Monthly Archives: February 2013

Corps expectations

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In one hour, whether or not I’ve finished writing this post, I am going to wrap up here to go attend to my chai, brewing downstairs in my slow cooker. Today’s spices are pretty standard (cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pepper), but I’ve substituted green tea for black tea.

I’ve never used green tea before, but if at first I don’t succeed, I’ll chai, chai again.

tea_tumblerMy roommate, who does not understand that nice things can be inexpensive, recently gifted me with a thirty dollar device for brewing tea. You add the tea to a little basket, add the hot water, and let it steep. When it’s done brewing, you remove the basket and spend the next six hours being amazed that your tea is still hot. The insulation on this thing is astonishing.

It seems wrong to stick a ten-cent bag of Lipton in this baby, so I went to the tea shop. This being Asheville, there is a store devoted to tea. Two stores, actually. There is even a store devoted to olive oil. At any rate, I walked over to Dobra Tea and confessed my ignorance. The helpful tea lady steered me toward a few varieties of green tea and oolong, and since then I’ve been drinking tea like it’s going out of style. Which it probably isn’t. People have been drinking tea for literally thousands of years, although probably not with the insulation I’m enjoying. Which is my way of explaining that I keep burning myself. Anyway.

My new tea gizmo is an awfully handy tool, but it’s too soon to say whether it will journey with me to my Peace Corps service. Actually, it’s too soon to say whether I will journey toward Peace Corps service, though as of yesterday I’m one step closer: I have received a nomination to join the Peace Corps in the sector of Education, to depart in October.

The October part is tentative. The education part is tentative. The joining-the-Peace-Corps part is tentative. The nomination is nothing firm. It just means they want me to proceed to the next stage: legal, medical, suitability, and competitive reviews. If I get pre-cleared for all of that, I’ll get an invitation to join the Peace Corps.

The invitation is the actual offer to sign on. If they decide I’m a competitive candidate, I’ll get that invitation in another few months — June, give or take. And then at that point I get to go to a lot of doctors to ensure that I won’t drop dead during the two years of service.

As for being competitive: on the one hand, I’d like to think that my professional experience gives me a boost over the bulk of candidates, the ones applying straight out of college. On the other hand, the nomination is in the area of education, which in the Peace Corps usually means English education. I’ve got education experience coming out my ears, but that’s been in computers and, more broadly, libraries.

I don’t have much experience teaching English, unless silently correcting other people’s grammar counts. Does that count?

I do meet their minimum requirements, thanks to the substitute teaching I’ve done, but I don’t know that I’m competitive. I would not necessarily be averse to volunteering as an English tutor, but the local literary council requires a huge time commitment just to get trained, and then a huge time commitment after getting trained.

So I suppose I’ll look into substitute teaching opportunities. If I find some and they make me more competitive, grand; if I don’t manage to make myself more competitive and I still get invited to join, grand; if they decide they’re not interested, they’ll join an impressive list of potential employers who decided not to hire me.

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C is for cookie

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The apex of my test-taking career came in the tenth grade, when I missed a math question on the SAT, bringing my score down from a perfect 1600 to a still pretty decent 1590. I remember being irritated that no one seemed to know or care. (I just employed a narrative sleight-of-hand with the tense there. This is my way of tricking the reader into thinking that my grudge was fleeting. No one needs to know that I still harbor resentments from half a lifetime ago.)

We had a schoolwide announcement when the beauty queen was crowned, and we had a “fire drill” to get everyone outside to wave to the football team when they went to state playoffs, but performing exceptionally well on a standardized test was not worth getting worked up over. Fortunately this insult did not bother me whatsoever and I am not nursing those wounds well into adulthood.

cookieMy performance on the GRE, in contrast, was lackluster. It comprised three parts: English, math, and logic. At the time I took it, I felt I did well on the English; I felt I did passably well on the math; and about halfway through the logic section I started selecting “C” as an answer for the remainder of the test because I was nearly out of time and C is a nice enough letter. It is for “cookie.”

This struggle with the logic section was more than passing strange, as solving logic puzzles is my favorite pastime, after reading.

My math score was the strongest. My English score was the weakest. My throwing-a-dart-while-blindfolded “strategy” on the logic section garnered a higher score than the part where you do analogies and figure out where the apostrophe goes.

Those results were absurd and undermined any faith I may have ever had in standardized tests, with the notable exception of the SAT that one time.

Today I took another test. Immediately prior to beginning, I rent my flesh with my own teeth and used the flowing blood to swear that I would not discuss particulars, on pain of death of my firstborn, which I guess in this case means Goblin. I can’t disclose any of the questions  that were on the Foreign Service Officer Test, but I can talk about it in general terms.

The first section was multiple choice. I feel very confident about some of them, somewhat less confident about others, and one for sure I know I screwed up. I had it narrowed down to one of two choices, and I guessed the wrong one.

The second section was odd, with personal questions designed (I think) to determine my personality and my style of working. If I understand correctly, this section does not get scored, because none of the answers are right or wrong. Why it is included on the test is a bit of a mystery to me.

The third section was the part where I figured out where the apostrophe goes. Should be a perfect score on the part, by my reckoning, but that’s what I thought about the GRE and boy howdy did I call that wrong.

The final section involved an essay prompt and 30 minutes of less than inspired writing. I do not anticipate moving the graders to tears with my soaring rhetoric. I did however manage to string words together using recognizable syntax, plus I threw in some punctuation for free.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of three to five weeks I will receive an email. It will be either a consolatory “Thanks for playing, try again next year!” message or else an invitation to write even more essays.

Meanwhile, my Peace Corps application is moving along at a pace that does justice to everything you’ve ever heard about the federal government. I suppose I should be grateful that it is staggering under the weight of bureaucracy. I will be in a quandary if the Peace Corps offers me a position while the carrot of the Foreign Service is still dangling.

For now, at least, I can ease up on the grim social science I’ve been reading. Actually I quite like grim social science, and I’m going to enjoy finishing Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, this complete downer of a book that looks at the horrible conditions of Americans in a variety of settings: Lakota Indians succumbing to drugs and poverty, the urban poor unable to find jobs in Camden, New Jersey, Latinos living in squalor and picking tomatoes in Immokalee, Florida, and poor whites dying of cancer and disease while the mountains are destroyed in West Virginia. Graphic novelist Joe Sacco provides occasional artistic counterpoint to the prose of journalist Chris Hedges, and it’s a potent combination of despair and hopelessness. If the book doesn’t make you feel awful, you’re doing it wrong.