This is us.  The one showing lots of shoulder (in her Chengdu, China Marine Ball ball gown!) is the EFM who writes this blog. The one wearing a tux (James) is the employee who moves her (and their two sons) around all over the world. The red link, below, is how you can get in touch with me...

The time in Chengdu, China

Chengdu: city of fabulous food and beautiful Buddhist monasteries!
Yes, Beijing's Forbidden City (pictured, above) is really pretty and all, but I like Chengdu much better than Beijing!

In Our Same Boat (with State)

  • Beyond the Cornfields
    Brand-new State Department family in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Love their two little girls (she just recently had a baby while being posted in Dhaka), horticulture, traveling and adventure!
  • Email From The Embassy
    State Department family formerly in Beijing, China, and recently posted to Amman, Jordan. A trailing spouse, she's also a writer, and frequently publishes articles with major news sources. A very experienced State family, this new post is something like overseas post number six or seven for them.
  • Just US
    A beautiful family of seven - they have arrived at their new post: Jerusalem! They just finished off an unaccompanied tour to Iraq and are very much looking forward to sightseeing around the middle east.
  • Our Life
    State Department family on their second post...Tijuana, Mexico. It's their first overseas assignment and they have two little boys. They love Tijuana so far and post pictures frequently! They also get to enjoy the best of both worlds for they can sneak over the border into San Diego when they want to!
  • The Dinoia Family
    State Department family formerly in California, now in DC for a DC tour. Next, the husband will do a one year unaccompanied tour. A very experienced State family (formerly in Iceland and Caracas) with a blog that has been around quite a while and has great archives. Jen has a sweet heart and a lot to give!
  • The Perlman Update
    State Department family formerly in Chennai, India, who then did a year-long unaccompanied tour in Iraq. They are now on a DC tour and after that will do another unaccompanied tour (Afghanistan). She totally tells it like it is and doesn't sugar-coat what life is really like. Witty, snarky, funny and down-to-earth. Look elsewhere if you want fake. Read if you want REAL.
  • Where in the World Am I?
    State Department family formerly in Bujumbura, Burundi and now in Hyderabad, India. They just had their first baby this summer - a beautiful little girl- (there's a separate blog about this) and she also eats gluten-free (with a separate blog, also).
One of the most intriguing things about Chengdu is that it is a seamless blend of ancient and modern... all together, side by side.

Can't Live Without (non-State)

  • Crass-Pollination: An ER blog
    The best ER nurse blog EVER!
  • Doctor Grumpy in the House
    The best doctor blog EVER!
  • In Which...
    My IRL friend, a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mama of seven. Her darling daughters are, goshdarnit, probably too young to be hoped for as my future daughters-in-law.
  • The Crib Chick
    My IRL friend, a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mama of five. Hopefully two (Any two! I'm not picky!) of which are my future daughters-in-law.
  • the underwear drawer
    An anesthesiologist who is possibly the most talented & entertaining writer ever. I've read her blog ever since she started medical school. No, don't know her in real life. Wish I did.
  • The Bloggess
    This blog is both hysterically funny and hilariously irreverent. I actually let my 17 year old son read it (who loves it as much as I do!), but wouldn't even CONSIDER letting my 12 year old son read it. Which is about all the description it needs!
The grounds of Chengdu monasteries can be very, very peaceful...even though they are smack dab in the heart of a city of millions of people.
Yes, there are Starbucks in Chengdu! All over the place, in fact. So much so, Starbucks even crafted mugs for Chengdu stores!
Texan bluebonnets. Because I learned during our very first posting (Houston) that there's nothing prettier in the spring than the meadows of Texas.
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Thanks! I was waiting for this post.



So happy to see posts from you! I was wondering how things were going.

Here is my encouraging thought of the day regarding languages: there is a curve.
Yes, it is extremely hard at first, and different languages curve at different places (Japanese grammar still kicks my ass ten years later), but at some point, your ability to learn will speed up -- a LOT. Whereas the first month memorizing a couple words a day might be practically insurmountable, a month later you will grasp 3 or 4 words a day...and then a few weeks later, maybe even half a dozen. I'm not just pulling this out of my ear, it's how learning language works.

HOWEVER, most people give up before the curve goes up. I've done it myself. You hit a wall, and it can be really hard to climb it. Your motivation is a good thing; I do speak Japanese, but you probably don't know that I've also failed to speak well in Spanish, French and Arabic. Why? Various reasons -- motivation, instructors, focus. Those are the things I fail to mention in most conversations about my own language abilities. However, motivation and plain old stubbornness will get you very, very far in learning any language -- even Chinese.

So, hang in there, be tough, and you WILL rip the heart out of Chinese and eat it raw. And...good luck!




Wow! I am stressed out just reading that. Prayers and good thoughts for the holidays, and hang in there!

BTW I won't have social security wither unless I start picking up jobs at the embassy. Once we are past the homeschooling with Zo and Grayson is just a bit older I will have to work bit because I want to but just to finish paying in my quarters. Bah Humbug!


...Before I started classes, I used to think (hope?) that if I did most of my homework or however much of my homework that my homelife schedule would allow, that this would suffice. That folks would just sort of understand my limitations and let me slide. No. NO. Do NOT approach language training as a spouse and think that you will be doing anything less than 100% of what the class requires. Of what the people getting PAID to be there will also have to do. You do 100% of what they do, or there's the door. Period.

