It’s Not Peace Corps This Time Around

After thirty one days filled with endless PowerPoint slides, way too many personal comments from some class members, one hundred multiple choice test questions (only two of which I missed and one of those I blame on orphans!), enough fake interviews to know the visa line may not be the place for me and one tedious make-up day (long story!), I can officially cross ConGen off of my list of things to do before we head out to China.

(Short version of the long make-up day story: Because of the classes I missed when we went to Aunt Karin’s funeral a couple of weeks ago, I had to make up the two sessions of training from that day. They were the introduction sessions to American Citizen Services. The thing is, I had already taken the final test on that section, and all of ConGen for that matter, and was just putting in seat time. The first session was fine, but the afternoon one was possibly the longest hour and a half of my life. You see, that session was computer-based, but there were not enough computers and since my class had already “graduated” from the program, my user login was no longer valid. That meant that I took up residence on a spin-y chair at the back of the room. I sat directly behind a young man who obviously was totally uninterested in the lesson.  He spent the ninety minutes chatting on G-mail with a friend of his, mostly complaining about these new rumors that Whitney Huston had an affair with Jermaine Jackson. To quote him directly, “Can’t they just leave Whitney alone? She’s dead. She’s the queen. Let her be!” Whenever he wasn’t decrying the media’s vilification of ol’ Whitney’s morals, he was posting links on his Facebook page to articles about when “douche-bag” became an insult-apparently a novel in 1939 introduced a  pimp named Johnny Douchebag, and it was all downhill from there.  So did I learn anything about serving American citizens abroad during this required make-up session? No! But, the facts I came away with are rather intriguing. I love picturing an old person, born in say the 40’s, busting out the ever so classing d-bag epithet. Makes me giggle every time.)

So now that my days are FSI are mostly over (mostly, because I do have to haul my arm back in for a few more shots later this month), it is time to get crack-a-lackin’ on all of the to-do lists I have formulated over the last six weeks. Today’s check-mark goes to “Costco Reconnaissance Trip.”

Chengdu is a consumables post. (I have no idea why, but I’ll take it!) That means we can have about a ton (literally) of food and other use-up-able items shipped to China for free. Obviously, we have to purchase them, but then the shipping is on the department.  Thad can’t wait to eat Sichuan peppers for the next two years, but my eating habits will be better served with an occasional treat from home. With that in mind, I thought I would do an initial trip to Costco to make a shopping list that included prices and weights so I could mull over my options before actually making any purchases.

I gathered my handy-dandy notebook (not the blue spiral one featured prominently on Blue’s Clues, but rather a cute cream colored one with stylized flowers and vines twisting their way across the cover), a sparkly purple pen and marched myself the block and a half to Costco. As non-card-holders (don’t even get Thad started on the idea of paying a corporation money to shop at its store), this was my first visit, even though it is a mere five-minute walk from my front door. I figured the best way to tackle the daunting cavern of a store was to just go up and down each aisle, skipping the fresh and frozen foods, as they aren’t going to do well sitting on an airport tarmac for undetermined amounts of time.

Here are just a few observations from my warehouse field trip:

*Apparently, Miracle Whip is not popular on the east coast. (Does it fall into the same category as fry sauce?) There were several varieties of mayonnaise available in trough-sized jars, but no Miracle Whip anywhere to be seen.

*People look at you a little strangely if you stand for too long in the cereal aisle, counting unknown items out on your fingers, mumbling quietly to yourself.

*You can buy bras at Costco.  Their packaging claims to guarantee a perfect fit. How is this possible? (Also, said bras only come in larger sizes. Is this in homage to Costco’s giant-sized everything? Do boobs come in bulk?)

*It takes roughly two hours to wander up and down every aisle of Costco, making a three-page list and checking it twice.

*People buy weird stuff in bulk. It is fun, as you wander the aisles, to try to figure out what each person’s deal is. Look in their gigantic shopping cart (or flatbed wagon!) and take a guess at why exactly someone needs that many oversized muffins and three gigantic bottles of shampoo.  The possibilities are endless…

 

Now that my item, amount, weight and price columns are completely filled in, the contemplating begins. What do I want for the next two years?  In reality, I can get pretty much everything I would want in Chengdu. This isn’t Peace Corps after all. We will be making real salaries, be in a huge town and have easy access to supermarkets carrying at least some basic western foods. Whatever I eventually decide to ship will really just be frosting on the cake. (By the way, both frosting and cake are on my list!)

