Friday, January 29, 2010

The Foreign Service

I realize that I have mentioned the Foreign Service a couple times now and understand that probably the majority of you don’t know much about FS, or about the process it takes to become a FSO (Foreign Service Officer). This could potentially become our future in the next couple months so I thought it might be appropriate to write a post, educating my fellow readers... or at least about the parts that I do know thus far in the process. (Becky, or any other FSO, feel free to correct me if I get something wrong.) Much of my info are direct quotes from the U.S. Department of State website.

Foreign Service Officers are employees of the U.S. Department of State. FSOs “strengthen peace and support prosperity as they promote our business interests and protect American citizens throughout the world. Since the work of the U.S. Department of State affects the world and is carried out in every country around the globe, FSOs are posted at any one of over 265 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions in The Americas, Africa, Europe and Eurasia, East Asia and Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia.”

FSOs follow one of five career tracks:

Consular: Consular Officers protect Americans abroad and strengthen U.S. border security
Economic: Economic Officers promote economic partnerships, development, and fair trade
Management: Management Officers run our embassies and make American diplomacy work
Political: Political Officers analyze political events
Public Diplomacy: Public Diplomacy Officers explain American values and policies

Jake chose the Political track, which is fairly competitive, along with the Public Diplomacy track.

Becoming a FSO

Let me just warn you, this process is not for the faint at heart. It is long and grueling, which I suppose is a comfort, to know those representing our country overseas have been through the ringer and are surely capable and qualified to do their job.

First you choose a career track (as mentioned above.) Then you register for and take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). The test will measure your knowledge, skills and abilities, including writing skills that are necessary to the work of a Foreign Service Officer. The test includes three multiple-choice sections:

Job knowledge *,
English expression,
and a biographic information section that asks you to describe your work style, your manner of interacting and communicating with others, and your approach to other cultures.
* Job knowledge questions will cover a broad range of topics including but not limited to the structure and workings of the U.S. government, U.S. and world history, U.S. culture, psychology, management theory, finance and economics, and world affairs. In addition, you will be given 30 minutes to write an essay on an assigned topic.

The test will be given during eight-day windows, three times a year. (Jake took the FSOT in June.)

After you pass the FSOT, you move onto the next step which is the QEP or Qualifications Evaluation Panel. You then submit a Personal Narrative (PN) in which you answer questions describing the knowledge, skills, and abilities you would bring to the Foreign Service. You should provide examples from your previous experiences that show you have the skills to be a successful FSO. This is an important part of the application and is read carefully by each member of a Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) made up of trained Foreign Service Officers. The panel assesses your PN based on six precepts that are predictors of success in the Foreign Service. These precepts include:

Leadership: innovation, decision making, teamwork, openness to dissent, community service and institution building
Interpersonal Skills: professional standards, persuasion and negotiation, workplace perceptiveness, adaptability, representational skills
Communication Skills: written communication, oral communication, active listening, public outreach, foreign language skill
Management Skills: operational effectiveness, performance management and evaluation, management resources, customer service
Intellectual Skills: information gathering and analysis, critical thinking, active learning, leadership and management training
Substantive Knowledge: Understanding of U.S. history/ government/culture and application in dealing with other cultures. Knowledge and application of career track relevant information.

If you pass this step, you then are invited (on your dime) to the Oral Assessment (OA) which is conducted in Washington, D.C. and in various major cities around the US. This day-long program seeks to determine whether you have the 13 dimensions that are essential to the performance of Foreign Service work. The OA includes a group exercise, a structured interview, and a case management writing exercise. If you want more info on the OA, click HERE. Jake flew out to DC in November, nervous and uneasy about the test. He didn’t call me until close to 6pm DC time, elated that he had passed. There were 16 testers in his group, and seven passed. The Dept of State website says to pass the OA you need a 5.25 (although I’ve never heard of someone getting a 5.25, only a 5.3.) Anyway, overall scoring is on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being very poor and 7 being a near perfect performance.

