Monthly Archives: May 2015

And then there was one

As this post’s title alludes to, I am now in one-on-one German training.  I came in with some German from living in Germany as an exchange student back in the day, so have had about 1/3 of the normal course and am on a different timeline than the folks who started from scratch.  When I started German, they put me in a class with students who had started the course in September and the normal end for that course is in mid-May.  So, my two classmates and many other students in the German department had their exams about two weeks ago.  Fortunately, many of them, including my two classmates, passed the exam and have moved on to other courses, their posts, and such.  However, there are still some of us left and because of different abilities, schedules, etc. and the fact that there are now far fewer students in the section but still the same number of teachers, a few of us are getting one-on-one instruction for awhile.

The one-on-one instruction is a truly wonderful opportunity to really get a lot of practice and to focus on things that I struggle with, but I have to admit that my brain is complete mush by the end of the day.  While reading an article in German at the end of the day, I found myself stumbling over easy words that I know that I know.  However, hopefully, it will all pay off in the end.  My test is soon, and based on how others have done, I feel like I’m well prepared, but I’m still a bit nervous, since there’s a lot riding on it, and not passing means either having to delay my arrival in Germany or asking for a waiver of the language requirement, which can be hard to get.  So, wish me good luck and drückt mir mal die Daumen, as they say in German. 🙂

In other news, I continue to work on all of the admin stuff that has to happen before I can move.  I’ve scheduled my packout, made arrangements to ship my car, taken the Diplocat in for her vaccinations and discussed the paperwork she’ll need with the vet, applied for my visa, etc.  I’ve also continued to catch up with friends.  Several friends have had birthdays recently and friends from Juarez and A-100 have been rotating back in to town as they get back from overseas posts and start new assignments in DC or training at FSI.  So, it’s been good to see some folks I haven’t seen in a long time, some of them even since I left for Ciudad Juarez in 2010!

So, that’s what’s new here.  Hope all is well in the blogosphere!

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Filed under Frankfurt, Friends, FSI, Germany, Moving, Paperwork, Washington DC

Catching up

Greetings!  For once, when I talk about catching up, I’m not just talking about catching up on blogging.  After feeling like I’ve been living under a rock between homework for the Econ Course and playing catch up on missed classes for awhile, I’ve managed to catch up with several FS and grad school friends in the last few weeks now that I have a bit more free time.  I’ve been catching up with FS friends who are moving back to town and grad school friends in the area whom I’ve neglected to reach out to in a long time.  It’s been really good to hear what’s new with them and to see people whom I’ve missed.

Other than that, I haven’t been up to anything much exciting, with one exception.  Last weekend, I saw on Twitter that Colonel Chris Hadfield was signing copies of his books at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.  I was covering space issues in Canada while he was on the International Space Station, and it was amazing the buzz he created and how well he connected with people through various forms of social media.  So, it was exciting to hear that he was in town and I wanted to get his new book anyway, so I went down to the Air and Space Museum to get the book.  One of the fun things about living in the DC area.

The German continues to German.  I had a progress test a couple of weeks ago and they said that I was where I should be, which was good.  It’s not over until I actually get my 3/3, but it’s good to hear that I’m on the right track toward it, so hopefully I’ll get my 3/3 and get to Frankfurt on time.   I’m also working through meetings with DC-based people I’ll work with once I get to Germany and doing some of the other stuff I have to do in DC before I head out.  I’ve also gotten my orders and housing assignment, which makes it that much more real. 🙂

So, that’s what’s new here.  Hope all’s well in the blogosphere.

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Filed under Canada, Frankfurt, FSI, Germany, NASA, Ottawa, Smithsonian, Tourist, Washington DC

5 Pros and Cons: Ottawa Edition

Ania over at The New Diplomat’s Wife started an FS Blog Roundup on the topic of five pros and cons about your post with her lovely review of being posted in Copenhagen.  FS bloggers did these a couple of years ago and I came up with five pros and cons of being posted in Ciudad Juarez last time around but never did one while I was in Ottawa.  Since a few people have already covered life here in the DC area, I decided to focus on Ottawa for this one, even though I’ve been gone for several months.  So, here goes.

Pros

1. People – Canadians are nice, friendly, and easy to meet.  It’s easy to get out and be involved in the community in Ottawa and I made some wonderful Canadian friends while I was posted there.  It’s easy to blend in in Ottawa and you don’t have to rely on the embassy community for your social life, which I enjoyed.

2. LQA – Ottawa is an LQA post, meaning that you get an allowance and find your own housing instead of being assigned housing from a housing pool like in most posts.  There are some cons to it that I’ll get to later, but after having safety and security frustrations with my house in Juarez and feeling like I had no power in the situation, it was so nice to pick out something that I liked.  I had a lovely apartment and very nice landlords, so overall had a pretty good experience with LQA.

3. Pet friendly – Ottawa is very pet friendly and it’s very easy to import pets to Canada from the United States.  I don’t know if it’s different for dogs, but all I needed for the Diplocat was a rabies certificate, and they weren’t at all interested in seeing it at the border when I entered with her.  Vet care in Ottawa is very good, though more expensive than in the States.

4. Safety – Ottawa is a very, very safe city.  Coming from Ciudad Juarez, it was sooooooooo nice to live somewhere safe, where I never felt like I had to look over my shoulder, worry about my safety, etc.  Maybe if you’re coming from the U.S. or are coming from somewhere else where it’s safe, this wouldn’t make quite as much of a difference in your quality of life as it did for me.  But after spending two years in Juarez weighing the security risks of simple decisions like going to the grocery stores, it was just such a breath of fresh air to be able to go about my business without safety concerns.

5. The summer and fall – Ottawa is BEAUTIFUL in the summer and fall.  The summers don’t get too hot and everything’s nice and green.  There are a lot of fun events in the summer and lots of great outdoor opportunities in area parks and lakes.  The fall is also beautiful, with changing leaves, crisp air, etc.  Again, lots of fun hiking opportunities with beautiful fall foliage.

Cons

1. Winters – There’s no way to beat around the bush.  The winters in Ottawa are really long and really cold.  It gets down to -20F with wind chills down to -40F.  And, the winters last from about November to April.  Maybe this is no big deal if you’re from Minnesota, but the winters were rough for this Texan who’s used to being able to wear flip flops throughout most of the winter.  And, after two years of being trapped in my house because of the violence, feeling trapped inside by the cold, snow, and ice was a bummer.

2. Expensive – While I was there, Ottawa was a pretty expensive place to live.  The U.S. dollar has appreciated considerably against the Canadian dollar since I left, so I’m not sure if this is still the case, but it was expensive to grocery shop, go out to eat, etc. in Ottawa.

3. LQA – While being able to choose your own housing was liberating for me, there are also downsides.  You have to have a chunk of change ready to cover initial expenses.  There were several hiccups in my case that were not normal, but at one point I figured out that I was out over $10,000 in LQA and unreimbursed travel voucher expenses.  It’s also stressful to decide on a place to live when you first get to a new city or sight-unseen before arrival.  There’s also a lot of extra paperwork involved in getting the housing approved and reconciling the costs at the end of the year.  So, while there are a lot of good things about LQA, there are some down sides, too.

4. Internet connections – This may seem surprising since Canada’s very much a first world country, but while I was there, internet packages usually had a monthly GB cap and you could incur very high fees if you went over your monthly internet usage.  The speeds were also nothing to write home about.  That said, looking back at the website of the internet provider I used then, it looks like they do now offer unlimited internet traffic.  So, maybe that’s not as much of a con now as it used to be.

5. Deceptively similar to the USA – There are a lot of things about life in Canada that are similar to life in the United States.  You’ll see many of the same products on the shelves in stores in Canada as you would in the United States, there are even many of the same stores in Canada that you’d find Stateside, there aren’t language difficulties (usually), etc.  So, you can feel a lot like you’re in the United States, until you run up against one of the weird differences like the internet download limits, etc.  Then, because the difference came out of nowhere, it hits you that much harder.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Diplocat, FS Blog Roundup, FSI, LQA, Mexico, Moving, Ottawa, Snow, Texas, Texpat, Transfer, Washington DC