 

The “+” Column Doesn’t Always Win

Sitting in a long, faux leather, mechanically reclining chair, enjoying the strange comfort of a heavy radiation repellant blanket over me, listening to the buzzing x-ray machine resting next to my cheek, I was amazed to find that for the first time ever at a dentist’s office, the bite-wing x-ray strips were not cutting into the top and bottom of my mouth. I quickly chalked this up in the “+” column for the week, as it had been one where the “-“ column was definitely dominating.

This last week started with Thad getting a call on Sunday afternoon saying that his Aunt Karin had passed away. Aunt Karin had been fighting cancer, most recently a brain tumor, for years now, and has had a really tough time the last few months. We were lucky enough to get to spend Thanksgiving with Thad’s Pennsylvania family and see his aunt again. She leaves behind four fabulous boys and a loving daughter, as well as a hero of a husband, her mother, brothers and sisters and a whole host of nieces and nephews.

When we got the news that the funeral would be held on Thursday, we quickly put together plans to attend. This meant making arrangements with FSI to miss our classes that day, which isn’t always as easy as it might seem. Thad’s final Chinese exam is on Tuesday, so the he has lots of one-on-one study sessions scheduled with teachers, as well as classes set aside just to help him and a few others testing in the near future, prepare for the exam. He had to make sure to clear the absence with an array of instructors. In ConGen, the course I am currently taking, there is a 100% attendance policy. This means that I will have to make up the classes I missed by attending them the next time they are offered. (Typically, every seven days.) The obnoxious part about this is, I will take my final exam in ConGen this coming Friday, but then will have to go back the following Monday to sit through lectures for which I have already passed the test. Lame-o!

With a car rented and a super fancy Super 8 motel room booked, we headed out after work on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday was a rough day. The services were well-done and many people came to mourn with the family. I was a little thrown by the pastor’s lengthy reference to Madonna during the sermon. (Not Bethlehem-dwelling, virgin-pregnancy Madonna, but Super Bowl performing, “Like a Virgin” Madonna.) The discussion was of us living in a material world and being material boys and girls. I’m still not sure if it was an awkward attempt at a pop-culture reference (albeit not current, as that song was released in 1985) or a more serious endeavor towards making us consider our own mortality, but either way, it was a unique take on funeral speaking. (I have to say, I was oh-so-secretly hoping that his next point would reference Lady Gaga. But alas, such things were not to be.)

After Thad completed his service as a pall-bearer, we met up in the basement of the church, where the congregation had put together a lovely lunch for everyone who attended the funeral.  The people running the kitchen were pros at this, taking all of the work off of the grieving family and running a well-oiled machine when it came to service. It was really nice to be able to sit and chat with family before having to head back to the DC area that afternoon.

Funerals often make people introspective and reflective when it comes to their own lives and those of their loved ones, but I’ll share my lighter life-lesson of the day: don’t get travel immunizations the day before a funeral.  On Wednesday, Thad and I both became State Department pin cushions, as we got the first round of vaccinations we will need for the upcoming move to China. My arm was already sore, as the tetanus shot tends to be a super-achy one to begin with, but then add on a bevy of hugs, a mass of “gentle” arm rubs, a series of arm squeezes and a couple attention-getting punches from an unsuspecting uncle and I end up with a left arm that throbs for the entire four hour ride between Greensburg, PA and Arlington, VA.

Back home, the week continues, with us going back to classes and my excitement for housing news continuing to grow. Since we returned from Christmas break, I’ve asked Thad daily if he’s gotten an email from Chengdu with our housing assignment. The way the process works is that the Foreign Service Officer submits a form called a Housing Survey to post, where a housing board then meets and assigns housing to those officers and families arriving in the near future.  The Housing Survey is basically just a paper asking what the officer’s preferences are. We put (at every possible opportunity on the form) that we would like to live off-compound and maybe somewhere less “Westernized.” I have been waiting like a clown awaits a new pair of giant, floppy red shoes! Knowing where we are going to live will be a super step in the moving process.

