending the majority of the next six weeks in the introductory Foreign Service Officer training course, A-100.

Our A-100 class, the illustrious 178th A-100, is larger than most (maybe all) classes in recent memory, which shows as we barely fit in the classroom and they had to remove the armrests from all the chairs so we could fit.

I'm not complaining, because that's just that many more wonderful colleagues that I'll get to connect with while I train here in DC! I haven't met everyone yet, but the sampling I've met so far (including a whopping 8 SAIS people who graduated just this spring) are very very impressive.

The only bummer is that I've learned a bit more about the State Department social media/blog policy, which limits things like the sharing of photos of State Department facilities and badges for safety reasons, which makes a lot of sense. I'm going to go in and clarify what I can and can't share on this blog so that I can keep sharing my adventures in the future!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Night Before Jitters

I don't usually ever have problems going to sleep, but last night I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. Chalk it up to excitement to start my new career today!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Family Ball

I don't aspire to write a soccer-hating rant, like one that recently graced the internet (it's piece of comedic genius, in my opinion), but I do want to say a few words about baseball.

I don't know if there's something intrinsic about baseball that makes it appeal to so many Americans, but the history that it's had in this country has created a special affinity for the sport that reaches across generations. Because of this cross-generational appeal, I think baseball is super great for families. At the very least, my family had a fun time at tonight's San Diego Padres game.

Although it doesn't look like the Padres' tough luck seems to be letting up, I had a great time playing catch, cheering, and watching fireworks with aunts, uncles, cousins and other family.

Play ball!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Modern Minister's Guide to Marriage - Part 2

I'm a big believer in love. As for the awesome parties that people call weddings, don't even get me started on how much I love those. These past three months, however, I've had a chance to experience love and the process of marriage through the weddings of six friends, all of whom decided to have a friend officiate their wedding. And in two of those weddings, that friend was me!

Part 2: Valerie & Colin - 14 June 2014

I met Colin and Val on the same day - Colin was the head of my intramural soccer team and Valerie was the  player on the opposing team that was giving us a headache. I think I remember losing that game. Since then, this travel-minded couple and I have shared adventures in Shenandoah Valley, the Anza-Borrego Desert, Spain, Morocco, and I expect many more as they'll be joining the Foreign Service family later this summer.

I was honored when they asked me to officiate their wedding and I took the job with the highest level of seriousness. I did a ton of research into the legal niceties of officiating a wedding in California, as well as worked with them to craft a meaningful and touching wedding ceremony. The two results are that I'm now ordained as a minister, and that I helped them pull off a really unforgettable wedding ceremony!

A snippet from my favorite part of their ceremony:

Love has gathered us here today.We are here to celebrate the love that Valerie and Colin have for one another, as well as the love that each of you has given them throughout their lives.

As families and friends, you are the ones who have taught Valerie and Colin how to love.You have shown them the blessings that come through loving one another. Having thus prepared them, we are now gathered to support them as they embark upon their voyage of discovery as husband and wife.

We are here to see them off on this journey. Let us also be there to see them through it.

To me, modern weddings aren't about uniting two people. Most couples have known each other for a while, often have lived together, and are for all intents and purposes married to each other before the ceremony is performed. To me, modern weddings are much more about uniting a couple into a greater community. Their closest friends and family gather together to witness as they publicly affirm their love and in turn the community signals its approval and support. I think that this interchange helps to strengthen and reinforce a marriage, in the way one thread by itself might snap, but wound together into a rope with many other threads helps to burnish its strength .

But enough with my weepy romanticism - Val and Colin also threw one mondo party!

A ridiculously impressive swing dance number for their first dance...

...lawn games like croquet, corn hole and oversize jenga during the cocktail hour...

... a photo booth organized by Yours Truly...

...and a beautifully decorated garden party-style reception, including 1000 individuallly folded paper cranes.

Thank you Valerie and Colin for inviting me to be a part of this really special day. I'm looking forward to seeing you around the world!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Modern Minister's Guide to Marriage - Part 1

I'm a big believer in love. As for the awesome parties that people call weddings, don't even get me started on how much I love those. These past three months, however, I've had a chance to experience love and the process of marriage through the weddings of six friends, all of whom decided to have a friend officiate their wedding. And in two of those weddings, that friend was me!

