I’ve been in Virginia for the last six weeks, going through my orientation period as a new diplomat.
While this has been an exciting time, in full transparency, it’s also been an intense transition for me. I am coming into this career field from what was essentially my dream job: Getting paid to travel and write/blog about it.
Coming from the freelance world and having to transition into a 9-5, navigating a structured environment, all while grieving the flexibility of my former life, has come with its ups and downs.
I am incredibly grateful to be in this position and have no regrets, but I am also very self-aware of my feelings and choose to honor myself by expressing those thoughts and feelings as they arise.
When I decided to share my journey of being a young Black woman diplomat, I promised myself to keep it real and share the good and the bad.
Mainly to not provide a sugar-coated point-of-view for those interested in learning more about my experience but more for me to look back on in the future as I continue navigating this career path.
In this blog post, I’ll share my orientation experience and some of the realizations that have risen for me throughout the last six weeks.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this blog post are of my own accord.
What Is A-100?
A-100 is the orientation for new diplomats designed to give an introduction to the U.S. Foreign Service and prepare for our first assignments.
New diplomats in the scheduled orientation class fly into Virginia to be together for orientation.
During the six weeks, we sit through a series of presentations on various topics like payroll, ethics, the structure of an embassy, terminology, how to write memos, etc., meant to provide exposure to this field.
Moving from Ghana to Florida
I moved back to Florida from Ghana upon graduating with my Master’s degree at my university in Accra on June 6, 2023.
Orientation started on July 3, 2023, so I had a little under a month to do whatever I wanted before embarking on the six weeks of orientation.
The month I had before orientation was the first time in two years that I had to truly relax and breathe without any internships, grad school assignments, or other responsibilities.
I still had to prepare for orientation and my move from Florida to Virginia, so it wasn’t as carefree as I would’ve liked the time to be, but I was still able to squeeze in a trip to Cancun and some other adventures around Florida, like my stay at the newest Getaway tiny cabin!
My last two months in Ghana were very hectic due to graduation, hosting my mom and sister in the country, figuring out how to pack two years’ worth of stuff into two suitcases, finishing up my capstone, applying for housing, and paperwork required for orientation.
With this being said, I left Ghana in a rush and did not give myself time to fully process the emotions I harbored about leaving the country I had grown such an emotional attachment to. Ghana has given me so much.
It felt like I was going through the motions to get what I needed done but not sitting in those feelings that would later hit me during orientation.
One perk of being a diplomat that I’ve gotten to experience is getting packed out for free. I was given a weight limit of 250 pounds of items I got shipped to Virginia from Florida.
I scheduled my pack out a week before I was scheduled to fly out to Virginia.
On the day of my pack out, I set up snacks and water for the packing crew and organized all the items I wanted to be packed in one area.
I didn’t have much to bring to Virginia besides clothes and random items like free weights, so I didn’t use the entire 250 pounds, but it was a pleasant experience.
Now, while this perk means I can get items sent to me and have more room for more immediate items in my suitcases, the catch is that I got my package at the end of orientation seven weeks later.
I can honestly say I forgot what was in there and didn’t have anything I couldn’t have lived without if I had never received it, but it was a great lesson on how much I should declutter before leaving for Qatar!
Traveling and Arriving in Virginia
I flew with American Airlines from Florida, and two hours later, I landed in Virginia, the city I would be calling home for the next month (or longer, depending on where I would be assigned at that point).
Once I got to Virginia, I took an Uber to my new apartment and settled in. All of this happened on a Sunday, and the next day, I was expected to be at orientation for the first day!
Knowing this, I made sure to have my orientation outfit inside my carry-on ready to go, went grocery shopping, and prepared a lunchbox.
Some of my colleagues chose to move in a few days earlier for a fee to avoid the stress of moving in the day before orientation, but I didn’t think it was worth the money for me, so I chose not to.
Thankfully, I had a smooth check-in process and no issues with arriving the day before orientation.
The First Day of Orientation
The first day of orientation started around 8-9 a.m., and I woke up around 4 a.m. to go through my morning routine and prepare.
