The last you heard, this blog's deeply flawed and extremely neurotic female protagonist (me) was hyperventilating over her approaching final progress test in her FSI Chinese class.
The good news is that my progress test went very well.
The bad news is that my progress test went very well.
How could this possibly be bad news? you may ask. Well, I am now butting my head up against some extremely difficult EFM issues.
Not that I haven't butted my head up against extremely difficult EFM issues in the past, of course. I just haven't blogged about them much. For example, when James was first assigned to China a year ago or so, I tried to get into ConGen.
(For those of you who may not know, ConGen is a class that all Consular folks have to take about Visa laws and such. EFMs who want to have jobs in the Consular area of post have to take the class, also, but only get leftover seats. Which there usually are between none and very few of.)
This was a most unpleasant experience, as the State contractor with whom EFMs had to interact in order to get into the class actually laughed at me when I said I wanted to take the class. I'm assuming this had to do with lack of ConGen space, etc. He was also rather obnoxious and insinuated that most EFMs can't pass the basic English skills tests that an EFM has to pass in order to even QUALIFY to even be PUT ON THE WAITING LIST to take ConGen.* Jerk.
[* FYI, I have heard, though I do not know for sure, that any EFM that does not pass the English pre-screening exam(s) has to wait two years before being allowed to attempt it/them again. That's a long time!]
Back then, between hearing how deep the waiting list was for ConGen, how unlikely it was for any certain EFM to get in, and how I had to go down to Main State to take all manner of tests and whatnot, I didn't even try to get in.
However, today I'm in a completely different place. This is because I'm on track, within a month or so, to get my 2/1 in Chinese, or so says the Chinese Department. This could actually translate itself into a job at post for me, but I MUST (and I mean MUST) also take ConGen in order to qualify for and get the job I have had my eye on for a long time (it's in the Consular section...more on this later). Without ConGen, my 2/1 is useless. Without my 2/1, ConGen would be useless. I must have both. Keep this in mind for later.
[Insert short discussion of how much my family and I have given up just for me to take Chinese. An eternity of paying huge sums of rent and utilities just to be near FSI, since we're not on per diem. An eternity of my homeschooling sons spinning their wheels without their mother/teacher. An eternity of crying because Chinese is Just. That. Hard. and having no life. An eternity of working and not getting paid a single cent (or having either of us on per diem). You get the picture.]
Thus, the task at hand is: Getting me into ConGen. This is harder than it looks, and it don't look too easy.
The ConGen class that would naturally fit into my training schedule and James' training schedule will most likely not have any seats left over for me. [Again, EFMs get only leftover seats.] This means that I have two possible ConGen class choices, neither of which are very palatable.
Bad Choice #1: I can try to take the Chinese test a week and a half early. But the only testing slots open are at 7:30 am. I can't even speak ENGLISH well at 7:30 am, let alone Chinese.
Other downsides to Bad Choice #1 include the fact that people are encouraged by the Chinese Department to push their tests BACK rather than forward (because Chinese is Just. That. Hard.), and the really bad news that if I take the Chinese test early but then fail it, all hope of the job goes out the window because if you fail a test while in language training, you must stay in the language a minimum of another SIX WEEKS of full time language training until you can try testing again, which means that I would have no time to take ConGen before going to post.
Which leaves us with...
Bad Choice #2: I wait until a much later ConGen class, which makes us stay in Virginia roughly another month. Another month of rent/utilities. My husband's training would have long been over. Post wants him there, like, YESTERDAY anyway. My children would be missing even more school at post. So the really late ConGen class would mess over our finances, my husband, and my children. Not. Good.
Faced with those two really awful scenarios (and did I mention that I have long since gone down to Main State TWICE to take and pass those English proficiency exams that the Contractor Jerk long ago told me most EFMs failed?), I am at a loss as to how to proceed.
And now I will introduce you to how State broke my heart.
Up until last week, I have quietly accepted (not happily, but quietly) the truth that EFMs are given only the crumbs from the table. We are, after all, not employees, I have continually reminded myself. As an EFM, I have served as my own advocate, hunting down people that know schedules for training and such, and being a royal pest in trying to figure out how best to squeeze myself into the leftover spaces, should any become available.
But then, last week, State came out with this. They Tweeted it and posted it and trumpeted it from the skies. Friends of mine emailed it to me. State bloggers more interesting than I have talked about it here (Muttering Behind the Hardlines) and here (Consul-At-Arms II).
That job is an official, codified edition (now open to the Universe at Large) of the job that I have been aiming for ever since last fall, that used to be aimed at only EFMs. The job that I have to have a 2/1 in Chinese for and ConGen for. The job that I have been sacrificing my family for for many, many months.
[UPDATE: Just to be clear on something, the EFM job I'm discussing - it's called the PAS, or Professional Adjudication Specialist position, is still being used in China and some other high-Visa-demand posts. For more information on this issue, go here.]
Did you catch the part about how this particular job used to be only for EFMs? And now is newly-titled and open to The Universe at Large? And EFMs aren't given any preference for the newly-titled job? So.
