What’s Faith been up to?
The third week of September was one of the most stressful weeks of my life. First, on Monday morning I found out that my UK visa application had been denied. Then on Tuesday I interviewed with the Salvation Army London for a six-month position coordinating their international projects in Africa, and on Wednesday I flew to Washington DC for the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (OA).
By Wednesday I was a thorough mess. Have you ever been so stressed that you couldn’t eat or sleep? Well, I was there. I felt nauseous during meals and broke down crying an average of twice per day. Definitely not the prettiest of sights – one that my parents deserve a medal for weathering. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) I didn’t know why my visa had been denied, and without that visa I wouldn’t be able to get a UK job or health insurance. I also didn’t even know where exactly my passport was. UKBA told me they sent it in overnight mail on Monday, but I didn’t receive it until Friday thus spending the entire week in passport purgatory! (Read the full story of our visa woes.)
Joining the Foreign Service
Visa stress and the Salvation Army interview only compounded what was already slated to be a very stressful week due to the Oral Assessment. Back in February I started the whole process of joining the Foreign Service by taking the Foreign Service Officer Test at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala. The test covered English expression, job knowledge (U.S. government, U.S. and world history, U.S. culture, psychology, management theory, finance, economics, and world affairs), and a biographical section. A month later I found out that I passed the test and had advanced to the next level. I submitted six short essays to the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP). I found out that I passed in May and was headed to the OA in Washington DC on September 20.
The OA consists of a group exercise, structured interview, and case management writing exercise. During the group exercise you are given a packet of information and have 30 minutes to prepare a 6 minute speech on your topic/project. Then in a group, everyone discusses the merits of each project and reaches consensus on which to support. The interview is fairly straightforward, including hypothetical scenarios involving embassies. In the writing exercise, you have 90 minutes to get through a huge packet of information and offer solutions. Only about 3% of the original applicants who took the written test ultimately pass the OA, so the pressure was on. I spent much of August and September preparing for the OA with six others I met online through a Yahoo group.
Despite my chronic lack of sleep, by Thursday morning I felt confident and strangely at peace as I walked into the testing center at 6:45am. I just thought about my incredible support network (thanks everyone for praying!) and something my Bethel debate/speech coaches used to tell us, “When you walk into that room, you’re already in the top half, so just fight for the rest.” And I did, all day I felt good and on point – I even had fun!
And the results are in!
Thursday afternoon, during one of the test breaks, I checked my email and found out that I had been offered the Salvation Army position! Then all of us testers were placed in a room and called out one by one to be told whether or not we passed. Common knowledge is that if you are ushered into a room by yourself then you didn’t pass, which is why I was ecstatic when I was shown into a room where another member of my study group was already standing! (I thought he was going to pass out when he saw me.) While it takes a 5.25 to pass, I did very well with a 6.1 out of 7.
More later on the next steps, but for now – THANK YOU to all those family, friends, and former colleagues and coaches who supported me and helped me prepare for that week. You all are irreplaceable!