I was nervous about the first day and what to expect, but I loved it! I walked into a room with over 150 people chatting, smiling, shaking hands, and getting to know each other. It was a lot of positive and warm energy; everyone was super excited.
I spotted some of the other fellows in the room whom I had spoken to over the years and introduced myself to some new faces.
In the blog post, I wrote about how I became a diplomat; I mentioned how I joined through the Rangel Fellowship and my unique fellowship experience since I did my internships online and chose to go to grad school abroad.
This meant that although I was fortunate to come into orientation knowing of 44 other fellows I was in a group chat with for two years, I was meeting all of them for the first time ever!
After mingling, the day was filled with more introductions, guest speakers, presentations, and a lot of sitting and listening.
Overall, I left the first day of orientation feeling good and less nervous about what would come.
The Following Weeks of Orientation
Orientation for my cohort was hybrid, so it was a mix of virtual and in-person days, which was perfect for me as I loved the balance.
As the weeks progressed, my feelings began to shift a bit.
I began to question whether or not I belonged in this career, and it felt like all of the emotions I suppressed about leaving Ghana, starting my career, and being in a new state were beginning to rise to the surface.
My previous flexible days were now 6-7 hours spent with colleagues, and I began to have internal battles about navigating this new space I found myself in.
Not to mention the reverse cultural shock of being back in the U.S. and being in a new state.
Many of these feelings hit me out of nowhere. They were difficult for me to process because it was all so new, so much information was thrown at me daily, and I was overwhelmed and overstimulated.
To know me is to know that while I might be going through an experience, my major takeaways are not always necessarily tied to that immediate experience but random connections I make and how they apply to my life.
Lessons and Takeaways from Orientation
In this section, I’ll share some aspects of orientation that stood out to me and how they are making me think differently about what I can expect from this career.
Please keep in mind that this is a journey I am choosing to share in real time.
How I feel at the time of writing this will likely not reflect my feelings in a week, let alone next year when I am actually applying everything I am currently learning.
My opinions will change and evolve as I am exposed to and continue to learn more.
The goal here is to document the stages–-both good and bad–-to look back on.
The Magnitude to Which This Career Will Impose on My Personal Life Was Not Something I Anticipated
This is the number one thing I struggled to digest during orientation.
The Foreign Service is a lifestyle rather than a job that you can just clock in and out of. It is difficult for many people to mentally detach themselves from being a diplomat, even outside of the facilities they work in.
I had heard this several times but decided that no matter what, this would not be me.
Of course, I knew that this role would infringe on my personal life in many ways as far as my physical location, certain rules I have to follow, etc., but I will say that I did not understand the magnitude to which it actually would and making that connection has been interesting.
I’ve always been someone who strategically aims to keep the different sectors of my life separate in an attempt to promote balance.
People that I know from places like church, school, work, social gatherings, etc., usually do not cross over in my life, but in this career field, I noticed that your colleagues are likely to cross into your personal life because of the amount of time you spend with them.
Hearing from many different speakers and connecting with people throughout my six weeks at the Institute helped me come to terms with this and start thinking about how to create a healthy balance between my occupational and social self to thrive on a personal level.
My Appreciation for My Colleagues
I am surrounded by some of the most brilliant people I have ever met in my life. It was fascinating to me how unique everyone was in their own ways and how diverse our experiences actually are.
Some people are coming straight from graduate school, while others have already had 1-2 careers. Orientation was a great insight into how much of a strength our differences are when celebrated and honored in the workplace.
Those varied experiences mean that everyone has different perspectives that impact how we communicate, receive feedback, analyze different situations, etc. I truly learned a lot from so many people just by listening.
I honestly can’t wait to serve alongside my colleagues in the years to come.
Forced Socialization in the Workplace: Playing “the Game”
I come from the world of freelance, where I spend a lot of time working alone, attending events when I genuinely want to, and a lot of the work is done online.
In any job I’ve ever had prior to being a freelance writer, I adopted that “clock in and clock out; your colleagues are not your friends” mindset. These were also customer service-based jobs, so this was extremely easy for me to do.
