Monthly Archives: February 2011


I’m sometimes asked if I know where I’m going to be posted after this, and the answer is that I don’t know yet because I haven’t bid for my next post yet.  Bidding in the State Department works differently at different points in your career, but here’s a little bit about how it works.

During A-100, the initial training that all Foreign Service Officers go through, there’s a list of available positions for your class.  There are enough positions for everyone in the class, plus maybe a couple of extra ones.  You have to rank every post as a High, Medium, or Low and the Career Development Officers (CDOs) get together and try to assign everyone according to their preferences and based on who may have necessary language skills for a particular post.  Everyone’s pretty much on equal footing at this point.

For your second tour, the CDOs still make the decisions about who is assigned where, but the process is a little different.  There are two bidding seasons, summer and winter, depending on when you got to post.  Each person generally has to rank 20-30 posts from 1-20 or 1-30 and there are more restrictions on you this time around.  You have to make sure that the timing works, which means that you have to make sure that you can leave post on time, complete all of the language and job training necessary, and arrive at post on time.  You’re allowed to have a few bids that would cause your departure or arrival date to move a month or two, but not more than that.  You also get an advantage this time around if you’re serving in a difficult or dangerous post.  Personnel at posts can receive hardship and/or danger pay that is a percentage of your salary.  So, people at posts with higher differential pay get assigned first and have a better chance of getting their top picks for where they want to go for their second tour.

In bidding for a third tour and beyond, the bidding process works quite differently.  It works much more like a job application process and you have to contact the person who is currently in that position, interview for positions you want, and the decision is not made by the CDOs, but is made by the people who are in charge of the office, consulate, or embassy where the position is located.  At the end of the day, everyone gets assigned somewhere, but the process is much more in your hands and it’s up to you to get the job you want and negotiate the training schedule and so on.

I have not yet bid for my second post.  Since I arrived here last summer, I am a summer bidder and will bid on the summer bid list, which will probably come out in August or September.  Some of my coworkers are currently bidding and I definitely have a bit of envy.  I would like to be bidding and to know where I’m going next so there would be something to look forward to and something to plan, but I’ll just have to wait until this summer.  They say that the summer list is usually better, so maybe I’ll luck out and get a super-sweet second post.

Hope this helps explain the process a bit!

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Meet the Diplocat

As some of you know, I adopted a cat last summer.  She’s a plain, brown tabby who is really sweet and also very entertaining.  She pounces on feet (or anything that moves) and generally tears around the house like crazy.  The floors are all tile and wood laminate, so she occasionally slides and crashes in to things while running around the house or chasing after something.  She may also have some distant canine relatives since she likes to play fetch.  She likes to bat around bottle caps, twisties, toys, and milk jug rings, and she will bring them to me to throw and then chase after them and bat them around, then she brings them back to me to throw again.  It’s highly entertaining. 🙂  Since I spend a lot of time at home here, she plays a big part in my life and will likely make appearances in future entries.


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A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a Slingbox and had it delivered to my parents’ house.  It’s a gadget that you connect to a television or other video gadget which then allows you to watch and control that television or gadget over the internet.  The idea is that I can use it to watch television and possibly connect it to a DVR if it works well.  Getting it all set up proved to be more challenging than initially expected, and thankfully my mother was very patient, but between the two of us we finally got it set up so that I can now watch local cable from home on my computer while I’m here in Mexico.  Hopefully, this will help keep me entertained, since entertainment options here are somewhat limited. Also, when I go somewhere further away, where UT football games aren’t broadcast, I’ll have a way to watch them online. 🙂  Hook ’em Slingbox!

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A funny thing happened on the way to the Super Bowl party

Due to the violence here, there are a lot of police in CDJ.  We have municipal police, federal police, and military police and they all have big pickup trucks that usually carry 2-4 policemen or soldiers inside and 2-5 policemen or soldiers in the bed of the truck.  Sometimes, individual trucks are patrolling but sometimes you see them in groups of two or three. Sometimes, when something’s going down, you see a bunch of them racing past you and you get out of the way as soon as you can.

Here are a few pictures I found around the interwebs of the federal police trucks to show you what I’m talking about.


As you can see, they are also armed a bit differently than the average policeman in the US.  I’m not a weapons expert, nor do I play one on TV, but from my observations it looks like they usually carry machine guns or assault rifles as they patrol the city.

So, now that I’ve explained the police situation here, one of my coworkers hosted a Super Bowl party yesterday and as I was driving from my house to hers, I stopped at a red light and there were two Policia Federal trucks in the lane to my left.  The rear truck was about even with my car and the other one was a little bit in front of me while we were stopped at the light, and when the light turned green one truck pulled in to my lane in front of me and one pulled in behind me.  So, there I was with 4 to 6 guys with machine guns in the truck in front of me and 4 to 6 guys with machine guns in the truck behind me.  I decided that that was not really where I wanted to be, and moved left into the lane that the police trucks had been in, they proceeded to pull over the SUV that had been stopped in front of me at the light, and I went on my merry way to the Super Bowl party.

That was the first time I’d been sandwiched between two of the trucks, but I have stopped behind them or next to them at lights before.  When I first got here, being stopped or driving next to them made me extremely nervous and I was concerned that I was one speed bump or pothole away from a gun shot to my car or me.  However, probably the thing that surprised me the most about the whole thing that happened on the way to the Super Bowl party was my reaction.  If this had happened when I first got here, I probably would have freaked out and probably would have thought something along the lines of “OMGWTF! What the hell are these guys doing!?! I’m going to die! Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.”  However, yesterday, I just felt annoyed and inconvenienced more than anything since I was going to have to make a right turn soon and they were in the way.  Experiences like these to show me just how much my life has changed since I got here, just how different “normal” is now, and how, despite the violence, there are still very normal things going on, like the police pulling cars over.