Why does this new job announcement break your heart? you might ask. Many reasons.
I suppose that the need in China for Consular help is so very, very great that State was forced to put out this set of jobs and trumpet it far and wide. But look what they are doing!
They will be PAYING SOMEONE to go through ConGen. They will be PAYING to hire them and move them to train at FSI. They will be GIVING THEM PER DIEM through the training. They will be FURNISHING THEM WITH SET CONGEN CLASSES. Then they will be MOVING THEM AND THEIR FAMILIES OVERSEAS. They will be PAYING FOR THEIR HOUSING, and probably even paying to send their children to school, etc.
On top of that, they will be giving them all sorts of additional pay that an EFM would not have been otherwise entitled to, and additional benefits.
Do you see what I'm saying? They're so desperate to fill Consular adjudicator spots in China that they have to create brand-new positions... but they can't find a single seat in a ConGen class for me. And they wouldn't have to pay me a salary during ConGen! And they wouldn't have to pay me per diem! And they're already moving us over to China! And when I get there, they don't pay me a single penny above the base salary!
Post even wants me. I'm also the WAY cheapest source of labor.
And I don't know that I can even get into ConGen.
Why don't you apply for that job they just announced? you might ask me.
Because I'm not going to move to China, put my children in school (hopefully), and then turn around and fly all the way back to the US, be away from my family for two months, by myself, all in order to take ConGen. Also, I don't know if there would be any guarantee that I would get assigned to Chengdu when it was all over. I could actually just picture it now: I would get hired for that job and then assigned to Beijing or something.
Why don't you just wait until the ConGen class off season and come back to the US and take ConGen?
This question is referring to the fact that ConGen classes are very heavily attended in the summer, and usually less attended in the winter. The way this works is, an EFM will PAY TO FLY THEMSELVES from post during the off-season, PAY to PUT THEMSELVES UP IN A HOTEL OR SOMETHING during the many weeks of ConGen, stay by themselves, etc., and then PAY TO FLY THEMSELVES BACK TO POST when ConGen is over. The financial outlay for this is huge, but some spouses do it because it will hopefully get them a job at post when all is said and done.
I will not be doing this. I REFUSE TO DO THIS. We have been in DC for I can't even count how long. I tried to get into ConGen a year ago and got laughed at. I have proven myself able to pass the English exams, able to take (and hopefully pass?) Chinese, and I have paid rent in this place for long enough. I will not pay a SINGLE PENNY MORE to take ConGen. State either gives it to me while I'm here, or I take that as a sign from God that it's not meant to be.
Why don't you just take ConGen over a future R&R?
In this scenario, I would presumably use an R&R plane ticket that would fly us from Chengdu to Florida (our home of record) and then go out of pocket to get myself to DC, put myself up somewhere, and get through ConGen. It would cost less than paying all of those costs PLUS a plane ticket back and forth from China, but it would still cost a ton of money, separate me from my family for a long period of time, etc. Then I would ostensibly have to fly by myself back to China or whatever. Bottom line? NOT. DOING. IT.
You sound really ticked off!
You have no idea. Granted, it may all work out in the end. I may either take the Hail Mary and try to take the test early (at 7:30 am), or the ConGen class time I most need might become available at the last minute, or I might strand my family in Virginia and pay tons more money just to take the late ConGen class. Who knows?
But, in the end, you know what's the worst part? The really, really worst part?
It dawned on me that the last eight months of my life... the whole time in Chinese... the taking the qualifying ConGen exams and submitting applications to Post... the stressing about trying to get into ConGen against all odds...
Is just for ONE JOB at ONE POST for only TWO YEARS.
Just think about that.
Once my husband leaves Chengdu, I have to start All. Over. Again.
Each and every EFM... we have to start All. Over. Again. at each and every post.
Why don't you apply as an FSO so you guys can go tandem? If you get your 2/1, you can even get SCNL points! Then you don't have to start all over again at every post!
I graduated magna cum laude (missed summa by .01, darn it all) with a B.S. in Political Science (with an emphasis in International Affairs) and a minor in Criminal Justice. I feel like I would at least have a shot in the FSO process, especially with SCNL points. But, as of right now at least, I have no and I mean NO desire to do this. AT. ALL.
I've seen what happens to tandems sometimes. I mean, sure, sometimes it works out. The birds sing, the unicorns dance over happy rainbows, and the couple stays together. But, really? I don't know that that's the majority of the time. And I'm sure as heck not going to be split apart, let alone over and over again. It's not worth it to me.
I apologize to anyone to whom I owe emails. In the past, I was really good about picking up the pom-poms and helping people who reached out to me with questions about State and such. But, honestly, between Chinese eating my lunch, worrying about moving, and going through these really difficult/painful EFM issues, I've sort of lost my pom-poms along the way. Forgive me for being incommunicative, but I'm starting to know that I honestly have no wisdom to give. I dare not help anyone make decisions when I can't even make them for myself.