Uncertainty can be happiness

"Security is a false god," or running around the world as an FSO

Archive for the ‘Korea’ Category

Commonality

Posted by quirksalight on April 3, 2011

The most common question I get, considering my educational background, is, “How did you go from biomedical engineering to the Foreign Service?”

Convoluted? Yes and no. There’s a bit of history, and the kernels behind all this were placed a long time ago. In high school, I was on the high school debate team and that ignited my interest in politics and international relations. However, I was rather obsessed with science and had dreams of developing a treatment/device that would revolutionize medicine. It wasn’t until grad school, after being burned out of medical research, when I had to start thinking of, “now what?”. My temporary answer was to take a leave of absence for a year and teach English in Korea. That’s one of the earlier points in this blog, back in 2007.

But in Korea, teaching was one thing, but straddling two cultures socially and linguistically was a whole ‘nother beast. Plus, I came to Korea at a political change; for the first time in 10 years, the progressive party was out of office and the conservatives came into power the month I arrived, March 2008. This combined with my background in Korean culture and language, sciences, and interest in politics led to some interesting discussions with the faculty in my middle school, handling getting punched on a subway, acting as a facilitator for my foreign friends in Korea, and occasionally having to explain what the U.S. government was doing to my students, colleagues, and friends.

I really enjoyed that interaction – facilitating the understanding between two cultures, though not so much the getting hit part. Which led me to starting thinking about the Foreign Service. I always planned to go into public service, someday, when I was on the academic track. But I hadn’t thought about it again until when I was in Korea, pondering my next step. So I did – FSOT exam date was November 5, 2008. I got the acceptance in to the QEP in December 2008, decided not to sign a teaching contract for another year, gambling that I would pass the QEP and get to the OA, which I did. So I left Korea, with a freelance editing gig, prepped for the OA and passed on June 15, 2009. A year later, I was prepping to leave DC for my first tour as a POL officer in Seoul. whew! What a whirlwind…

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Posted in ancedotes, commentary, election 2008, Graduate school, Korea, New York, school, Science, Seoul, teaching english | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Hong Kong!

Posted by quirksalight on December 9, 2010

I’m skipping blogging on the Korea part because Jen’s got that one covered. 🙂
As you can see, the goal of our trip to Korea and HK is to hang out with old friends, but to have a gastronomical adventure in Asia. hee hee…

But today was one of adjustment… got up at 5am to catch the flight to HK, and had to take a nap because I was so tired. Pretty sure I overpacked, but meh… not exactly sure what is needed. But mainly, we were walking around in Kowloon and getting a scope of the place. I noticed that it appears to be more crowded on the streets than in Seoul…. but I’ll have to take stock of that in the coming days. A data point of one isn’t really telling much, no?

Posted in adventure, ancedotes, commentary, fun, Korea, travel, vacation | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Cataloging a month…

Posted by quirksalight on October 29, 2010

In no particular order…

Bangkok trip
visitors, visitors, visitors
Halloween
On the US Embassy Association board
Pulled into the planning of the Diplomatic Happy Hours in Seoul
Accidentally started a get-together of junior female diplomatic officers in Seoul
Sick
Visiting cousins
cooking!
A couple national day celebrations
Being the recipient of good news and grant money to an NGO
Parties…..
Did I mention work? 🙂

Posted in amusing, ancedotes, Korea | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Flying High

Posted by quirksalight on September 22, 2010

Heading out of Seoul for an adventure day, three friends and I headed to Mun-gyoung in Gyongsangbuk-do for some aerial action.

Pretty amazing….I think I’m hooked!

Posted in adventure, flying, Korea, Sports | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Two months

Posted by quirksalight on August 24, 2010

It’s been two months since I arrived at post, and I wish I can say something witty or thought-provoking, but right now, I’m damn tired. Whoever said that Korea is dynamic wasn’t joking. In fact, I think they were being a little too dry in their description. They really aren’t kidding about the learning curve, and the curve isn’t an exponential function, it’s a polynomial, swinging up and down in a maniac, chaotic pattern.

Sometime you feel like it’s a head pounding against a wall kinda day, until several hours in, you figure out that there is a door, next to said wall, that you can open to get past the wall. Other times, you wonder if you are back in academia observing the power struggles from afar. I’m learning, one head butt at a time.

On the upside, I found another amazing shoe store – they make custom orders! – and discovered that Victoria’s Secret has decent, inexpensive suits that will get to me in Korea in under a week.

Posted in amusing, ancedotes, clothes, Korea, work | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Little things in life.

Posted by quirksalight on August 2, 2010

I’ve been at Embassy Seoul for little over a month now, and it’s been a rollercoaster. From running around, planning visits, to meeting contacts, managing (actually, more being managed BY) the LES, and mentoring interns, it’s been a trip. For the most part very good, some low points of frustration and wanting to hit my head against a wall as I scrabble up the “learning curve”. Though, at times, it definitely feels like a cliff. But I’m getting it. And the little things makes me smile.

Getting up at 3am, running around on adrenaline and realizing at the end of the day, EVERYTHING was OK.
Laughing with a new contact as an introductory interview becomes more of a conversation between new-found friends.
Realizing that I CAN conduct at least a part of a meeting in Korean – well, it was about food, eating, Iftar and Ramadan – but STILL… no translator needed for that, and it was official, with some technical words and stuff! 🙂
Amazon delivers in a week – no extra shipping charges. I ❤ APO.
Yongsan has an amazing library; with better hours than back home!!!

And realizing that my creative skills weren't rusty – I make damn good mango-banana bread, and assembled my own pillow-top bed.
^.^

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, Books, Embassy Seoul, geek, Humor, Korea, Korean, language, meeting, Seoul, work | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Shoes

Posted by quirksalight on July 18, 2010

Why am I blogging about shoes?

