Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rollin', rollin', rollin' ...

There is a point in a FS move to post-a.k.a. PCSing or permanent change of stationing-when the ball starts rolling, and you, your family, and your 18 suitcases start rolling along with it.

That doesn't mean that there aren't bumps. For example, due to the particulars of our move and pet shipping we had to leave our dogs in a boarding facility for the first time. This is a good facility, but accidents happen, and on Sunday morning poor Grace was attacked through the fence by the dog next door. Her big floppy dachshund ear was injured. Of course we wanted to rush back to DC and rescue her, but the ball is rolling, so we can't.

Now Grace is getting extra special treatment and a bed in the kitchen surrounded by humans, while Julie hangs out in their run by herself. Grace will arrive in Manila with stitches, but I'm sure she will heal. We will be very glad to have them back with us.

And once the pack out ball starts rolling, you can't stop it, even if the movers are five hours late and don't leave your apartment until 10 pm. It's always interesting to see what we misdirect. In FL I managed to include my wedding dress in our shipment to Manila, this time it was just a bike tire pump that was left out, which our friends were happy to inherit. Perhaps my dress can be altered for a marine ball, and I'm sure they sell tire pumps in Manila.

We're rolling on out of the US, and my next blog post will be from Manila! Today I'm writing from an iPad with 3G--hopefully we'll have internet access soon after we arrive. To our friends and family in the US, skype often and we'll be back on R & R before we know it. To our friends in Manila, thank you for all your help and see you soon!

P.S. Sorry for any misunderstanding, but Grace's ear is not damaged beyond repair--it just has an inch long gash, which is reported to be healing nicely. She's also enjoying all the special attention she's getting at the kennel!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why I Blog

 As a ship’s voyage progressed, the course came to be marked down in a book that was called a log. ~ Andrew Sullivan, "Why I Blog," The Atlantic (November 2008)
 I came across this article by Andrew Sullivan a couple of weeks ago, and it inspired me to think about why I blog. As Sullivan points out, a blog is different from other types of writing in that it is published in real time, without significant editorial review. It is a journal that the writer shares with the public. But if it is a personal journal, why share it?

I came to write my blog because my husband and I benefited from reading foreign service blogs during our application process. Deciding to join the service is an intimidating endeavor, and from these blogs we gathered valuable information about what it's like to actually be in the foreign service.

After I started writing, I learned that blogging about the experience was helping me process the whirlwind of change that goes along with this journey. But because it's available to the public, a blog is not a journal. As a therapist I recommended journaling to clients as a coping tool--a safe place to vent and process strong emotions. Journaling is effective as a therapeutic tool, but blogging serves a different purpose.

In "Why I Blog," Sullivan writes that ships' logs were "an indispensable source for recording what actually happened." I have found that writing a blog helps me live in the moment. Having a blog forces me to live consciously--to pay attention to what is happening. Otherwise I'd have nothing to write about.

So I thank the blog authors whose blogs helped me make the decision to join the foreign service, and I thank myself for having the courage to share a bit of my life with the public. I am also grateful to the foreign service blogging community--in writing about your experiences you lessen the burden for all of us, because even if we are frustrated with what is happening, it's nice to know that we're not alone.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer-sault Cycle

In the foreign service community, the "summer cycle" means LOTS of change. Most foreign service assignments are for 2-3 years, and since families with children try to schedule their moves around the school year, summer is a popular time for packouts, long plane flights, job changes, and general chaos.

Our family is contributing to the summer chaos with our move to Manila at the end of this month. Since this is our first move overseas, my personal chaos has a lot to do with facing the unknown, yet I predict that these feelings will become familiar with every passing summer cycle.

My time here in DC--I'll call it A-100 even though it lasted five months--has been a gift. I have developed wonderful friendships with wonderful people, had the opportunity to explore a great city, and had time to rediscover strengths I had set aside for my social work career. Not having to work a full time job has given me time to think about what I really want to do--not just what I have to do. And even though I am looking forward to making new friends and exploring the Philippines, I am sorry to leave the home we have created in DC.

Yet I have to remind myself that the foreign service life wouldn't be the foreign service life if we were not on the move so much. The wonderful group of people I've met here wouldn't be themselves if they didn't all share the quality of wanting to travel the world. If the hardest part about the lifestyle is having to separate from people and places you love, the best part is sharing your life with interesting, adventurous people.

If I could explore the world but guarantee a class reunion every year or so I'd be happy. But I'll have to settle for believing that the world truly does become smaller once you start moving around in it, and that I will see these wonderful people again. And to the 151st A-100 class, please stay in touch!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reflections on language training

Learning a foreign language is a challenging endeavor. It requires hours of study, taxing our memory and patience as we adapt to an entirely new way of communicating.  As adults, our minds are stubborn, having settled into deeply ingrained speech and thought patterns, leading to perhaps one of the greatest challenges of learning a foreign language: breaking free from these patterns.
The primary challenge of learning a foreign language is purely technical. We first attempt to understand the language’s basic grammar rules, memorize vocabulary, learn pronunciation, and in some cases, reorient oneself to an entirely different sentence structure. For example, when compared to English, Tagalog’s sentence structure feels inverted. However, in order to approach fluency, we must not think of Tagalog as being “backward,” but simply a different sequence of thought. Disparities such as these require us to understand that language may not translate linearly, and that our minds must be open to foreign thought patterns as well as foreign words. 
A secondary, but far subtler, challenge we face in learning to communicate in a foreign language is that of culture. Language is not spoken or understood in a cultural vacuum, and failing to appreciate the cultural nuances embedded within a particular word or phrase may cause us to fail to understand the full import of the language.
Thus, in seeking to truly understand a foreign language and communicate with a native speaker in a particular language, we must be open to learning all aspects of the language--including those aspects informing the nuances of the spoken word, not just the word itself. For example, Tagalog has one word to describe both the state of being alone and feeling lonely. According to our Tagalog instructor, the reason for this is simple: being without the company of others is so rare in the Philippines that Filipinos assume you are lonely if you are not surrounded by people. However, in English, being alone does not necessarily mean that one is lonely. Our individualistic society places great value on independence, and thus has several words to describe with greater accuracy whether one is “alone” or “lonely.” It is only through openness to understanding cultural nuance that we can completely appreciate this dichotomy.
In truth, any experience with a culture other than our own requires us to examine ourselves and to reflect on our basic assumptions about language and communication. As a language student, these subconscious assumptions are brought to the surface, and although challenging, offer us the opportunity to cultivate flexibility and openness. When learning a foreign language, our ultimate goal is to be able to communicate, and although learning another language takes us out of our comfort zone, it opens the door to a world of new experiences.

Having finished Tagalog training, we are now preparing to leave for Manila. In February we left our comfort zone by uprooting ourselves from my hometown and our home for the last five years. This month we will be leaving the comfort of the wonderful friends we have made from our A-100 class. Yet I look forward to meeting the friends we will make in Manila and experiencing life in a foreign country for the first time as adults.

We're going where?!