After the OA you proceed to the next phase of the hiring process, including the language bonus point system, the medical examination, and the security background investigation. Jake was able to up his OA score by .17 to 5.57 by passing off his French in December. This score is very important and dictates if and when you will be hired. The medical examination is intense (I already posted about it HERE.) All of us had to be examined, to make sure we are healthy and worldwide available. The security background investigation is also intense. Your previous employment, credit scores, rental history, debts, international contacts, close friends, neighbors, etc. will all be closely investigated and scrutinized, making sure there are no skeletons in your closet. They do not mess around. They want to make sure the people they hire will not be security threats to our country, and will represent America in the utmost positive light. The security clearance can take two months, or sometimes MANY months. It just depends how involved your background is (how often you have traveled internationally, how often you have moved, debts, foreign contacts, etc.) Jake is currently in this stage of the game and we are nearly at week 11 since his case was opened. As of this past Monday we were told everything was turned in and we should contact them again later next week to see if there is any change. Crossing our fingers our file gets moving! Once you pass the security background, your file is then sent to Final Suitability Review and a panel reviews your case and gives you the thumbs up or down. If it’s a ‘go‘ you are then put on The Register. Remember those 5 tracks mentioned at the beginning of this process? Yep, there are 5 registers and you are placed on the register of the track that you chose months ago. You are ranked on that register based on the score you received in DC.

Next, you wait, and hope, and pray that your number is called up before it expires off the register in 18 months, when you have to start the whole process all over again (no joke, you really do.) Once your number is called, you are extended an invitation to DC to attend an A-100 training, and at that point you feel a sigh of relief because you are now on your way, really truly, to being a FSO.

Once you get to DC you spend approximately 5 weeks in an orientation program. The focus of the orientation is on introducing new employees to the structure and function of the Department and its role in the development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy; developing an understanding of the terms of employment; and enhancing core skills needed by all Foreign Service Officers. The A-100 course, based at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, is primarily a classroom experience. But it also includes trips to Capitol Hill and to other federal agencies, as well as a three-day offsite at a nearby conference center. In addition to presentations by guest speakers and U.S. Department of State officials, A-100 also includes a series of practical exercises and case studies.

At the end of orientation they have what is called “Flag Day” where each FSO is called up and receives a flag from the country in which they will spend their first assignment (which will last usually two years.) The adventure begins...

So, as you can see, it’s quite a long and arduous journey. It's crazy to think it has already been 9 1/2 months since Jake registered for the FSOT, and I'm betting we still have another month or so until he makes it on The Register, and who knows how much longer until we get an invite to A-100. Despite all the waiting, and the stress of the unknown, we are still optimistic and excited for what this would mean for our little family. An interesting fact: I heard a statistic awhile back that said only approximately 10% of applicants who take the FSOT will ultimately make it past the OA which is quite an astonishing statistic, and makes me again appreciate Jake and how totally smart and capable he is. He will make a great FSO.

Who knows what 2010 will bring for our family. This time next year we could be in Mauritania, or Tunisia, or Togo, or Quebec, or Madagascar, or the Congo, or ... Oh, the anticipation. Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January ramblings...

It seems January is quite the 'downer' month. It's cold, the holidays are over, it's back to the grind of normal every day life. The Schip's are still finding things to smile about every day, though.

Emma LOVES her preschool (Canyon Preschool in Bountiful). Miss Kari and Miss Kathy are wonderful teachers, very organized and great with the kids. This past Thursday I was a parent volunteer for a field trip to the Bountiful Animal Clinic. The kids loved seeing the animals and had a fun time. Here is Emma listening to Toemi's heartbeat. Right before we entered the clinic Emma said "Mom, you and me can't be near the cats okay. We are lergic." It's true. We found out over Christmas that Emma is indeed allergic to cats (just like I am.) She played with my friend's cat and within a few minutes her eyes were red and swollen and her nose was running. It still doesn't stop her from loving the kitties though. She is definitely an animal lover.

Today we went sledding (after much hounding from our oldest). It's sad to say this is the first time we have been this season. All the kids loved it, even Josh. When we were walking to the car Josh told Jake "Dad... is fun. Dad. Fun!"