Friday, the email finally arrived. Thad forwarded me a note that was all of about four sentences long, welcoming us to our apartment…on the consulate compound. No pictures. No blueprint. Nothing.  Just a compound apartment number.  Ugh! Seriously? The only thing I really asked was to not be on the compound, but it appears that is where we were placed. In Chengdu, that housing seems to be mostly families, as there is a playground and the secure grounds are nice for young kids. Great for them, but not so great for a young (relatively!) couple with no kids with a high level of comfort in the host country and a desire for a bit of space between their professional and private lives. Talk about going from uber-excited to down in the dumps in a matter of seconds.

This has just not been a great week.

I know every argument about why I shouldn’t be upset by this, but I still am. I know that it is a huge perk that the State Department pays for my housing, and I am thankful for that. I know that the housing will probably end up to be just fine. I know that in a few days I will be over it and excited to go again, but I’m just not there yet.  I rarely get upset about much, so I just need a few days with this. It will be fine. The back of my brain tells me that- I’m just not quite there.

To wrap up my wonderful week, I ended Friday with a dentist appointment. My teeth suck. I’ll just put it out there. Nearly every time I go to the dentist, I have a new cavity or other issue that needs to be dealt with. (My local dentist chalks it up to growing up on well-water and not city-water. I don’t know how valid of an argument that is, but weak teeth are mine, regardless of the reason.)  I was super-de-dooper excited, channeling my inner-Barney, to find out that my crown is still good and that I have not a single cavity! Yay! I was soon returned from my mental PBS-foray when the dentist flopped the x-rays up on the screen in front of me, not to point out the lack of cavities, but to point out the old silver filings that are leaking! Ugh! Seriously? I apparently have two (side by side) fillings from about a million years ago that are leaking and need to be replaced. So, even though I have not a single cavity, I still get to get the drilling. Nice.

It has been a long week. Luckily, it wasn’t a total bust. Things started looking up on Saturday and now I am convinced that it is up, up and away from this point onward. I hosted a small baby shower here at the mo-partment Saturday afternoon and then met up with fabulous Peace Corps friends for dinner Saturday night.

This week is going to be nothing short of the mirror opposite of last week. It is going to be stupendous, tremendous and marvelous. I am going to get excited again about moving to Chengdu, compound housing or not. Thad is going to pass his Chinese exam and we are going to go out to celebrate. There will be no shots, no funerals and no dental drillings.

It’s time to rally Team Ross. Ra-Ra-Hip-Hip-Hurrah!

Time to Suit Up

In the wise words of Barney Stinson, it is time to “suit up.”  With February whipping by like a winged cherub shooting arrows of love, our April leave date looms large. Each day, as I sit in ConGen, trying to mentally process the intricacies of non-immigration law practice, my mind often wanders to what needs to be done here and now to get us ready to go. While the front half of my flower and vine covered notebook is filled with refusal codes, ineligibilities and INA references, the back pages are devoted to lists that fall under headings such as “Consumables Shipment,” “Medical Kit”  “Shell Shopping” and “Thad Shopping.”

One of the top priorities falling under the “Thad Shopping” column was suits. Last spring, when he got his invitation to join the 161st A-100 class at FSI, we were only given a few weeks of notice.  We were able to make a quick run to the suit store and get him two full suits, which got him through the summer fine, but he’ll need more now that he is facing the world of business-ware on a daily basis. (Language training is much more casual at FSI, meaning a collared shirt is sufficient.  Unless he has business to conduct in DC, he doesn’t need to wear the full ensemble each day.)

Thad is not a shopper. And when he does shop, he is not a “try-er on-er.” He goes through the pile of shirts, chooses the color that most closely resembles everything else in his closet and buys it. (Or waits on a bench outside the store while I buy it.) This means, suit shopping, that requires not only a visit to the dressing room, but also consultations with the seamstress, is not his idea of a fun Saturday.  But, when Men’s Warehouse is having their “Buy One, Get One Free” sale, there is no getting around it. It is time to go suit shopping.

So Saturday, after a lazy morning around the house, we headed out with nervous glances at a gray sky that seemed to be threatening snow. We had two choices of stores- the one that is just a couple of miles up the road by bus, or the one across the river in the District just a block away from the Metro station. We went with the latter. So did half of northern Virginia.

Men’s Warehouse was a warehouse of men on Saturday afternoon. Their semi-annual suit sale drew in the masses, who like us, feel a little ill at the price tags dangling from the sleeves of name brand suits. Planning ahead, we wrote down the sizes of the suits he already has and we were able to get a good start on suit selection before a salesman made it our way. With a couple outfits in hand that he picked out and a couple more that I really liked, it was off to the back of the store, where the fitting rooms had just a bit of locker room whiff to them.  (Thad says suits aren’t outfits. I am not sure why. It is a full ensemble that matches. That sounds like an outfit to me.)

