Uncertainty can be happiness

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

Posts Tagged ‘commentary’


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…


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

The New Year

Posted by quirksalight on January 1, 2011

Looking back on 2010, it’s been a crazy ride. A year of massive changes in all aspects of my life, from work, dating, friends, and location, roller-coastering is a mild way of describing it.

January: Move to NYC, received and accepted my invitation to the 152nd A-100 class.

February: Prep for starting, snowmaggedon of DC, met some interesting folk in NYC

March: Meet up with friends in NY for the last time in a while, learned to snowboard properly; Move back to DC for A-100!

April: Complete A-100, first post is Seoul, Korea.

May: POL/ECON training

June: Pack out, good-byes to friends and family; arrive in Seoul on June 24.

July: 2+2, get to meet Secretary Clinton,

August: Another year older…

September: Chuseok, Typhoons and Conferences

October: Bangkok!

November: G-20, Yeonpyong Island, Marine Ball, St. Andrews Ball, Thanksgiving feast for 25

December: Eating across Asia with friends; Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore; military exercises off the western coast of South Korea. Holidays with friends old and new; ringing in the New Year with new friends, very grateful for the year that had just wrapped up.

Posted in 152nd, adventure, ancedotes, musings, vacation, work | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Graduating from the baby slopes

Posted by quirksalight on March 8, 2010

Yay! Sunday was another snowboarding day and it was time to move up the mountain. 🙂

This was the third time at Mountain Creek this season, the first had ghastly weather conditions, and the second was a great session where I got the fundamentals.

Now, the testing of those said fundamentals, my friends (GL and TH) and I headed back to Mountain creek on an unusually warm (54 F!!) March day.

After two runs down the beginner’s slope, my friends (GL and TH) and I headed up the gondola to the large green slope at the top of Vernon mountain at Mountain Creek. First time up, it was fall after fall after fall. Ouch. Several times flipping head over heels, catching the downhill edge, etc. Luckily, no faceplants. On the upside, I got very good at flipping the board up and over my head while in the bindings. The other two runs were pretty much the same; first half of the run was great, then I would hit a rough patch and get tired, which made the lower half of the run a stop and go with crashes and falls. A couple times, I would have to stop because my quads or my knees would ache too much.

One major “oops” event: In the middle of the last run, I ended up crashing into a girl who was *very* slowly skiing down the mountain. I was able to shout a warning and fell down before hitting her, but my momentum took her out. She was fine, and accidentally knocked me in the teeth with her elbow. 😛

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, outdoors, snowboarding, Sports, winter | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by quirksalight on February 26, 2010

It’s time to change the tagline of this blog. “The year I walked away from grad school” isn’t really appropriate anymore. The title is still applicable to the Foreign Service process, though.
Any ideas?

Posted in blogging, commentary | Tagged: | 2 Comments »


Posted by quirksalight on February 25, 2010

Now that I’ve got a start date, it seems that it’s so far away and at the same time, so soon. I’m in NYC, and there are so many people I want to meet up with and places to see, things to do, etc, before starting. It’s nice; freelancing and living in an awesome town on a bit of a working vacation for two months. I’m one month in, one two go, and I am definitely going to miss living here. Living the single life in Manhattan is friggin’ awesome! Apparently my life is a) the beginnings of a Rom-Com; b) a real-life sitcom; c) Karma at work; d) Sex in the City. 😛 Not too sure about the last one, but hey, I think it’s flattering.

On the upside, the paperwork is chuggin’ along…. Got the final salary determination settled, signed and faxed my agreement letter yesterday to State HR. The immediate baggage (UAB, or the stuff that gets sent to me in training) is scheduled for pick up, and I’m working on arranging my storage stuff for later in the year, as the majority of my stuff is in my parents’ basement, close to FSI.

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, commentary, New York, NYC | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Snowboarding is a fun activity… if you pay attention to the weather!

Posted by quirksalight on January 2, 2010

Snowboarding during the week between Christmas and New Years.
Location: Mountain Creek
Got the Group?: Check
Housing: check.
Gear: all rentals, so check.
Lessons, lift tickets: Check
Transportation: Check
Food and drink: Check
Weather: Err….. maybe?

After several volleys back and forth within the group of friends, we decided that the Tuesday after Christmas was the best day to go in terms of scheduling, the rain on Christmas and the day after, and the forecasted snow on Monday. The forecasted snow didn’t appear more than a dusting and out came the gusty winds Tuesday morning. Whoops. AS and I thought about it, and felt that in some ways, we were pot-committed to the trip. (Also meeting GL and TH at the resort) So off we go, with the wind trying to push the car sideways on the GW bridge.