This last picture of Emma made me laugh. She's quite the character and has been from day one. I love her 'scrunchy' nose and cute dimple (both she's had since birth.) To prove it, I found some old pictures of her. It's hard to believe my kids were really ever that little.

I'm helping my friend, Selena, plan a baby shower for a friend of ours. I told her I would help make some invitations and I found this template online. It's adorable and easy to make. I tweaked mine a little from the actual example because I 1) was a little lazy and 2) didn't have all the tools the girl had to make her version of it. I still thought it turned out just as cute. Anyway... a great idea if you need to make baby shower invites/announcements/cards.

And that's it for my January ramblings. Until next time...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's a Good Day

I just found out minutes ago that the kids have been approved for CHIP!!! We will be paying $75/quarter to have all three children covered (which is WONDERFUL and a HUGE blessing!) Also, Jake was told yesterday, despite his cholesterol medicine, the two of us are being covered by SelectHealth effective January 16th (so yes, 4 days ago.) Our caseworker for SelectHealth told Jake back in November that she would be shocked if he was able to get coverage because of his cholesterol, and she said with my thyroid medicine our premium would probably go up quite a bit. She was amazed that he was actually accepted and that we were able to get the coverage we did. HUGE blessings!! I can't tell you the stress this has caused, being uninsured for nearly 3 weeks.

It's been a Good Day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

200th Post!

To celebrate my 200th post, I thought I would write a Top-10 list of blessings in my life. It seems like lately my posts have been pretty negative. I know life has its ups and downs and it’s really easy to get caught up in the ‘downs’ and forget about the ‘ups’. So, here are the ‘ups’ in my life right now:

1. I have the gospel and the peace that comes from it. I know my Heavenly Father knows me better than I know myself and at times that is what gives me insight and the faith to know my life is planned out according to His will... not mine.
2. Huge blessing, Josh woke up this morning symptom-free. No fever. No swollen eyes. No runny nose. He still has a little cough, but MUCH better than yesterday. This is so not-normal for him. Usually when he gets sick it lasts at least a week, and usually ends with a bad ear infection. If this isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is.
3. I have Jake. He works hard for our family and is the best dad I know. He still looks at me like I’m the hot little 19 year old he met nearly a decade ago. He has a strong testimony of the gospel and lives it every day. Without saying a word, he did the dishes for me last night, gave the kids baths, and he didn’t complain when I told him everyone was fending for themselves for dinner. (I had been holding Josh nearly the entire day and just wasn’t up to cooking.) He’s the total package. Love you, babe.
4. My kids are my life. As hard as it is to be a mom, I wouldn’t trade it for any other job in the world. I know that what I’m doing right now, raising my children, is more important than any career I could have. I love them so much.
5. Jake has a job, and loves it. When I was at the Department of Workforce Services yesterday getting my CHIP papers, I saw at least 20 people there on the computers looking for jobs. I have seen loved ones lose everything due to the economy and it breaks my heart. Even with the huge pay-cut Jake took when he started his new job, you know... at least he has A job, and I’m so thankful for that. The best part is that he loves it. I think this is the first job he has ever had where he truly enjoys what he does and is passionate about his work. Blessings.
6. We have a home. I’m so thankful for this. In September we had a scary few weeks when we thought we might have to sell our house. It was actually listed for 5 days and our lives seemed so chaotic at the time. Our plan was to either live with Jake’s parents, or me move up to Oregon with the kids while Jake kept looking for a job in Utah and Oregon. It was a hard time. Thankfully, things have seemed to work out and we are thankful for this time in our great house. We know how quickly circumstances can change, so we definitely do not take any day here for granted.
7. I have a healthy body that lets me live a full life. During the Christmas break I was able to spend time with a good friend who just lost his sight due to radiation therapy he had a year ago to treat a growing brain tumor. I talked with him about his daily struggles, and it took everything in me not to tear up as I sat there with him. He is like a little brother to me and my heart just breaks when I think of all the trials he has gone through, and IS going through. He’s my rockstar, so strong and courageous, and he reminds me every day to be thankful for the body I have. Love you, Beau.
8. The possibility of living overseas. This is a mixed blessing for me. I get nervous thinking about bringing the kids to different countries, but of course I’m excited for the same reason too. It will be an adventure for us, something we would never get to do on our own. We will be able to experience different cultures, meet amazing people, and save a lot of money. It will be hard, and wonderful rolled into one and I’m ready for it.
9. We have family who love and support us. My parents have done so much for me and my family, too much to even list. Even with being 2 states away, they are still major rocks in our everyday lives. My Grammy Call is another rock in my life. I’m so thankful her and Grandpa only live 20 minutes from us now because most of my life we lived countries apart, as they served missions in Guatemala, Chile, and Ecuador. As for Jake’s family, I’ve told people before how I really lucked out when I married into the Schipaanboord family. I hadn’t even met them before we decided to get married and so that could have turned out very badly (meeting the man of your dreams and then realizing the family you’re joining is a nightmare.) Nope. Didn’t happen. They are so wonderful and supportive. I couldn’t have asked for better in-laws.
10. I have supportive friends who enrich my life. I’m a very social person and often need that extra interaction to keep me sane some days. ;) I am blessed to have incredible friends in my life who uplift me and make me better. You all know who you are... so Thank You.