Once we had narrowed it down to a pretty (now he’ll probably never wear it) gray suit and one with an olive hue to it, it was time for things to get personal with the alterations department. Chalk marks were made, pins stuck in and measurements taken.

With Thad changing back into his preferred t-shirt and jeans, I met with the “stylist.” (This is a real job at Men’s Warehouse!  They have a woman who takes the suits you choose, and then displays them with a variety of shirts and ties to demonstrate which color combinations work best. While I could easily do this on my own, I applaud the company for their ingenious gimmick. I am sure they have sold countless shirts and ties through this process than they would have if they just let men wander the aisles and try to fend for themselves.)  Since we were in the dress shirt and tie market anyway though, the stylist and I worked through several combinations. By the time Thad joined us, I had the selections narrowed down and just needed his approval. (It doesn’t matter how awesome I think it looks. If he hates it, there is no point in bringing it home.)

Two suits,  six dress shirts, two ties and a hefty swipe of the debit card later, we found ourselves back out on the sidewalk, no longer glancing at a gray sky threatening snow, but rather standing in the flakes themselves as they came swirling violently around us.

Monday, when I head into my fourth week of consular training, as I flip from the data-filled pages of the front of my spiral notebook to the list-filled ones at the back, I will be pulling out my lovely purple ballpoint and crossing off the first of many lines in many lists- suits. That’s one “to-do” item checked off!

Next up? I’ve got no idea! Possibility just more additions to the already pending lists.

Wii-ning Advice

Much like the poultry population of southern China, our Oakwood population is experiencing its own culling process. Friends that we’ve made through Thad’s A-100 training class and language training are beginning to pack-out and leave for their respective assignments.  On one hand, this is great because the commencement of their tours means ours isn’t far behind, but on the other hand, it is a bit odd to not have the same people on the shuttle each morning and evening and to not have the same people chatting around the table at lunch each afternoon.

This week was the last week at FSI for two such people.  Ian and David both just dominated their end of course language tests and are now headed west to visit family before heading far, far east where Ian will begin his assignment in the Guangzhou consulate. Thad and Ian started Chinese classes together last July and have spent a large portion of each day together since then. David and I joined the party a bit later, but have also had our share of time on the fake-coyote ridden campus of FSI.

A bit of an impromptu going-away party convened last night to celebrate their impending departure and to wish them well in their new adventures. While I usually am not up for anything big on a Friday night, riding up the elevator five floors for a get-together is definitely doable! The evening’s docket included pizza, soda, chips and a bit of Wii.

This being my third Wii-experience (Wii-sperience?) in as many months, I have a few tidbits for my fellow players who also lack technological aptitude:

  1. Apparently, calling yourself a “video game player” is not appropriate lingo for those who are serious about their games. If you refer to yourself this way, it is equivalent to donning a sandwich board sign advertising your lack of video game skillz. (Spelling and pronouncing skills with a “z” may lead to a similar assumption, but I’m sticking with it!)
  2. Just because you are a decent driver in real life (no pullovers or tickets for this motor vehicle operator) does not mean those abilities will in any way translate to video game driving abilities. After coming in 11th and 12th consecutively, David jumped in to be my back seat driver.  In addition to giving me hints about upcoming turns and obstacles, his squeals when I careened into various gorges and ravines kept me on my feet. With him riding shotgun, I soon propelled my standing from the bottom of the pack to 2nd place!
  3. Don’t listen to your competitors-ever. Their advice should not be heeded. Towards the end of an intense Mario Party clashing, as I was about to purchase my third star, thereby putting me in the lead, I was debating whether or not it was in my best interest to allow Donkey Kong to shoot me out of his cannon (really, who wouldn’t want a ride in a cannon?!?), I hear something say “Yes!”  Thinking this advice was coming from someone in-the-know, I chose to take the cannon ride, which catapulted me not to the star as I thought it would, but rather to the Never-Neverland of Mario’s prehistoric jungle. There would be no star in my future, at least in that round.