Arriving at Mt Creek, step outside the car, and immediately think “oh crap, it’s cold!”. Because there, the winds were sub zero and gusting around 20-30mphs. It was bad enough on the bunny slope where AS and I were taking our lessons, but after lunch, when we went up on the lift to the easy slopes, OMG…. so friggin cold! And the snow-makers were on, but I think they were shooting out ice pellets than man-made snow. Between the patches of ice on the slope, the wind, and the ice pellets that were being blown at your face by the wind, I was done at 3:30pm.

Lasting results: Windburn on my face and in my throat, a series of bruises down my right leg, and really hating the cold for two days.

I’ll go again, maybe next week.

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, annoyance, outdoors, snowboarding, Sports, winter | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Happy New Year!

Posted by quirksalight on January 2, 2010

Technically, it’s not the next decade yet. Considering the real start of the century was 2001, the next decade is in fact a year away. I guess it’s just sexier to call 2010 (Ooo, it has a zero at the end!) the next decade.

This is also the time when many people make resolutions for the year that end up being discarded by the wayside in a month or two, with the few that actually stick. So will you make a resolution this year? I’ve been thinking about it…. I usually don’t. I’ll probably just stick to the “Carpe Diem” attitude to try to live by. Oh, maybe patience. Though most of 2009 was a practice in patience, perhaps it’s something that I should stick to. 🙂

Posted in amusing, commentary, Humor | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Follow up to “Not with First Night Alexandria”

Posted by quirksalight on December 28, 2009

I e-mailed the Event coordinator with my complaint about the Volunteer coordinator and received a quick response back:
RE: Feedback on First Night Alexandria Volunteer Coordinator
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 10:00 AM
From: “Ann Dorman”
To: “‘B'”


Sorry for the problems you had surrounding the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade. Lauren was merely asked to do a call out to volunteers; the parade effort was staffed by our media/pr consultant who was in fact on site very close to the registration table at Wilkes and S. St. Asaph. We had a hearty group of about 15 in First Night Alexandria aprons carrying a banner. It’s unfortunate you couldn’t find them.

On the day of the parade, Lauren was working with me on logistics. That is another one of my events.

Although Lauren has worked First Night for several years this is the first time she has done the volunteer staffing. Lauren is not new to this type of position or the community. She has run a number of successful political campaigns and certainly knows her way around the world of facilitating a volunteer network. I hope you will reconsider helping us out on December 31; we need more good, loyal, smart volunteers like you.

Ann M. Dorman, CMP
Executive Director
First Night Alexandria
421 King Street, #300
Alexandria, VA 22314
Fax: 703.998.0526

As a friend pointed out, the reply was still a bit of a dodge, and it made us both wonder what the volunteers for those political campaigns felt.

I mulled over the e-mail and replied 24 hours later stating that the follow up to thee incident pretty much soured me on the idea of working with First Night under this coordinator and declined to re-volunteer.

Posted in Alexandria, ancedotes, annoyance, Virginia, volunteering | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Volunteering? Not with First Night Alexandria

Posted by quirksalight on December 18, 2009

Hey, looking for something to do on New Year’s Eve? Don’t go to the First Night Alexandria events. Seriously.
I’ve volunteered for them in the past and had signed up this year to do so until an issue with a promotional event made it clear the concerns of the volunteers (who staff the event) are irrelevant to them.

Not only did I go out to volunteer in a promotional event in the crappiest day of the year (yeah, you remember when it was snowing and crapping ice and rain all day), but to no avail. Drove around up and down the street looking for the volunteers (because they weren’t where they said with said banner and balloons) and calling, leaving a message and getting no response for half an hour before giving up. Two days later, still no reponse, so I e-mailed asking what happened.

Then it gets interesting. First it’s, “Oh, the event happened. Didn’t you see us?” And the classic passing the buck “I wasn’t the coordinator for this event.”
Hmm…. You’re the only contact on the e-mail. You’re also the Volunteer Coordinator. The e-mail for the event had your name on it and was sent from you. So who’s the coordinator?
So I requested, again, restating my issues with the event organization and a clarification of what happened, an answer from someone who was in charge of the event.
And the final response I get from the “Volunteer Coordinator” is a “sorry you feel that way” and “oh, I guess you don’t want to do this”. Gee, great coordination there. Oh, and thanks for getting back to me oh so quickly. Taking a week to respond to a volunteer’s complaint and then summary booting her is going to be great PR for your organization.