I’m excited to see what the next 200 posts holds for our family, and I know, life is what you make it. Attitude is everything. The times in my life when things get really tough, I just have to remind myself that I would take my trials over the next person’s any day, and eventually I’ll get through, and I’ll be stronger because of it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No Health Insurance- Day 12

Of course I knew it would only be a matter of weeks (well, days) until someone got sick, and I had a hunch it would be little Joshie too. With the cold of winter, this horrible air, and germs everywhere, it was bound to happen. It's different now, though. It's quite scary. Jake and I woke up this morning to Josh crying. It wasn't his normal cry, but the "I'm miserable and don't feel good" cry. His eyes were practically swollen shut, he has a deep wheezy cough, runny nose, and as of 6pm a temperature of 102.7. I sense another ear infection will probably come from this, if it hasn't already. This is the first time our entire marriage that we are uninsured, and with days like today, it's a scary situation.

I called the CHIP office first thing this morning (I was told they would call me within 7 days of me submitting my application). As of today, it had been 8 days. The woman on the phone spent 20 minutes grilling me about our financial situation, past insurance, etc. Then I was given a list of 5 things to get to them to verify our income. I got it all this afternoon and faxed it off. Now I have to sit and wait another week to see if we qualify. Crossing our fingers...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happenings in the Schip Household

I kept coming back to my blog over and over this past month, seeing my last post and thinking "I really need to write something." I didn't know where to start though because a lot has happened, so I would put it off. Then a day or two later, the same thing would happen. So, here I am, 34 days since my last blog entry and I'm finally going to try and get caught up.

So, what HAS happened with the Schipaanboord's, you ask?

Ben, Emma, and Josh endured a day of torture on Dec. 18th. Jake is in the process of becoming a foreign service officer for the State Department and part of this process means the whole family needs to have thorough medical exams, to make sure we are healthy before we go overseas. These exams included vision screening, in-depth body exams, urine tests, TB tests, chest x-rays, immunizations, (pap smear for me... actually I get to have TWO of them because the first one didn't get the right "zone"), and the dreaded blood work. I had tried to prep the kids over the past couple weeks. I had even brought all three kids in with me when I had my blood drawn, so they could see it wasn't a big deal. On the big day I thought it would be Josh that would have the hardest time. Nope. It was our sweet 4 year old, who all morning had told me she was going to be "so brave." She was given 3 immunizations before her urine test and blood draw, and that sent her through the roof. When she had to get her blood drawn, it took Jake trapping her legs, two nurses holding one arm, and me holding the other to get the blood out of her. I about lost it when the nurse said she had put some of the blood into the wrong tube and we might have to do it again. Luckily, she didn't need to do that. The sucker and stickers didn't seem to matter to Emma in the least. She just wanted to get the heck out of there. Little did she know we had to come back after our Oregon trip to get TB shots for everyone. (Thankfully that wasn't nearly as bad. It only took 3 people to hold her down.) I think we have officially scarred and traumatized our children and have helped to create an aversion to anything medical. (Actually Ben did great and Josh did pretty well, considering he's a cautious little 2-year old.) We got the results back from the dr the day after we returned from Oregon and everyone is healthy. Josh has borderline low-iron so he's on a supplement now, but other than that they all look perfect. Whew! What a blessing.