So when I entered the world of happy hours, needing people like you to advance in this career (which has been communicated to me both directly and indirectly), and using my personal time to attend activities with my colleagues, it was a bit unsettling for me because I’m not used to having to “play a game” to achieve my goals.
I can socialize, but I’m not used to constantly being placed in situations where the conversations are very forced, and silence is constantly trying to be filled to avoid awkward moments lol.
I lean more into establishing natural connections. I truly believe that you will always connect with those you are meant to past the surface level.
I can say that I’ve made amazing connections throughout my orientation period. I’ve met people that I will keep in touch with throughout my career, and I can’t wait to see how those relationships flourish.
There is a game to be played in this career, and if you choose not to play it, that has consequences for how you are perceived and talked about amongst others.
Who I am at work is really not who I am outside of work, so I found myself attending happy hours with my colleagues, and just the concept of hanging out with people who are not necessarily my friends outside of work foreign to me.
I struggled to separate who was my colleague vs. who was a friend and honor both my occupational and social self in this setting—-two VERY different people. I questioned how much of my authentic self could realistically show up in this space.
This has been uncomfortable, but it has pushed me to learn how to separate professional social settings from my normal ones, which will serve me well moving forward.
I now better understand that my colleagues are not my friends, but have the potential to be if I find some gems.
Navigating A White Space in A Black Body
It’s not lost on me that I now represent a country whose history and current issues paint a clear image of the general beliefs that exist about my people.
The values, principles, and rights often spoken of were not granted to people who looked like me not long ago. That’s another heavy thing I carry. Representing a country that historically has not always stood for my people and the honor yet conflicting feelings that come with that.
I had a conversation with a Black man at work who told me he had to “disarm” people by introducing himself and being super friendly when meeting them because his physical appearance offsets people and brings prejudgment. It was insightful when reflecting on how I have been perceived in this space.
In my short time in this space, I’ve been called stoic and have been told that I have a facial appearance that makes me seem like I am looking down on others by certain individuals in this space.
At the same time, I’ve been told that I always look happy and always smiling and laughing.
The difference I’ve noticed in how I’m perceived? Who has taken the time to speak to me and have an actual conversation beyond their initial prejudgments, and who hasn’t.
I also feel like this is a soft launch into one of several levels of the angry Black woman stereotype, but we’ll cover that another day.
In theory, I’m someone who should be more intentional about disarming people because I know it would help with being accepted in certain spaces, but I don’t care to make myself more digestible to make others comfortable.
I lean into communities where I can just be and not have to perform to be accepted and embraced, so the minute I feel like I have to, I seek safety in not giving people access.
In all honesty, I don’t feel emotionally or mentally safe in this environment. I know that as a Black woman, I have to filter what I say and do because no matter how safe one might say a space is, I know deep down not to ever think that professional environments are safer than they actually are when you’re Black.
I’ve learned that when you don’t give people an identity, they will create one for you. So, it’s easy for people who don’t know you to jump to conclusions about who they think you are because sometimes it makes people more comfortable placing you in a category, even if it’s not reflective of who you actually are.
I feel like I am under scrutiny in a way I have never experienced before. The way I dress, talk, walk, interact with others, my facial expressions, and everything else I do under a magnifying glass as people try to figure out if I’m worthy enough to be in this space.
I look forward to the contributions I’ll make as a Black woman in this career, but I am not oblivious to the challenges that will arise due to the skin I’m in.
Showcasing vs Sheltering My Strengths for My Protection
At work, you are great when your colleagues say you’re great, which is determined by how involved you are, what organizations you join, how much you speak and show up, etc.
One thing I’ve learned during my short life is that when you struggle with high-functioning depression and anxiety, it can be hard to get out of the spotlight and get people to see you as a human.
As a result, my intent was not to show up as an expert or someone at the forefront but more of a supporting player. A “strategy” that I quickly realized was not realistic.
We teach people what to expect of us, so I tried to avoid showing up a certain way so people wouldn’t come to expect it from me.
Usually, I’m one of the most outspoken people in the room, but in this space, I find myself taking more of a backseat and being more of a listener. I’m enjoying it.
