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bonne année 2013

Happy 2013! There has been some blog silence over here. Sorry about that. But I can wrap up the last few months with these words: Parlez-vous Français?

We’ve completed four months of French language training at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in preparation for our next tour in Haiti.  Three months to go before our exam.

I had heard about FSI language training from my husband who studied there to touch up his Spanish before heading to Nicaragua for his first tour. I had also read several great blog posts describing the FSI language experience written by blog friends and some of A-100 friends: Spanish, French, and Hebrew. But I’ve realized there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself.

First of all, this is NOT your high school language class. In high school, you have a room full of 20 (or more) students who have a wide range of interest in the language. Some are there because they need to meet the foreign language requirement to graduate, while others actually want to learn the language.  They can’t wait for half of the students to leave so they can actually learn something next year in Spanish III.  At FSI, classes are small, usually 4 – 6 people, so you are totally engaged and constantly talking with your teacher and classmates. There’s no place to hide. No way you can just sit in the back and try to avoid being called on.

Second, this is NOT your college language class. We’re not here to read literature or comment on poetry. The purpose of FSI training is to prepare you for your job. Can you introduce yourself and someone else at a meeting? Can you follow a meeting and take notes? Can you report back to your boss about what was discussed, including some of the nuances of what people implied without saying directly? Can you read the newspaper and discuss current events? Can you interview someone and determine if they are eligible for a visa? Ordering a croissant or finding your way to the nearest discothèque may be things you care about, but you can learn those on your own time.

Finally, this is NOT grad school. This is your job.  Despite the fact that FSI has a distinct community college campus feel to it, you can’t ever forget that you are at work. It’s not like in school where you can choose to put in the effort to get an A, or aim for a gentleman’s C. You must get the A.  Most people have to reach a certain level of speaking and listening proficiency before you are permitted to leave to your next Post. If you don’t pass, you have to stay 6 or 8 weeks longer until you improve and hopefully pass the next time.  Overall FSI has a pretty relaxed atmosphere, but under the surface the pressure is on.

The honeymoon period is over, and we’ve settled into a routine. I really enjoy learning languages, so it’s pretty amazing to me that this is my job. We’ll see what 2013 holds: more French training, them some Haitian Creole training, then still more training, and finally moving to Port-au-Prince to actually do my job!  Let’s get this year started!

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