As a thrice-experienced “gamer”(this, I am told, is the correct way to label yourself if you have wasted away hours of time on your sofa, moving your pixilated men and creatures in hopes of achieving virtual success), I feel that my past mistakes can be learning opportunities for those who follow in my technological footsteps.  While these tips may not allow you to be the ultimate winner of Mario Party (which I was last night, by the way!) but they will give you a leg-up on your fellow uninitiated video game players.

The coming months will see many more goodbyes, but mostly great ones, as it means everyone is finally heading out to their multitude of awesome posts, as well as the possibility of a few more virtual game nights. I doubt I will ever be good at goodbyes, but I will continue in my quest to achieve the gaming skills of a six year old!

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“C” is for Cookie, That’s Good Enough for Me

Now what starts with the letter “C”?
“Cookie” starts with “C”!
Let’s think of other things that starts with “C”!
Uh. . .Uh. . . Who cares about da other things?!

-Cookie Monster

If Cookie Monster just added “Christmas” to his list of “C” words, that would be good enough for me.  I figured there was no better way to celebrate the holiday season that to marry these two fabulous “C” words and get my bake on!

The idea of a mass-baking day came to me a few weeks ago in the midst of Chinese class.  There was a point in class when one classmate was really struggling with a grammar point, so while he and the teacher went through a series of sentences using said point, I wisely used that time to make a list in the back of my notebook of soon-to-be cookie recipients.  It didn’t take long for the list to grow from a handful of people to the point where hundreds of cookies would be needed, but that just added to the fun of what I shall dub “Koo-Koo for Cookies Day!”

With a few other moments of not following along with the ever-growing vocabulary list, I had not only a receiver list, but an equally long list of goodies to be created.  Scheming complete, it was time to put the plan into action.

On Saturday morning, while it was a brisk thirty degrees outside, I bundled up and headed to the closest grocery store.  This journey requires me to cut through a shopping center, a mall and a parking garage. Bundled in my winter finery, the outside portions of the trip where quite comfortable, but that comfort in the elements translated directly to near heat stroke inside the buildings. Between puffy coat, scarf and hat, my grocery cart was more outerwear than it was food items.

The first annual (annual implies there will be future occasions…we’ll optimistically assume such an event will again take place, but next time in Chengdu) Koo-Koo for Cookies baking list included holiday classics such as gingerbread cookies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies and holiday sprinkle doused sugar cookies.  To round out this diabetic induction, I also got the fixings to make chocolate pecan treats.  Shoving aside my unwieldy pile of Arctic-ready clothing also stacked in the cart, I made my way to the checkout stand where I quickly calculated that spending an extra $1.99 to purchase what is possibly the world’s largest canvas bag was a much better deal than losing all circulation to my extremities, which is surely what would have happened had I looped numerous plastic bags over each arm to schlep home.

Gigantic reusable grocery store tote slung over my shoulder mirroring Mr. Claus’ upcoming ventures, I made my way back through the parking garage, the mall and the nearby shopping center, feeling the wrath of the overheated buildings.

With dawn breaking on Sunday morning, I excitedly got up to begin the cookie construction process.  Dough was prepared. Cookies were created. Some were rolled in sprinkles of various holiday motifs (red and green for the Christmas revelers, blue for those lighting menorahs this time of year). Cookies were baked. Cookies were cooled. Cookies were stacked high on plates dotting what little counter space is available in ye ol’ mo-partment.

Six hours later, I successfully pulled the last of the sweet goodies from the oven. The results included two hundred cookies plus one hundred chocolate pecan treats, minus the various items that Thad occasionally wandered through to “taste-test.”  While it may be a horrible flashback to middle school math problems, the sum of the day is easy to calculate- deliciousness!

Once the delightful goodies were complete, the lack of counter space again reared its ugly head.  Without our dear floppy-eared Basset hound Mabel to make her move, it was easy enough to expand into the entryway, where snowman-esque winter plastics plates (the not –so-distant relative of that lovely summer plastic ware peddled by Target when the warm weather arrives) were strewn across the floor and piled high with scrumptiousness and covered over in holiday-themed Saran Wrap. Shiny bows topped off each platter, making the final product not only tasty, but festive as well.

Christmas came early at FSI this week!  There is no better way to greet a Monday than to pass out fifteen plates of holiday cookies. I had to laugh, when I wandered out of class during the afternoon break, I saw my cookies in the hands of nearly every person I passed in the hallway. Everywhere there were  cookies in hands and smiles on faces. It seems Koo-Koo for Cookies day was a success!