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Chaos in Cairo

Foreign Policy magazine has a great article on its website about what the US Embassy in Cairo is doing for Americans stranded in Egypt.  I encourage you all to read it.  One of my friends from my initial training class at the State Department is posted in Cairo and has been working insane hours to help get people out of Cairo and provide information and services to people still there.  Another friend has also been working intense hours at the Consulate and airport in Istanbul to help Americans arriving on evacuation flights and to coordinate with the Embassy in Cairo.  A coworker here had 2 hours notice to leave his house and get on a flight to Cyprus to help with evacuation flights from Cairo arriving there.  A lot of times, the image of foreign service officers is one of attending cocktail receptions and fancy parties, but we’re posted all over the world in all kinds of conditions and this article talks about some of the amazing work foreign service officers do when Americans are caught in a crisis overseas.

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Filed under Cairo, Consular, Egypt, FS Life


It got up to 57F today in CDJ and things finally seem to have thawed.  We had highs in the upper 20s or low 30s and lows from 0 to 15F the past few nights which caused a lot of problems in CDJ and El Paso.  Buildings and the electrical system here are not built to handle that kind of cold, so there were rolling blackouts and many of my coworkers lost power and/or water for all or part of the past three days.

I hadn’t paid attention to it before, but it seems to be pretty standard construction here to put the hot water heater in the garage or an outside closet in most houses, so many people experienced some sort of freezing in their hot water heater and I heard that a couple of my coworkers’ water heaters actually burst.  Others had pipes burst in or outside of their houses.  Some of my coworkers attempted to go to El Paso to stay in a hotel because the heat or water wasn’t working in their houses and ended up stuck in line at the bridge to cross into El Paso after Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) lost power.

Fortunately, my house weathered the cold pretty well.  I didn’t lose power while I was home and had water all through the event, though the pressure did get pretty weak.  Things seem to have thawed and I haven’t noticed any ominous dripping or other signs of problems.  My heater did stop working sometime overnight from Thursday to Friday, but very fortunately for me, the consulate’s maintenance team was able to fix it on Friday and it’s been working well since! 🙂  It shouldn’t get too much below freezing for the next week, so hopefully we’re out of the woods for this kind of freezing weather.  I’m ready for summer!

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Filed under Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Winter

What do you do, exactly?

I am serving as a consular officer while I’m in Mexico, which means that I’m adjudicating visa applications.  I have worked in both the non-immigrant visa (NIV) and the immigrant visa (IV) sections since getting here.  Non-immigrant visas are visas for people who will not be immigrating and will leave the US after a certain time.  Tourist visas, student visas, and work visas with a limited validity are all NIVs.  IVs are visas that allow the person to take up residency in the US after the visa is approved and to stay indefinitely as long as they don’t do something to have their residency revoked.  IVs include family members of US citizens or permanent residents and employment visas that allow the person to continue to work in the US indefinitely.

NIV and IV applications start with different assumptions.  For most catagories of NIVs, the law stipulates that it is assumed that the applicant is an intending immigrant unless they convince the consular officer otherwise by demonstrating strong ties to their home country and possibly by showing that they’ve had previous visas and have not misused them.  In IVs, the required documentation has been reviewed and approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before it gets to us and it is assumed that the applicant is eligible for the visa unless the consular officer finds that the applicant has committed some sort of fraud and does not have the required family relationship or employment qualifications or that the applicant is otherwise ineligible for the visa due to any of the other visa ineligibilities (more on visa ineligibilities in the future, probably).

There are pros and cons to adjudicating both types of visas. In NIVs, the burden of proof is on the applicant and you can refuse a person under assumption that they’re an intending immigrant if you doubt their intent.  For example, if someone claims to be an accountant but doesn’t know anything about what an accountant does and claims to make a salary much higher than an accountant would make here, they haven’t convinced the officer that they are who they say they are.  If you can tell that the person is not being honest about their encounters with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), you can also refuse them because they haven’t convinced the officer that they’re being truthful about possible ineligibilities or other things on their application. Also, there’s not much paperwork involved, so you’re expected to move through those cases a lot faster which can be draining.

In IVs, you have to review all of the paperwork they’ve submitted to USCIS and resolve any possible ineligibilities.  So, you see fewer people in a day but spend a lot more time with the cases and can’t just refuse someone because the story doesn’t add up.  So, if you can tell that the person has entered the US illegally multiple times, but they refuse to admit it, you can spend a lot of time going in circles with them about what exactly happened before finally determining which, if any, ineligibilities apply in their case.  IVs can be more frustrating than NIVs when you have to spend a lot of time trying to get the truth out of an applicant or find that someone’s permanently ineligible for something minor that happened a long time ago but they can also be a lot more rewarding when you adjudicate a visa that reunites someone with their family or allows a young child the opportunity to have a brighter future in the US than they likely would have in their home country.

So, that’s how I spend my days at work.

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It snowed in Ciudad Juarez last night!  I tried to take some pictures of the snow but they didn’t turn out that well since it was dark.  And yes, I checked and made sure that it was snow and not some other type of white powder that might be more common here than snow. 😉

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Filed under Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Snow, Winter