Friday, March 28, 2014

Back to Antigua - The Montage Scene

About 15 months ago, after receiving my security clearance, I was placed on the Foreign Service register, which is the last step in the long process to being hired into the US Foreign Service. For many, it's just a formality, a holding pen until the next A-100 training class, which happens every two months or so. Unfortunately for me and many aspiring FS Officers who got onto the register in late 2012 and early 2013, the US Congress couldn't agree on a budget and so automatic US government spending cuts, meant as a disincentive for congressmen (also known as the sequester), kicked in at the beginning of March 2013, about two months after I was added to the register.

To meet sequester spending requirements, the State Department cut new Foreign Service Officer hiring to 50% attrition - hiring one new diplomat for every two retiring diplomats. This had the effect of immediately reducing the size of the A-100 training classes and swelling the register. In January of 2013, I was ranked #10 of 50 people on my register waiting to be invited to the next training class. As more prospective diplomats passed the foreign service exam, some with higher ranks/scores than me and others below me on the register, my rank dropped to #38 out of an overcrowded 108 person register this month.

To add fuel to the fire, continued political paralysis in Washington caused a government shutdown in October, just as I was returning to the US from Spain, hoping to be invited to an autumn A-100. As of the last time I checked, I'm ranked #33 out of 103 candidates.

If you know me, you know moping and complaining isn't my thing, so I've decided to take my fate into my own hands. In addition to applying for other jobs, knowing full well that the Foreign Service might not work out after all, I'm making one last push to improve my rank on the register before I expire off of it in June. A candidate's rank is based on their score they received in the oral examination, and can be improved in two ways. One can receive 0.175 points if they're a veteran and 0.17 for passing a proficiency test in a foreign language. Given that it looks unlikely that I'll join and retire from the Marines in the next 2.5 months, Spanish looks like my way out of purgatory. If I were to pass the proficiency test for it, my rank would rocket up to about #6 on the register.

Unfortunately, passing the Spanish test isn't as easy as all that. The criteria for proficiency in common romance languages are notoriously strict (I need to achieve a comfortable 3-level proficiency), and I can attest to that personally. With a year of living and working in Spain under my belt, I took the test in late August of 2013 hoping to accelerate my start date and was surprised to find that I failed.

I recently became eligible to take the test again and I found that self-directed studying with a bit of tutoring in San Diego just wouldn't be enough. With the support of my parents, I bought a ticket to Antigua, Guatemala to return to my old Spanish program, CSA. You know those montage scenes where the protagonist works out or studies or practices every day in the lead up to the climax of a movie? This is it. This trip is my montage scene.

I'll be here for about a month and I take the test at the end of April. Blog posts about my adventures back in Guatemala to come soon. Here's to hoping that this montage scene leads to a heartwarming climax instead of fizzling out into the credits.