How about a “sorry, we made an organizing mistake”?? Or stating anything that actually takes responsibility. None of that actually is in any of the e-mails, which you can see here.

The e-mail I sent to the Events Coordinator is posted below. Her response will be posted tomorrow.

Ms. Dorman,

As a recent press release for FNA states that you are in charge of coordinating the events for FNA, I wanted to bring to your attention a concern regarding the Volunteer Coordinator that has resulted in the discontinuation of my involvement with these events. My goal in notifying you is to ensure that this feedback is known to others within the organization and addressed to ensure that other current or potential volunteers are not treated in the same manner.

I recently volunteered to promote First Night at the Scottish Walk event on Dec. 5. This was an event for which the First Night volunteer coordinator, Lauren Smith , only solicited for volunteers the day prior to the event. The email that Lauren sent stated a specific meeting time and place for the volunteers and indicated that she was the contact person. Regardless of the short notice, I responded that I would be able to help and received a confirmation from Lauren. When I arrived at the designated time and place, there were no banners or other First Night volunteers, as expected per the email. After calling Lauren several times and leaving messages, I attempted to locate the group on my own but to no avail. My voicemail messages were not returned. I contacted Lauren via email to find out what happened and why my calls were not returned. She responded that she simply did not hear her phone at the time and was not responsible for coordination of the volunteers at the Dec. 5 event. The latter excuse is contradicted by her own email which stated that she was the person to call if there were any questions, and no other First Night representatives were cited as contact people in the email requesting volunteers. Her response to my subsequent comment stating my disappointment and wariness of volunteering with First Night in the future prompted no apology or even attempt to acknowledge or address the underlying lack of accountability. Lauren’s response effectively indicated that my time (or even paid attendance) at First Night events was no longer welcome. Included below is the email chain showing the correspondence between Lauren and me.

While I hope that my experience was an isolated incident, I believe that First Night can address these concerns simply by holding volunteer coordinators responsible for their performance, ensuring that those coordinators understand their responsibilities for the event (i.e. if they are the stated point of contact, then they are responsible for being available via cell phone or otherwise to handle questions from volunteers), and soliciting and monitoring feedback from volunteers on both positives and negatives of First Night events that could help to improve the volunteer experience at future events.

In the past, I actively recruited friends and family to volunteer and attend First Night events with me. However, this recent experience has changed my view. I am highly disappointed that my desire to volunteer was met with such a clear disregard and lack of appreciation. I hope that as an organization that relies heavily on volunteers, you will seriously consider these suggestions to hold Lauren and others who coordinate First Night events accountable. Their performance and professionalism (or lack thereof) reflects directly on the organization.

Please feel free to forward this e-mail to other appropriate organizers or Directors of FNA.


Posted in Alexandria, ancedotes, annoyance, Virginia, volunteering | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The fly

Posted by quirksalight on August 14, 2009

By mistake, I knocked over a piece of pottery onto a glass mug and the mug broke. This is one of those “commemorative” mugs you get when you go somewhere and attend some event. However, this one has some history.
I got this mug, from a friend, when we attended an event together. But the circumstances surrounding the event ended badly, and I kept it (though tempted to break it) in anger as a reminder. As the years passed on, the wounds of the broken friendship began to heal, and I began to forgive. Because I missed my friend, and had valued the conversations and insight our friendship had provided.

We began to communicate again, and it appeared that things were progressing to a point where maybe, just maybe, I could consider us friends once again.
But that was a false hope, as communication became more and more one-sided and I got frustrated at the 180 turn about, once again. I stated plainly that I was tired of the lopsidedness and walked away.

So I look at this glass mug, which traveled across time zones and states, to meet an ignoble end at the butt of a 7th grade pottery piece, falling on it as I tried to smack a fly. And I see the physical embodiment of the end a friendship, which, like the mug, met an ignoble end.

I do not regret the friendship. It was full of ups and downs; I learned a lot about people, how I interact with them, and some very valuable lessons about interpersonal relationships.

However, even optimists eventually see the writing on the wall. We just try a couple extra times before doing so. C’est la vie.

Posted in ancedotes, annoyance, Bizarre, commentary, friends, In Memorandum, memory, Mental Stream, metaphors | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »