Country matters

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Recently I have become better at geography. Bodies of water, capitals, terrains, and anthropologies are still well beyond my ken, but I can name all the countries and find them on a map. Can you?

I’ll explain why I’ve recently decided to become less ignorant, but first we need some bulleted lists and maybe some pictures.

Number of countries in the world:

  • Approximately 196
  • 193 recognized by the United Nations
  • 3 countries that aren’t in the UN: Vatican City, Kosovo, and Taiwan

Size extremes:

  • The smallest is Nauru, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, about one tenth the mass of Washington, D.C., with a perimeter of 30 kilometers. You could do a lap around the whole thing, à la The Little Prince, in an afternoon.
  • The largest country, of course, is Russia, with a landmass equally about one sixth of the surface of the moon.
Hi, I'm Nauru

Hi, I’m Nauru

Hi, I’m 814,000 times bigger than Nauru.

Places I mistakenly thought were countries:

  • Greenland
  • England
  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • Palestine
  • Chechnya

Selected changes since Mr. Pack’s seventh-grade Social Studies class:

  • Zaire is no longer a country
  • Eritrea split off from Ethiopia
  • Palau (sort of near itty-bitty Nauru) became a country
  • So did Montenegro and South Sudan

Countries that I swear I’d never heard of before:

  • Kiribati
  • Andorra
  • San Marino
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Tuvalu
  • Vanuatu
  • Tonga
  • Timor-Leste
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Comoros
  • Sao Tome and Principe

Country that sounds like a doo-wop group:

  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

The reason for my newfound interest in geography is that I’ve come up with a career plan. Isn’t it neat how I’m dropping that bombshell in the middle of a blog post? Anyhow, at the goading hectoring urging of a friend of mine, now retired from his own globe-trotting career, I am investigating the possibility of joining the Foreign Service.

Of human Bondage

This has basically nothing to do with the Foreign Service.

Foreign Service officers work in embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world. The pay is decent, the benefits are excellent, and the government picks up the tab for housing and travel. It is extremely competitive and my chances of succeeding are slim. I do not speak a foreign language and I do not have overseas experience. Those are two significant handicaps right there.

But what the hell. I’m going to take the Foreign Service Officer test in February. Between now and then I am going to study the bejeesus out of history, government, economics, and current events. I probably won’t pass the test, but at least I’ll be better informed.

In the unlikely event that I do pass the February test, I have to pass other tests: a personal narrative, an oral interview, and a background check.

In the likely event that I do not pass the test, I will implement Plan B: applying for the Peace Corps. This would involve giving up income for two years, but when you consider the paltry sum I’ve earned so far this year, it’s not so bad. Actually I think I’d come out ahead, because the government would pay for my medical and dental coverage, my travel expenses, and my housing — and I’d learn a foreign language and pick up some fancy lines for my résumé, which right now is effectively worthless.

The Peace Corps is competitive, too. I don’t know for sure that they’d take me, but I’m going to give it a shot, if the paid gig doesn’t pan out.

I have in the past rejected the notion of joining the Peace Corps. Of all my concerns, the biggest was the kitties: what would I do with them? But now I have an answer for that. I’d leave them with my boyfriend.

Who would then become my ex-boyfriend. The problem with moving overseas is that I’d be leaving people, places, and kitties I love. I do not want to be the sort of person who chooses money over the important things in life.

Mr. Burns

I am the 1%.

But I do need food and shelter. I need something other than the free clinic to provide for my health needs. And though it is not necessary to sustain life, I very much want to do something relevant with my existence.

Perhaps the Foreign Service and the Peace Corps will reject my applications. Rejecting my applications is a popular trend among employers. I might not have to choose between parents/boyfriend/kitties or career. And even if things go well, these are processes that take a lot of time. Nothing is going to be decided overnight, or even this year.

I’ve got a possible way forward, though, and that’s something I’ve been lacking for ages — this past year since I left the library, sure, but even prior to my departure I was hunting for je ne sais quois.  At the very, very least, I can now find Brunei on the map.

I’ve got some studying to do now. And if you have recommendations for books on history, civics, government, politics, etc., etc., send them on.


5 responses »

  1. Heather’s godparents were both in the foreign service. Her godfather was aide de camp to General Westmoreland during Vietnam (though they were situated safely in Thailand, I believe), prior to entering the foreign service. Last I heard (half a century ago) was that the oral had a lot of crop production questions.

    If all else fails, you can design yourself an internship for my NGO. It wouldn’t pay, but would look spiffy on your CV.

  2. Ah the third rock from El Sol is such a place; so much water! Having read what passed for an English language translation of the Sagas yea those years ago in 8th grade, my own discovery of Danish Greenland embedded “thralldom” in an ever expanding vocabulary.Eric the Red and all that international diplomatic intrigue was a great introduction to Foreign Affairs. Kiribati, of course is a local ‘corruption’ of what we Anglo-speakers call the Gilberts. Our US Marine Corps immortalized those lonely atolls by having 1000(plus) Americans draw their last adrenaline-fueled breaths on it’s coral slopes.Tarawa…Semper Fi! No disrespect intended.That’s the nasty side of Clasewitz-ian diplomacy. FSO needs all the good gals it can get. Keeping the peace is what it’s really all about.

  3. I hate it that you’re having such a hard time, Jessica. I have a thought, maybe not a good one. I see ads from time to time for medical transcriptionists who can work from home. Once things go digital, I don’t know if that will still be a job option, but who knows? Maybe there are other “from home” things you could explore. I hate to think of you leaving everything you know and love to go wander the earth like a lost soul. I dramatize, but seriously I wish you luck.

  4. Thanks, Pam. Those medical transcriptionist positions require education I don’t have and are extremely competitive. I’ve thoroughly explored the work-from-home options. There’s just not a lot out there.
    These overseas options might offer me a chance for career happiness. I’m not finding a lot of that stateside. And health coverage sounds very attractive.

  5. If you get invited to the Oral Assessment, common recommendations are to read: “Getting to Yes”, “Getting Past No”, “The Economist” (British magazine), “Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as you Negotiate”, ” The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success.” I am sure you have already covered these, but I think it bears repeating.

    I wish you all the best in this endeavor, Jessica! Love your blog!


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