Well, it’s not just a piece of leather, suede, plant-based, or man-made materials that shod your feet. They can be iconic, witty, gorgeous, hideous, comfortable, and painful. And they are a bit more important than I thought to a FSO’s job.

In the Foreign Service, we are considered to be generalists, jack-of-all trades, etc. And with that moniker, comes the job, which means that we can be called to do anything and everything as the need arises. So, if you need to sprint up and down the length of Incheon International Airport so you can meet the visitor who’s itinerary you are in charge of, you better have comfortable, well-padded, shoes.

Of course, never having thought that I would be sprinting up and down Incheon airport, praying that I would be able to meet up with my visitor, I was not wearing the said comfy shoes. Instead, I was wearing a pair of lovely maroon suede, 3″, Mary Jane style heels. Which, in a normal trip to the airport would be fantastic and just fine. This case, 3 blisters the size of Kansas (actually, 1-2cms), smaller areas rubbed raw, and all joints in my legs serious questioning my sanity and sense of judgement.

That said, my visitors (Yes, I’ve been here 3 weeks and this shoe business happened twice) were never the wiser of the behind the scene nuttiness and were apparently quite happy with my planning and organization skills.

Lesson learned. Keep the smile on your face, go above and beyond the requirements and you’ll be rewarded, and get better shoes. Yes, I bought out a chunk of Rockport’s inventory in Itaewon, 5 pairs of shoes this week. Screw the blisters and the like; this is a career investment. 🙂

Posted in adventure, airports, amusing, ancedotes, commentary, Embassy Seoul, fun, Incheon, Korea, People, shopping, work | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

To my Orientation instructors:

Posted by quirksalight on July 14, 2010

I’ve got a car. Will be getting a PDA
Overtime? Normal.
Visitors? Check!
Demarches, cables, meets and greets. Yup. all the time.

It’s a rush. I’m writing this on a break from transcribing notes from earlier in the day. Schedule is unpredictable, and am very glad that I was able to see my family before the storm (figurative) hit, work wise. Currently, I’m on my third set of delegation/visitors/POC stuff in under three weeks. Sets 2 and 3 overlap, which makes for mind-spinning schedules upon schedules upon schedules. Pretty energizing stuff. 😛

The drinking from the fire hose continues, long after we’ve left your immediate merry sphere of influence. I’m treading water.

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, Bizarre, commentary, Embassy Seoul, Korea, meeting, metaphors | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The first week

Posted by quirksalight on July 4, 2010

Was pretty freakin’ amazing!

This past week was my first week as a Political officer in Embassy Seoul. The first thing I learned was the inherent uncertainty in the job. Walking into the Political section to meet my colleagues for the first time, I’m told that I’m being moved to the external section. Apparently there was a shake up of the three incoming political officers and their positions. Totally cool with me – the portfolio in both external and internal was excellent, and I would have been happy with either. In fact, this move ended up being great, as I had a 1 week overlap with my predecessor in the job, so I was able to pick her brain, shadow her, and go through my first demarches, interviews, etc, and get feedback. Such a great entry into my first posting, seriously! It took a bit of the edge of the “trial by fire” nature of the job.

Paperwork, of course, was everywhere and is actually still continuing. There are a LOT of stuff to take care of coming to post, and it never fails to amaze me how streamlined Embassy Seoul has made to make the process as painless as possible. This could have been a complete mess, but it has been entirely the opposite, from getting my badge/ID to dealing with random internet and household problems, very efficient and prompt.

And that gets to the one part of living here that’s new to me; living on Yongsan base. Embassy Seoul has the distinction of being the only posting where you live on a military base. It was logistical sense; the base is in prime location, at the heart of Seoul, and is already leased by the US government. However, it creates a slight disconnect, as living on base is very similiar to living in a US suburb, when you go on and off base. I’ve never lived on a military base, or really spent much time on one, so I’m getting used to the whole rules and regs of it. There are a lot of conviences, and the base housing is pretty spacious, especially for me, when I’ve spent my time in studio/1-bedroom apts or sharing a house with other students.

Just a hint to all the A-100 grads who are working their first 4th of July party: Wear comfortable shoes! My feet were killing me after standing for 4 hours.

This job is amazing. I’m exhilarated with the opportunity that’s in front of me, and what the position is asking of me. Indeed, uncertainty is happiness.

Posted in 152nd, adventure, ancedotes, challenges, Embassy Seoul, Korea, People, surprise | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

4 days

Posted by quirksalight on June 20, 2010

So I’m at the point where I can count the days I have remaining on one hand, and this is my last weekend in the US, the last weekend before I’m a working FSO at my first post.

It’s been a great weekend. A raucous night with my classmates and the 151st on Friday followed by a fantastic going away party thrown by JL and LL in Georgetown on Saturday night. I’m really going to miss my friends, old and new, much more than when I left before.

It’s strange – I’ve done this before, get ready to move to Korea. It’s mildly deja vu-ish; 2 years and 4 months ago, I was doing the same thing. Yet, it’s oh-so-different. Different bags, a lot more stuff, and definitely more paperwork (seriously!), but heading to the same country on the same airline with the same layover in SanFran. 😛

Some parts of this is weird – I don’t see myself as all that different from the person I was in my previous trip, but to those who knew me then, I’ll be a cat of a different coat. Hopefully this won’t affect how we interact and see each other, as people, but this is something I guess we all have to “see what happens”.

C’est la vie.

Posted in 152nd, adventure, ancedotes, DC, friends, fun, Korea, training | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »