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About ME I Peace Corps GUATEMALA I Foreign Service TIMELINE

Monday, September 8, 2014

Updates from Update Land: Peace Corps, Consular Adjudicator Oral Assessment & Medical Clearances!

Folks have been asking me of late: what the heck is going on with you? No updates? No blog posts? No pics or gifs? Yes, I know -- it's been quite some time since I've written about my life here in Guatemala (or my life at all), right?  

Well, life as I know it has been pretty busy these last few months, especially on the Peace Corps front, where I was lucky enough to apply for and receive a grant to bring 28 folks from around my town to a day-long workshop on small project design & management. I and two other facilitators spent the entire day talking about numbers, resources and different ways to monitor and evaluate small projects. My favorite part, however, was having my group of Youth Health Promoters give a small presentation on HIV/AIDS during lunch. They memorized their information and spoke with confidence and intelligence -- I was so proud of them!
"White Blood Cells", part of the HIV/AIDS Skit

The school break is coming up soon, which means I have TWO MONTHS OF VACATION!!! Just kidding. Peace Corps Volunteers are 24/7 "on duty" which means that even though we are technically not going to be working in our primary project,we should have secondary projects lined up for long breaks. Luckily for me, I've got several projects lined up, which I hope will be fulfilling during my down time and be useful to the community. One is a "vivero" (plant nursery) project I am working on in conjunction with the private schools, the public schools, and a small colony right outside my main center. We're fashioning the vivero out of recycled plastic bottles, and surprisingly, we've collected 4,700 bottles so far! It's amazing! Hopefully we'll begin construction in late October, and have our first "siembra" (planting) mid-November. If you're down, check out our Facebook page we created for the vivero. It's in English and Spanish!

Speaking of Spanish: I FINALLY got an invitation to the Spanish language Consular Adjudicator Oral Assessment: woohoo! Apparently the invitation went straight to my Spam folder, even though I definitely tried to add all of the addresses to my approved e-mail list. Luckily, they were understanding and I was able to get scheduled for an interview on NOVEMBER 21, 2014. So close to Thanksgiving, but too far away to actually try to make any use of the time (damn you, dwindling vacation days!) Like last year's Foreign Service Officer Oral Assessment, my twin sister is coming down to D.C. We're going to catch up, see some sites and try to make some Tofurkey in an early Thanksgiving-of-sorts. I am so excited to see her and to take a stab at another Oral Assessment. It seems a bit tougher than the FSOA...I hope I'm ready!

In other news, my medical clearances are going well...I think. Remember that little snag about me having high blood pressure? Well, it turns out I don't have high blood pressure and never did have high blood pressure!

Have you ever heard of "White Coat Hypertension?" Well, apparently, there are folks who dislike hospitals and doctors (raises hand), and this causes blood pressure to spike only when said folks have their pressure taken with certain doctors in certain offices. This is essentially what was happening to me. After using a blood pressure holder for 24 hours on two separate occasions and having the results come back clear, my Peace Corps Medical Officer decided to have me test the machine he uses in his office with a separate doctor in Guatemala City. Well, the machine that indicated I had high blood pressure in the Peace Corps office the day before, read that I had normal blood pressure while I was with the doctor in Guatemala City. Thus, the "White Coat Syndrome" diagnosis was given. Hopefully this, and all the readings and tests, will be sufficient enough for State and medical clearances....

And lastly, I got a message a couple days ago alerting me that once I am done with medical, my files will be reviewed for "Final Suitability." Shucks...only 2 years and 3 months since I first sat down in June 2012 to take the test. Next stop is the register and my other FSOA next year to hopefully boost my score!

Let's do this!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Self Esteem and Guatemala

Every week I work with two groups of 4th, 5th and 6th graders to talk about leadership, self-esteem and health. At the end of 10 weeks, we will do a large school project.

Below are a couple of photos from a session I created on self-esteem. In the beginning of the session, we read a letter from "Paulina", a young girl who lacks confidence in her talents. After I read the letter, each student received an envelope and a piece of paper and wrote a response letter to "Paulina" about something in which they excelled. The point of the session was to help the students talk about their own skills and talents, while learning how to be more empathetic and understanding to those who have skills that differ from their own. 

Most Guatemalan children I have encountered have incredibly low self-esteem, and teachers often point out their flaws instead of reinforcing their strengths. 

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon to hear a teacher call a child "stupid" or ridicule a child for not being able to play a sport. No, I don't think my self-esteem session will do much to change these attitudes, but I hope this one class did help at least some of my students gain a greater appreciation of their own talents...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Foreign Service February 2014 QEP Results: Passed to Oral Assessment!