(This little boy is Julian, the son of one of my Chinese classmates. Cute kid and a cookie is the holidays at their finest.)

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12 Days of Christmas- FSI Style

12  Days of Christmas- FSI Style

On the first day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
An overworked iPad Pleco app

On the second day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the third day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the fourth day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Four dreaded tones,
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the fifth day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Five hours of class,
Four dreaded tones,
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the sixth day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Six indistinguishable characters,
Five hours of class,
Four dreaded tones,
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the seventh day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Seven students a-swearing,
Six indistinguishable characters,
Five hours of class,
Four dreaded tones,
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the eighth day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Eight laoshi-s a-correcting,
Seven students a-swearing,
Six indistinguishable characters,
Five hours of class,
Four dreaded tones,
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the ninth day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Nine uses of “le”,
Eight laoshi-s a-correcting,
Seven students a-swearing,
Six indistinguishable characters,
Five hours of class,
Four dreaded tones,
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the tenth day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Ten Area Studies lectures,
Nine uses of “le”,
Eight laoshi-s a-correcting,
Seven students a-swearing,
Six indistinguishable characters,
Five hours of class,
Four dreaded tones,
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Eleven pounds of textbooks,
Ten Area Studies lectures,
Nine uses of “le”,
Eight laoshi-s a-correcting,
Seven students a-swearing,
Six indistinguishable characters,
Five hours of class,
Four dreaded tones,
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
the State Department sent to me
Twelve holiday memos,
Eleven pounds of textbooks,
Ten Area Studies lectures,
Nine uses of “le”,
Eight laoshi-s a-correcting,
Seven students a-swearing,
Six indistinguishable characters,
Five hours of class,
Four dreaded tones,
Three toiling classmates,
Two daily shuttles,
And an overworked iPad Pleco app

Welcome to Chinese Class!

The time has come to shelve the bon bons, find some real pants and join the world of schedules and deadlines once again.  Five months of summer vacation have come and gone, some days filled with cultural enlightenment, many with fabulous new books via e-book library lending, a few with Kardashian-following and one with laser-guided retina searing. Living on a self-made schedule is over now, though. The grindstone has resurfaced and, as prophesied by En Vouge, it is “back to life, back to reality” I go.

I joined the ranks of the Crystal City Oakwood shuttle riders Monday morning, reusable pink coffee mug in hand , headed to FSI to commence Chinese language training.  (FSI is the Foreign Service Institute.  It is basically a small college campus where the State Department trains its personnel, much of it devoted to language studies. As an EFM, eligible family member, ie: spouse, I also qualify to receive free language training through the department.)

After being issued an official badge, it was time to venture into the maze of corridors that make up the institute. Passing by the legless, but fur-tailed coyotes randomly stuck into the grass throughout the grounds, (these are apparently meant to deter geese from making the pleasant park-like surroundings  their home, but more than once I’ve seen the geese contentedly lazing near these not-so-ferocious lawn ornaments) I arrived for day one.

I’ve only been in class for a week now, but here are a few of my first observations:

  1. Five hours is a long time to spend in a small classroom together.  The wall seems to come about four and a half hours in, after which point brains turn to mush and language becomes nonsensical blabber.
  2. Textbooks are heavy!  We were given three books the first day, and since have added two more to the stack.  The only time I’ve consistently carried more weight in books than this is when I was taking my Shakespeare class at BYU and hauled the Complete Works across campus every day for an entire summer term.
  3. Homework is no fun! I should know this, having been a teacher for over a decade and always having a stack of papers in my bag that need graded or lessons to prepare, but there is just something about having actual *homework* that is super stressful.  I don’t get home from class until 6PM each night, at which point the last thing I want to do is pull out the books and get right to work, but as the exact opposite of a night-owl, my productivity ends pretty early in the evening.
  4. I need a unique lunch sack. This first week, I’ve packed my Smucker’s Uncrustable peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, cup of apple sauce and dinosaur-shaped fruit snacks in a regular paper sack. Once crammed into the refrigerator with the lunches from everyone else studying an East Asian/Pacific language, my sack is totally indistinguishable from all of the other crumpled bags also shoved unceremoniously into that box of cool goodness.
  5. Chinese is hard. Enough said.

With just six months until our departure date,  down goes the Nook, out come the dress slacks and away with Mandarin we go!!  加油!