The time will come to perform, lead, and be in the spotlight, but I want to process and absorb everything I am feeling and receiving from my immediate environment.
Diplomacy = Relationships
Diplomacy is extremely relationship-oriented. The role that I will embody will go beyond the tasks that I am assigned, and I don’t think I fully understood how this could be or what it would look like.
One thing that’s clear is that I need people in this career. I haven’t had the best experiences with mentorship and receiving guidance, which is why I typically don’t seek mentorship, but that has shifted in a very positive way for me.
I was coming into many situations with past hurt at the forefront of my mind, but I have been able to let my guard down over the past month and accept help and guidance.
I’m thankful for the conversations I’ve had and the trust built with people that I hope to consider a support system as I progress in this career.
The Sacrifices I’ll Have to Make Will Be Immense
Saying yes to this career means saying no to many other things. I’m in a building stage right now with my brand and many other endeavors I’m setting up, and it is going amazing, but it also will have to look different as time goes on.
I will still do everything I set out to do, but the strategy has been altered to make room for my new life as a diplomat. Thankfully, I do well adjusting and going with the flow, but the sacrifices won’t always be easy to digest.
The Experiences I Will Have Will Be Priceless
As I process all of these different emotions and mini inner conflicts I’ve been having with myself, I can say that I am so excited to be stepping into this world.
I’m just trying to figure out how to bring my authentic self with me.
The experiences I will have, the people I will meet, and the work that I will do will make it all worth it in the end.
Receiving My First Assignment Flag Day
During the 5th week of orientation was flag day! Flag day is when new officers find out what country they will head to for their first assignment.
The weeks leading up to flag day were very nerve-wracking. As new diplomats, we receive a list of open positions that we rank in order of our preferences, but ultimately, where we end up depends on the needs of the government.
The morning of flag day, I had a lot of good and bad anxiety, but I got it together and remembered that I would end up where I was supposed to be.
One of my mentors advised me to sit in the front so I could see which flags were being pulled and kind of mentally “mark off” which ones were left as options for me, which was great but did add to the nerves!
There were six sets of flags for over 100 of us, and by the time we were halfway through, I still hadn’t received my assignment.
For some reason, I strongly felt that I would get assigned Shanghai and felt that if I didn’t get China, I would get one of my top choices.
Finally, my name popped up on the screen with a backdrop of the Qatar flag, and I remember jumping up with excitement as it was one of my top choices!
I’ve spent many layovers in Qatar when flying my favorite airline of all time, Qatar Airways, but due to COVID restrictions, I have never gotten to leave the airport.
It’s a country I’ve always wanted to explore more of, so I am ecstatic to head there for two years.
Orientation ends with a swear-in ceremony on the very last day. We had a guest speaker, took our oath, and took a group picture with our very large class!
Hosting My Parents and Aunt
My parents and aunt flew to D.C. from Florida to attend my swear-in ceremony. After taking lots of pictures inside the Main Building, we went to lunch at North Italia in D.C., and then I took them to see some of the city.
My mom has traveled to Ghana and a new state this year because of my endeavors, and it makes me incredibly happy and thankful that my family is also getting to experience new places due to this new life.
Orientation is Over, Now What?
Now that orientation is over, I can look back and affirm everything I was feeling and that I am still processing. The reality is that I will likely never have to go through that experience again, and orientation does not reflect what my experience at my first assignment will be like.
I am transitioning. I am grieving past experiences and my life in Ghana, being introduced into this new career field that will change my life completely, and trying to figure out who I want to be in this world.
I have survived my crash course in diplomacy and will spend the next 10 months in training to prepare for my role in Qatar and learning Arabic.
I am admittedly very nervous about learning Arabic, which is my only worry about Qatar. However, I am also super excited to add another language under my belt, especially one that will be extremely applicable while traveling worldwide.
Language training means I will be based in the U.S. for another year, so I look forward to exploring our nation’s capital, visiting some new States, and crossing off some of my U.S. bucket list experiences.
It’s crazy to think that around this time next year, I’ll be living in Qatar.