The day after the kids' medical exams, Dec. 19th, we left for Oregon. We spent Christmas with my side of the family. Everyone was there (mom, dad, brother Justin and his wife Collette, sister Ashleigh, her husband Chad, and their two girls, and my youngest sister Whitney). This was the first time in 5 years since we were all together at my parents' house for Christmas. It was a very special vacation and we all had a great time. It would have been nice to stay another week but Jake didn't have any more vacation days. While we were there we spent time with our good friends, the Evertons, cut down a Christmas tree, spent time with my best friend, Naomi, and her husband Jeremy, saw Zach and Ksenia's new house (love it!), went to Cannon Beach and Seaside, took the kids to see the Princess and the Frog, had dinner at Kameron and Josh Dill's house (we had a great time! Thanks, Kam!!) all the girls went to the Nutcracker, we met up with Leila (my brother's daughter), and we played a lot of games, watched movies, and ate some great food (and way too many sweets!) On the car ride home, Ben told me he wanted to stay for a couple more days. I felt the same. We were the first ones to leave and it was hard to say those good-byes. We were blessed though because we had no problems on our drive back. Usually Christmas-time traveling involves scary roads because of bad weather, but we had gorgeous weather the whole drive (a couple days later though two storms hit so thankfully we left when we did.)

Jake and I and the kids rang in the New Year by getting take out at Olive Garden (thanks Mom and Whit for the gift cards!) Then we put Josh to bed and let the older two pick out their favorite game and we played them both (Castle Panic, and the Princess Memory Game). Then we put them to bed and Jake and I played Boggle and Scrabble (and of course I let him win both times... don't want to hurt his ego ;) ). We stayed up until midnight and then went to bed shortly after. Yep, not too exciting, but it still felt perfect.

Now here we are, back to school, work, and normal life.

And here are some things going through my head right now:

As of January 1st we became one of the millions of Americans who are uninsured. We had benefits until Dec. 31st through Jake's old job. We applied for individual coverage with SelectHealth in November and was told it would take 7-10 days to get coverage and here we are... still no coverage. We are told they are "embarrassed" it has taken this long. It's not a big deal for them, but it is for us now because we have now had a lapse in health insurance and my thyroid problem and Jake's cholesterol are now considered pre-existing conditions. I applied for CHIP over the weekend for the kids and hope we can get them on that quick, assuming we qualify. It's very stressful right now knowing that if anything happens to any of us, we have no coverage and this could be a financial disaster. I'm hopeful though that something will work out quickly. The Health Reform bill cannot come soon enough for families like us.

Something else on my mind: foreign service. We are at a point now where we have to think seriously about where we could be in 6 months from now and as a woman (and one who likes to be organized and have everything planned out) this is a little scary. I'm just biding my time, until we get "the e-mail" inviting us to A-100 in DC. I have to ignore my thoughts telling me to buy as many sterilite containers as I can, start researching rental management properties, packing up things we are not using, etc.

The last major thing on my mind: my health and exercise. I still have my cough. It is better than it was a month ago, but it's still there, and every morning and night I am weezy. Because of this I have only exercised a handful of times since the beginning of November when I got pneumonia and I'm sad to say I've gained 8 lbs. I thought the scale was broken when I stepped on it yesterday. Alas, it is not. So, I've reserved childcare at the gym today and I've recommitted myself. Hopefully my lungs don't hold me back too much. I'm counting my calories again and I'm going to lose these pesky 8 lbs.

Well, that's it for the Schip's... for now.