Ah hahahaha! Yeah, all I can do, in between bouts of hysterical, crazy-person laughter, is agree completely. I was foolish enough to think that if I did three hours of homework a day, I would be able to progress at the necessary rate, but that sure as heck hasn't been the case. And as you say, anyone planning on taking a language class, FSO or EFM, has to buy into this thing completely. Do your homework, study your butt off and be prepared to work really, really hard. This isn't something you can phone in. At all. I have friends and acquaintances who are taking classes with people who are trying the "homework-free method" (some of whom are FSOs, so this is just a general comment, not something I'd direct specifically at EFMs) and everyone wants to kill them, because they constantly show up unprepared, which means they can barely read/hold a conversation, which holds back everyone else in the class. When you have to get to a 2/1 or whatever to, you know, work and get tenure, and someone is slowing the whole class down because they can't be bothered to study, it's not good times.

I'm convinced at this point that Chinese, aside from making my brain cry, is also making me dumber. After studying for a few hours at FSI after class and before putting in another hour or two at home, my brain literally can't process anything more complicated than a nap or possibly really trashy TV shows. It's insane, and I don't know that I've ever studied this hard for anything in my life. Which is a little depressing given that I feel like the progress I'm making is so marginal that I shudder to think of where I'd be if I wasn't putting in a ton of time every day. But! I have it on good authority from various friends who came in with Chinese that this is all normal and will be worth it in the end.

Frankly, the most terrifying thought of all of this, aside from the potential for having to e-mail post and admit that I'm going to be arriving late because I didn't pass my language test, is the idea that I'm going to have to do work-related functions in this language. At the moment, that seems like a hilarious but impossible dream.


Thanks for this post, Kolbi! I was looking forward to it. I am still cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to get into a Hindi class but now I am not sure if that will be a blessing or a curse, especially with a newborn in tow. We'll have to see...


Thanks. I really appreciate all the information you put on your blog. I have referred back to it on several occasions. I ♥ the internet!


This is such an awesome post and I admire you so much Kolbi. Thanks for spelling it out for us. It's funny because after reading this, I am both terrified and exhilarated about the thought of language training. Best of luck as you keep plugging away. You are amazing.


I can't believe you still have brain power to blog! You are amazing! Thanks for posting about language training so that those of you who may someday follow you will know what we are up against.


Consider yourself very lucky...I would love to be in your chinese class. Living in the middle of PA I can not find any chinese classes!!! And we are scheduled to move to China in 1 1/2 years!!! if only I could get to a chinese class like yours...sigh...


Susanne, check out You can plug in that you want to learn Chinese, buy credits and use them to schedule classes with instructors over Skype. You can also type stuff in your target language in a little blog thing and get native speakers to correct it. I don't think you could realistically learn Chinese from iTalki alone, but if you paired that with a textbook, you could probably get a good start.


This is a good overview, and for anyone wondering, it's pretty true for the French department too. There are some logistical differences, but the main point carries over: you're in class with people who are required to get to a certain level in order to go to post, and you're expected to keep up. It's a big commitment.

However, the French department (and I think Spanish too) also has an option called a "fast" course. It's something like 6-7 weeks as opposed to the regular 24 for French. From what I hear, a lot of EFMs find it really useful. For one, you get almost to the same level in speaking in this class as you do in the 24-week class (2+ as opposed to 3). How? I have no idea, but the info comes straight from the mouth of a member of the French testing unit, so I believe it. Perhaps more importantly, though, you focus on more practical stuff you'll need for living in a Francophone country, whereas the 24-week class spends a lot of energy (especially later on) on political and economic topics that, if you're not a diplomat, you really don't need or probably care to know. (My husband, the EFM, is in the full 24-week class and finds this aspect of it really annoying.)

nomads by nature

It's Friday and that means the weekly Blog Round-Up is here, and you're on it:

If you'd like me to remove the link, let me know.


What a great run down on what Language course are like at FSI. Happy Holidays!

Sara Roy

Yay for this post! It's good information for me since we may be in DC in a year and a half learning a language. If not, then we definitely will be two years after that, and I'm sure this information will still be valid.

From what my husband told me during his Spanish training the comments that M made are completely true - even in a "simple" language like Spanish (which trust me...isn't as simple as I'd like it to be).

And Diplogeek should know that no matter what language you're learning you go through this period, and as M pointed out, you will get through it, it will click, and you'll successfully learn the language - as long as you try, try, try!

Thank you so much for this insightful post.

Melissa V

Thanks for the post! Now we know better what to expect in September (Chad will be taking Mandarin too). It seems intimidating, but we're looking forward to it.


Thanks for the tips! (Just found your blog today.) I have officially given my notice at work, and sometime in February I hope to be joining my husband in classes. I still don't know which language, or which country we're going to (as we only get the bid list today, so we're a ways off).

I'm totally saving this post for future reference!

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James loves me. And our sons. And his job. But not having his picture taken. In 2011 he finished up over a year and half of training, and in the fall of 2011 we got to our first overseas post - Chengdu, China!
Mao says hi! Because Chengdu is one of the only cities in China with a Mao statue.
Flowers are like friends. Each one is unique. Each one is beautiful. They brighten up everything around them. And you can never have too many. 

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2012 is the Year of the Dragon, y'all! Talk about the ultimate in good luck! This kinda party only comes around once every twelve years!
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Colorful! (Inside a Chengdu ancient Buddhist monastery.)
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