Part 1: Michelle & Ryan - 17 May 2014

Ryan was the new kid who moved into our neighborhood at the beginning of high school. He quickly befriended everyone in the neighborhood with his witty personality and his easy smile. Our time in high school included shenanigans at the bus stop and summer days in his backyard pool. I even had my first kiss (not with him) in his garage. We lost touch a bit in college, but when I moved to DC in 2009 we got in touch and I was able to replace one of his outgoing housemates. We then became housemates (and trivia teammates) as I discovered DC and embarked on my new career path. When I left DC to move to Italy, he moved to San Francisco, where he fell in love.

Ryan and Michelle graciously invited me to their wedding in San Diego and I was super pumped to attend. I got to see a bunch of old high school classmates and catch up with some DC friends as well.

One of our mutual DC friends Rachel, acted as the officiant for the wedding. I paid extra-close attention as I knew I'd have to do the same within a few weeks. Rachel kept a great balance between seriousness and levity, including some long legal definitions concerning marriage (she and Ryan went to law school together). She did an amazing job and I may or may not have taken actual written notes during a wedding ceremony.

Congratulations Michelle and Ryan!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I'm Going to Be a Diplomat!

Today might be one of the most significant days of my life.

Eight days since I found out I failed my last-chance Spanish test and finally gave up on the idea of being a diplomat,
313 days since I finished my contract at Banco Santander,
508 days since I received my security clearance,
596 days since I passed the Foreign Service Oral Exam, and
854 days since I signed up begin the Foreign Service application process,

on a day when my optimism on finding a job (much less a career) was starting to wane just a bit,

I was blindsided with an email from the State Department, calling me up for a Foreign Service training class, the last one I would be eligible for before I expired off of the hiring register.

I got very lucky, but then again, as my friend Zach told me, I was pretty unlucky to go through this process right in the middle of the Sequester, so the universe owes me one.

I'm very thankful for the people who have helped me through a fun but pretty challenging year of my life: Jenn, Zach, Colin, Valerie and my two very supportive parents. I'm thankful for the people who helped me prepare for different aspects of the Foreign Service application process, especially Sara, Alex, Sarah, Valerie, Richard, Faith and my stern but effective proof reader Naomi.

Gracias a Fátima, Ana, Fernando, Julie y Santiago por ayudar mi español, algo que aún ha de mejorarse.

WHATS NEXT: Training (A-100 in State Department speak) isn't until June 30, so I'm going to spend two months or so in San Diego attending some weddings, running up the mileage on my bike, surfing and packing. After that, I'll be moving to DC to start my training to be an Economic Officer in the US Foreign Service. Depending on where they're sending me after, I might be in DC anywhere from three months to a year. Then, off to represent my country at a US embassy somewhere in the world, so stay tuned for a whole new type of adventure on my blog!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stray Dogs, Surfboards, Coconuts, Cricket... and Heat

Just to get it out of the way: our weekend in El Paredon was really hot. Even at night, every small little stirring of breeze only offered temporary respite. To cut down on complaining, we banned the word "hot" and kept track of violations, with the biggest violator buying the group a round at the end of the weekend.

Luckily, El Paredon was full of wonderful things to help keep our minds off of the weather. One of them was our house which I found through AirBnB, La Choza Chula. It's run by a community-focused NGO that is working to help El Paredon benefit from the growing surfing scene there. Unfortunately, a lot of people who come in to surf aren't even aware of the existence of a town right down the road. Read more about what La Choza Chula does here.

We explored El Paredon and got to meet some of our neighbors as well as a few neighborhood kids who hang out in the shack's backyard. The yard has a few coconut trees and Jossie and I took a machete to a few coconuts to get into the inner coconutty goodness. The house itself has a dry erase board, which we took full advantage of in a pretty epic game of pictionary. We spent Saturday morning on the beach surfing and swimming in the afternoon we relaxed in the hammocks and pool of the Paredon Surf House with two cool Canadians we met there.

I caught a few more waves Saturday afternoon after Paul taught me and the Canadians how to play cricket. It's actually a pretty simple and fun game, but I'm sure it helped contribute to the sunburn on my shoulders.

Meals were fun as well. El Paredon doesn't really have restaurants, so for our two breakfasts we bought and cooked beans and eggs and some tortillas from a lady across the street who stood outside making them. We had a delicious lunch at the Surf House and for dinner we found a barbeque that had been set up for Holy Week that made us some pretty delicious empanadas, burgers and tostadas.

Sunday was on us before we knew it and we cleaned the house, said goodbye to the house's adopted stray dog Twiggy, and dragged our mosquito-bite ridden, sunburned bodies back onto a chicken bus headed in the direction of Antigua.

Irony: The guy from San Diego ended up saying "hot" the most, so I bought the round.