Wow...I feel incredibly lucky and happy to have received another invite to the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. Hopefully I can raise my score to a solid 5.5 and use my language points to garner a high enough spot on the register to be called next year for A-100. Good luck to everyone else waiting for results!

Monday, May 5, 2014

I am in love...

...with my life, right now! 

Since my epic rant post of last year, my life and my outlook on my Service as a Peace Corps Volunteer has vastly improved. At my lowest point, when I would revisit my days and feel like I'd accomplished nothing, I considered Early Termination. 

Then I wrote a letter to my two closest Peace Corps friends (one who medically separated and one current Peace Corps Volunteer in-Country with me) telling them about my misgivings, and I felt a little better, but not by much.

In mid-March, I hosted 3 PCV women for Field-Based Training, and they were able to see me in my element. They told me they were excited to finally meet the "Superstar PCV", which surprised the hell out of me. I learned that during their training, my name came up a great deal, and that my actual calendar and work was used many times as examples of what to do in the course of Service. 

Now, this is not me being falsely humble or fishing for compliments or whatever; but hearing that I was the example actually made me feel worse about my Service, because their thoughts of me (gun-ho Volunteer) did not reflect what I felt internally about myself or the realities of my work life in site.

Then, my sister came to visit. We spent one glorious week heading to my favorite spots in Guatemala, and it served to remind me of the good things I've encountered during the last 15 months here in Guatemala. No, I still don't feel like I'm my most "productive", but what I lack in work happiness is most definitely overshadowed by how integrated I feel in certain places in Guatemala, including my host site and my favorite place in Guatemala. 

I hope to keep working on this side of personal happiness, and that I can end my Service feeling a sense of accomplishment (no matter how small.)

In Foreign Service news, I just received word that my passing Spanish language score from my Consular candidacy will be
applied to my Consular Adjudicator candidacy. I am happy that I don't have to worry about taking the test again (getting to a land-line here takes about 3 hours, LOL.) Now, I will wait for notice of when to schedule my Oral Assessment and hopefully have the chance to schedule both my Consular Adjudicator OA and Foreign Service OA (if I am invited) around the same time.

I am still working on my Blood Pressure, and though my top number complies with what State needs, I still need to work on my lower number, which is about 5 points higher than it needs to be. I go for my med check-up at the end of June, so hopefully is gets better by then! Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spanish Language Consular Adjudicator: Next Steps!

I just received this message today in my inbox: "Congratulations!  You have successfully passed the Qualifications Evaluation Panel review of your recent application to become a Foreign Service Consular Adjudicator in a Spanish-speaking country."


Well, this new development is pretty great. I am trying to figure out all the details of the language test and Oral Assessment for this position; I already passed the FSI-BEX Spanish language phone test, so hopefully I can go straight to the Oral Assessment. I am pretty excited and so happy that my skills have once again proven sufficient to stay in the Foreign Service game! I have been told several times that this job will not negatively affect my Foreign Service Officer hopefully I can do this and still be on track to work as a Consular Officer. My perfect scenario would have me passing the Oral Assessment for the CANLA position, receiving a job and beginning sometime in 2015. After my 18-month stint as a CA, I might then be able receive an offer to join an A-100 class for the Foreign Service using my first or second candidacies.

However it works out, it's sure to be very interesting. I cannot wait to see where this all takes me!

If you're interested in learning more about what being a Consular Adjudicator entails, please click the link here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Twin is Coming

She is coming to Guatemala. It will be awesome. She comes in two days. That is all. :)
(Foreign Service, Peace Corps, Life updates soon.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Personal Narratives

Two days ago my sister asked me if I'd submitted my personal narratives. I did, but I forgot to update her. Yes, they're submitted and yes, 4 of the 6 narratives are exactly the same. I changed my communication narrative and made my substantive knowledge more fluid. I passed to the OA with these narratives, so hopefully the stars will align and I will be chosen to attend the OA again.

In Blood Pressure news, I went to the doc two weeks ago and it was down. Not below levels that DOS requires, but pretty darn close! Hopefully I can continue my plan and head on to Medical Clearances!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Medical Clearance

...not so fast. As it turns out, I have elevated blood pressure (what?!) and need to go on a special plan to make sure I can get my levels back down to normal. This was surprising and not-so-surprising to me, just based on how much my diet and level of activity have changed since joining Peace Corps one year ago (several PCVs also told me recently they've received the same diagnostic.) It makes sense, honestly: I've gone from a fairly mobile, pure vegan to someone who now eats meat and all sorts of other goodies this country has to offer -- but I am definitely paying the price for my indulgences, haha :D

I'll keep you all updated on my progress -- I'm currently signed up for a 5K, have made the decision to go back strictly vegan, and am gonna stick to my morning runs with my host cousin. Hopefully in about 3-6 months this all pays off, and I won't have to go on any medications to get it under control.

I never thought medical clearances would hold me back from achieving my long-standing goal, but if there's anything to be said here its that this experience is definitely molding me into a better, stronger...more patient person!

Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What a day!

Today has been...pretty awesome. Not only did I get paid, but I received a passing score on the FSOT and found out that DOS has granted me TOP SECRET security clearance! What the what?! Friday is certainly going to be a celebration! ;)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 2014 FSOT Results...So Soon?!

The FSOT Results Letter retrieval website is now closed. 
The site will be available again later.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Peace Corps Mid-Service, Whoa

One year ago, I landed in Guatemala City with 28 Trainees and began the complex, interesting, and challenging transition into life as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The conflicting realities of life and work here have significantly cooled my desire to work professionally in the grassroots development sector, but I would be remiss not to note how thankful I am for the new skills, experiences and friendships I have gained during this time.

In the Peace Corps Unofficial Handbook, there is a chart that explains the so-called 27-month cycle that most Peace Corps Volunteers experience. I think it accurately reflects what I, and many of my peers are going through as we approach our second year in the Corps. 

Month Issues Behavior/Reaction

11 - 15

  • Mid-Service Crisis
  • Doubt of Program, Role, Self, Govt
  • Various Failures Over Time Reflection: Disillusionment, Confusion Resolving Frustrations with Victories
  • New Trainees Arrive
  • Holiday Time
  • Impatience with Self and Program System
  • Blame on Program
  • Constant Complaining
  • Lethargy
  • Haughtiness with New Trainees via Super Identification with Image and Dress
  • Holiday Planning/Mini-Vacation
  • Review Work Plan
  • Set New Goals
  • Plan Vacation
  • One Year Anniversary Celebration
  • Develop New Recreation Options
  • Write Long Lost Acquaintances
  • Explore Better Relations with GVO & NGO Folks
  • Return to Language Study and Practice

I can most significantly relate to the third bullet point in the chart, but I'm actively working to make sure I stay on track. Last week saw a lot of cancellations, with my Counterpart putting the icing on the cake by telling me "I sometimes forget to tell the teachers they are required to be at your trainings", but there's no use crying over spilled horchata, right?

It's difficult to express how I feel about my Peace Corps Service thus far, mainly because I cannot muster any strong emotions about my Service (is that a bad sign?), but I raise my glass to the efforts of those in my cohort. Living and working in a new country with new rules and expectations is not as easy as it sounds. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Taking the FSOT Again

Yes, it begins again. Since I'm still going through hiring clearances and have yet to be placed on the register, I decided to start a second consular candidacy in the hopes I can get a higher Oral Assessment score.

So, I took the FSOT yesterday with a group of fellow PCVs and others living/working in Guatemala. It was really interesting taking the exam at the embassy and getting to see FSOs doing their everyday jobs. The woman working as our proctor and escort was an IT Specialist, and she was so nice! We also made nice with one of the Marines working behind the glass. Hopefully we can hang out sometime.

So...the test. Believe it or not, I believe I failed the essay. I have no idea what happened, but my 5 paragraphs, though complete and with transitions, went around in circles and rambled. I definitely didn't put my best foot forward with the essay, and I think I may be scored with a 4 or a 5. Yikes. Hopefully I'm wrong, but if I have to take the exam again in 2015, that's fine, too!

MC was as it always has been for me: not too hard, not too easy. I finished each section with about 15 minutes to spare and sat during the time, mentally preparing myself for the following section. I know I was completely clueless on some of the Job Knowledge questions, and I might have possibly done the best on the Biographical section (like last time.)

Well, I've got 3-5 weeks to fret over receiving results, and I have my fingers crossed that everyone gets good news in March!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Congressman and an Officer

Last week three Peace Corps colleagues and I were chosen to have lunch with officials from the embassy and a visiting Congressman. Of course, I was flattered my name came up, but I was also excited to have the opportunity to see real live Foreign Service Officers on the job. The lunch was pretty uneventful, though I did manage to get in a few "keep funding us!" pleas. 

It was mentioned around the table that I was going through my security clearances and that I had just (that morning, actually) found out I'd passed the Spanish language test. The Control officer during the lunch was actually a Consular Officer, and when I told him Consular was my chosen cone, he did a little fist pump in the air. He said he loved his career (in fact, it's the only career he's had) and that he was happy with his profession.

We all got his card, and he told me, "No matter what -- whether you get the letter or whether you're just curious, give me a call and I'll answer your questions." 

It was a very sincere-sounding invitation, and I am happy to have contact with a (Consular) FSO! I am going to the embassy on February 5th to take the FSOT again, so maybe I can arrange a shadowing or visitation around that time (if it's even allowed.)

I know I just got a couple of business cards and a free lunch, but being in the company of folks who work for our nation made me feel like a million bucks ;)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

February 2014 QEP Results

Results are in! I am crossing my fingers for everyone out there! I know what it's like to get both a passing letter and a letter saying I did not make the cut. My case just goes to show: don't give up if it's bad news! Good luck!

Monday, January 20, 2014

When Foreign Service and Peace Corps Meet

I'm thinking on the day I took the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. 

I was staying in a hostel in DC and because I'd lost my Guatemalan cell phone in the Miami airport, I set my computer alarm to wake me up at 5:00AM. Well, that didn't happen, and I ended up jolting awake at 6:15AM, 30 minutes before the cab was to arrive. Luckily, my clothes were set and no one was in the shower so I was able to get ready in a hurry. But that hurry wasn't enough, as the cab arrived a full 10 minutes early, and I had to run after it, outside, barefoot (the hostel didn't allow us to wear shoes inside the building, and I could not find them quickly in the shoe cubbies.) Yes, it was wintertime. Yes, my feet felt like they were going to freeze off - but there was no way I was letting that car get away! As I rode to the Annex, I calmed my frazzled nerves by telling myself that if I'd had such a terrible morning, there was nowhere to go but up -- and seeing as I passed, I'm totally thanking myself for keeping cool and not letting a terrible start ruin what turned out to be an amazing day :D

My OA morning is pretty much how I feel in Peace Corps every day. But I'm making it ;)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Foreign Service Spanish Phone Test Results

Well, I passed! I really did not expect to receive the good news! They've adjusted my OA score, so it's been raised to a 5.47 from a 5.3. That score is still not high enough to get me off the register, I don't think, but it's still a pretty good lift to the old self-esteem! Thanks for all your support! ;)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Town of 2500

My site is located in the borderlands of El Quiché and Totonicapán. I live in the cabecera (municipal seat), population 2,500, and usually spend my days working, chatting with my neighbors or enjoying the weather on the family balcony -- daily temperatures are usually between 75 and 80 degrees and don't change much from that. My site is a fairly sleepy town, by anyone's standards, but I enjoy the quiet and the opportunities to connect with my family and neighbors. My site is the 6th most impoverished of Guatemala's 322 municipalities, but a lack of some of the everyday creature comforts other municipalities may enjoy has not dampened their spirits or hospitality. 98% of the population here is ethnically and linguistically K'iche', which means the only Spanish I ever hear is when it's directed at me ;)

I love this place. One day this town will have high-rises and sky-scrapers and a population over fifty-thousand but for now I'll enjoy its beautiful big sky and amazing nighttime stars. This place is what makes me feel, truly, like a Peace Corps Volunteer. The people, too. I could make the journey from one side of my town to the other in a leisurely ten minutes, but it usually takes me three times as long, because of all the people coming up to chat, or to ask about my health, or to scold me about not wearing a sweater. I love it. I didn't think I would (being the center of attention makes me feel incredibly uneasy at times), but to my surprise, I do. And my host family...I often say they're one of the main reasons I've survived PC living this long. I've been in Guatemala almost one year (in my site 8 months) and, dare I say?, it's actually starting to feel like home ♥ 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Spanish Language Phone Exam: Done!

Yes, I finally took the Spanish Language Phone Exam. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, lasting around 15 or 20 minutes. One thing, though, is that I forgot about the time difference between Guatemala and DC, and I called in 15 minutes late! Good thing I thought to call and check the connection, or else I would probably have been deemed a "no show."

I am pretty sure I did not reach the required "3" to get the bonus points for hiring. I mainly took the exam to see where I fall on the spectrum and where I need to focus most of my practice. Honestly speaking, I'm pretty sure I received a 2+ in speaking according to this scale.

Anyway, I've received news on Friday that my security investigation is being "finalized", though I am only vaguely sure of what this means (I believe my file has to be looked over, then sent to another board for review.) I also just finished my last medical examination yesterday, which is awesome because it was getting tiring to leave my site so many times. Hopefully all goes well and I can find out my spot on the register ASAP ;) Given my score, I know I will take last place, but it still feels good being on the register at all.

I know I will need to complete the process again if I have any hope of being hired...which is why I signed up to take the February exam here in Guatemala on February 5th. This will be my 3rd time taking the exam, and hopefully the 3rd time I will pass. What makes this time really interesting is that 4 of my fellow PCV's will also be taking the test. I convinced them all to schedule with me on the same day, so we can share cab fare and possibly hotel fare (if they let us stay in the Capital.)

I don't think I will study much this year, as work is going to be pretty hectic, but I am still getting those lovely jitters that accompany me every time I begin the FSOT process. And we all know how opaque the QEP process can be, which is why my fingers are crossed for receiving another invite to the Orals!

But, bring it on!