Tomorrow will mark the end of my 50th week of training at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). I'm not expecting anything special to commemorate my "golden" anniversary. No champagne toasts from younger trainees. No plaques in my language lab cubicle. Not even a "senior citizen" discount in the cafeteria. In fear of becoming that kid who still hangs around his old high school, I plan to keep a low profile during my remaining time at FSI. Thankfully, I will be in Tel Aviv in exactly two weeks!
I've thought long and hard about this farewell to FSI. Since original ideas are hard to come by in my advancing age, I decided to model this blog after ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons' "Power Rankings" of NBA players, which weaves pop culture seamlessly into cogent sports analysis. I would try to emulate his style here but I don't watch nearly as much reality television as he does.
With that short and utterly non-sensical segue, I now count down the top ten highlights of the past 50 weeks in my very own "End-of-Traning Power Rankings"!
#10- Interesting AND engaging speakers
From Day 1 of A-100 to last week's Security Overseas Seminar, I have been briefed on almost every imaginable topic of interest ranging from dental coverage to counter-surveillance techniques. Although some days felt like a slow death by powerpoint, I admit that the majority of speakers imparted useful information and some were very good storytellers. The few that could do both were especially enjoyable. Two notewothy highlights were hearing from the U.S. ambassador to Syria and the big boss herself.
#9- Bid lists and more bid lists
I didn't realize how addicting bid lists could be until after I received my first one last summer. Since then, new lists with postings in all corners of the world have provided the subject for frequent daydreaming and wanderlust. I won't bid on my second tour until next summer but this hasn't stopped me from strategizing based on projected vacancies.
#8- Oakwood housing
It was love at first sight when I got a sneak peak of the Oakwood Falls Church facility last year. How much do I still love thee, Oakwood? Let me count the ways. Eight is the approximate number of donuts my family consumes every Sunday morning. Seven is the number of days in between each visit from the housekeepers. Six is the number of kitchen gadgets my wife has won during monthly bingo nights. Five (thirty) P.M. on one Saturday every month is the magic time that Parents' Night Out begins. Four is the number of months that my kids have enjoyed the swimming pool. Need I go on?
#7- Hebrew classmates
I studied Hebrew for a total of 36 weeks. Even though it was a humbling experience I ultimately passed my Hebrew test and had the added benefit of getting to know a dozen or so future colleagues with whom I will be closely working over the next two years. The common struggle was a great bonding experience. I already miss some of the role-playing exercises in class where we could make outlandish statements and commit all kinds of gaffes without any repercussions. No more.
#6- Weekend getaways
Long-term training did not allow any extended vacations but my family and I did take advantage of several long weekends and federal holidays for memorable getaways. The trips included Virginia Beach, Smith Mountain Lake, Hershey, Mt. Vernon, Baltimore, Lake Gaston and the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg. They were much needed breaks from the monotony of the daily routine. Of course, many of these road trips required some mode of transport. That's where the next highlight comes in.
#5- The Swagger Wagon
After becoming a full-fledged resident of the burbs las summer, I figured it would only be a matter of time before I owned a minivan like this hilarious YouTube clip. Well, I just couldn't bring myself to do it...yet. But after I found out that I had been assigned to the third hottest city in the world (and that there were no car import restrictions), I knew I would have to roll in my own Swagger Wagon so I went out and purchased a pre-owned sport SUV which is affectionately referred to as "the Lex." She is now on the slow boat to Israel.
#4- Kids gone wild
I've already extolled some of the perks of living at Oakwood but it also offered a swinging social life for my two young boys. Four big apartment complexes with a semi-enclosed common area meant super convenient playdates and endless playtime outside. Imagine college dorms for grade schoolers. Although some of the roving packs of boys weren't always paragons of virtue, the festival-like atmosphere generally kept the kids happy. I hope they realize how good they had it for the past year.
#3- New friends
As I've mentioned elsewhere, meeting so many interesting and talented individuals has been a top highlight of my experience so far. Since A-100, my circle of friends expanded to others outside the classroom. I was also fortunate to reconnect with a number of old friends from when I previously lived in DC. It has been great spending time with all of them over the past 12 months and sharing this incredible adventure that my family and I are about to undertake. I hope that these friendships remain over the coming years.
#2- Flag Day.
Last Friday, I attended the most recent Flag Day and still felt myself getting a little vklempt over all the excitement in the room when assignments were being announced. I often think back to that day and what an amazing assignment I received. I can't believe how well things have worked out and how much this post suits my interests. I count myself as extremely lucky to receive such a coveted job for my first tour.
#1- Future tandem.
Without a doubt, the best development over the past year has been my wife's candidacy in the Foreign Service. For those who didn't know, not only did she pass the Oral Assessment last fall, she also passed a proficiency test in Arabic which virtually guarantees that she will receive a call to A-100 when the time is right. We have the added luxury of being able to defer her candidacy for the entire time we are in Tel Aviv with the hopes of syncing up our next tours together. There are a lot of "ifs" for what kind of tour that will be but the important thing is that we stay together.