Category Archives: Joining the Foreign Service

This is a record of my experiences in pursuing a career as a United States Foreign Service Officer. These are just my experiences, the process will be different for everyone. Please take everything with a grain of salt – my guesses are guesses, and my opinions are my own. Facts and confirmation can only come (when it does) from the US Department of State.

Swearing in

Yesterday afternoon, I, along with my 91 classmate colleagues, said the following:

I, Melissa VonHinken, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

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Long and Winding Road

By the magic of the Internet, I can post an update right as I’m starting my A-100 training as an Entry Level Officer (ELO) in the Foreign Service (I actually wrote this a while back). It’s taken a loooong time to get to this date, and I thought some people might be interested to know just how long it’s taken me to get here – especially others who have had, or are in, a long candidacy. So here are my stats.
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24 days

I know 24 days seems like an arbitrary number to countdown from. It isn’t nice and round like 25 would have been, and it isn’t quite as logical as 21 (three weeks). However, it’s the first time in a while that the foreign service career really feels like it’s happening.

Getting the offer was surreal, and sending in all of my paperwork just felt like homework. Yesterday I received confirmation of my last day at Halfaker, but I’ve known that date for weeks, so it didn’t feel like a big deal.
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On being a local hire

I spent most of yesterday evening filling out forms from my appointment packet and from the website the State Department set up for entry on duty paperwork. I think I filled out over 15 forms – there were a lot of them. I wrote my name and address many many times and worried about writing my social security number incorrectly. Then I read some of the posts on the 155th A-100 class’ google group and found out more information on what people have to go through just to get to DC (or Virginia…). Despite the perceived loss in ‘per diem’ income, I’m very happy to be a local hire.

I’ve known a couple future and current FSO’s who have debated moving outside of the 50 mile mark to be able to take advantage of the per diem benefit as well as the convenience of living in corporate housing. While one current FSO regrets their decision to stay a local hire, most agree with me that the move isn’t worth it.
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The Foreign Service is Plan B

This is going to be a long post – are you ready?

Yes, you read that correctly: The Foreign Service is plan B. This post is directed to all of the Foreign Service Hopefuls who find my blog by googling ‘fsot score breakdown’ or ‘foreign service security clearance’ or any of the numerous foreign service related search terms that people use to find this website on a daily basis. In order to maintain your sanity, you should delegate a career in the Foreign Service to ‘Plan B.’
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A-100 Offer!

I’m on vacation, and we’ve been staying at my parents place. The guest bedroom is comfortable, but the morning sun ALWAYS wakes me up. This morning I didn’t mind so much, because when I checked my email from my phone I had an offer for the August 2nd A-100.

Chad says he was awake when I told him the news, but at 6:00 AM, he wasn’t as awake as I was once I saw the subject line: “Invite to August Class”

I am sooooo excited. This is something I’ve wanted for a very long time, and the process to get here was very long. I can’t wait to start this next chapter of our lives. Hooray!

Language Phone Test Recap

I’ll get this out of the way now: my language test was pretty brutal, but I still managed to pass.

I called 5 minutes early (mainly because I was nervous), and they had me call back at my appointed time instead. Oh well, so much for getting the test out of the way a bit sooner. When I called back someone took my information to confirm my identity, then transfered me to a test room, where a woman told me what to expect for the test.
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Passed my language phone test!

Since I can’t run down the halls of my office shouting “I passed! I passed,” I’m just going to have to do it on the Internet. To do:

Gmail chat to my husband Done
Tweet Done
Facebook Check
Website Double Check!

Now I have to write a short email to Naomi my Hebrew teacher. It’s going to take a while because while I can speak Hebrew well enough to pass the phone test, I write (and read) like a first grader. Maybe I should just call her instead.


Hebrew Phone Test Update

First things first. I don’t know if I passed. I emailed my HR person at State and she told me that she won’t get my score until next week at the earliest. If there are any crossed fingers for me out there, keep it up!

I’ve decided to delay doing a full recap until I know for certain if I passed or not. The test was rough, but it’s possible that I got the 2 I need for extra points. More to come once I get the results!

Prepping for My Language (Phone) Test

As the Consular Register grows and grows, my chances of getting ‘the call’ get smaller and smaller. Right now, my oral assessment score of 5.3, which would have gotten me an offer a year ago, has me ranked somewhere around 70 out of 100. BUT! All is not lost. As I’ve said before, passing a phone language test will add 0.17 points to my score, bringing that score up to 5.47, and my rank somewhere around 20. That is mind boggling.

On Tuesday, one week from today, I’ll be taking the phone test for Hebrew (gulp!). So I’ve been studying, I’ve been talking to Leah in Israel on the phone, I’ve been watching Rexhov Sumsum (Israeli Sesame Street) and some really depressing Israeli movies. Tangentally, Israeli movies are sooooo depressing – people are constantly dieing, ugh. I’ve also been taking a conversation class at Sixth & I downtown, and have been doing some self directed study. All of these have really helped me get my Hebrew up to a level where I think I can pass the phone test.

Lucky for me, Hebrew is considered a ‘hard’ language, and I only need to speak at a level 2 to pass. According to the government Interagency Language Roundtable speaking self assessment, I should have the proficiency to pass. The gap between level 2 and level 3 is pretty big, and I don’t think I would be able to pass.

One of the best parts of my conversation class is my wonderful teacher, Naomi McNally. She actually taught Hebrew at FSI at one point, and her husband is a retired FSO! This afternoon, she gave me a short practice phone test. While she’s familiar with the in person test at FSI, she’s a little uncertain about exactly how they’re going to test me on the phone, as the process is a little different. Still, it will be good to get her feedback after tomorrow night’s class – and maybe I will be able to fit in another practice test before next week.

So between now and then I’ll be studying, practicing, and thinking in Hebrew. Wish me luck, Internet!