Sunday, March 23, 2014

IMS Training

IMS training kicked off with a week of Information Resource Management (IRM) Tradecraft. It was similar to the 3 weeks of foreign service specialist orientation except it was focused on the IRM part of the organization. The week was full of briefings on everything that will directly impact my new job.

This week starts the last of the 3 weeks we have for Microsoft system administrator training. This has been a good class because the training lab has virtual machines with mock post environments. We use the lab to work through State's standards and procedures for Active Directory, Exchange, and file and print servers (so far). It's not hard work but it isn't something I have much experience doing. The labs are nice since we'll be expected to just do it when we get to post.

Training is always helpful when it focuses on real use cases. It provides the opportunity to put hands on keyboards instead of training us with death by PowerPoint. There are briefings using Windows training modules covering the basics of server management. Fortunately more time is spent on instructor demos showing what we do instead of just talking about it.

We're going on some field trips this week to see some of the DC area offices that support us. I'm looking forward to this since we'll get to see some of the things we've only been briefed about. We'll only experience these offices through emails and phone calls when we're finally working at our embassies so it's good to put faces to names.

On the home front, we're still packing and getting ready to move from our house to a local apartment in a week and a half . Everything's going well on finalizing the sale of our house closing in mid-April. We've also received our apartment assignment in Stockholm and they provided some pictures. It looks pretty good in a nice area of the city close to a park, the water, and the embassy itself. The apartment doesn't look too small to us considering it's an apartment. Our house here was built in 1959 so we're used to smaller rooms.

The Stockholm apartment will be a short walk to work for me so that's definitely a huge bonus! We're going to go ahead with our plan to sell the cars here and rely on bikes and public transportation there. We need to buy new bikes so that's yet another thing for the to-do list. We're just a little over 3 months away from the big move!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Flag Day

Getting My Flag

Above is a blurry cell phone photo from way in the back but you can see the flag on the screen. We're moving to Stockholm Sweden at the end of June! Some classmates leave at the same time and others leave a month or so later. We were all presented little flags for the countries and my daughter promptly took possession of our flag when the ceremony was over.

Yes, this ended up being our first choice and surprisingly many in our class received their first choice or somewhere in their top 5 out of 22. I think there were a few that weren't so lucky and got something towards the bottom of their list but I'm sure it was impossible to give everyone their top choices.

We did get a lot of feedback during orientation from the people that have worked at various posts that those "third world" countries many of us put at the bottom ended up being the best and most rewarding places to serve. I'll get one of those "third world" opportunities next time since I have a "first world" post this time. The higher equity posts based on differential and hardship pay get higher priority for their second assignments.

Everyone says congratulations for Stockholm as if it's only good to go there. I do feel a little apologetic for being so "lucky" to have such a coveted post. We actually found good and bad things about every post when we were researching them. It was hard to figure out our top 7 choices because any one of them would have been best for a variety of reasons.

There will be many challenges ahead for our move to Stockholm even though it should be a good place to be overall. It's definitely not all sunshine and smiles ahead for us. :-) I'll describe some of these challenges as we hit them but here's a description of the not entirely terrible or great weather. The challenge for us is probably the daylight we'll have for the next 2 years that'll take some getting used to:
Despite its northern latitude, Sweden’s climate is not excessively cold due to the proximity of the Gulf Stream and the Baltic Sea. The mean annual temperature is 48 degrees F. Stockholm is situated at approximately the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska. During most of December and early January, the sun does not rise before 9 a.m. and sets as early as 2:30 p.m. Snow usually falls in January, February, and March. The average temperature range for January is 27° F to 30° F (Washington, D.C. is 27° F to 43° F). Spring comes late, with snow possible even in May. By June, daylight is almost continuous, and the vegetation is luxuriant. In July, the average temperature range is 57° F to 72° F (Washington, D.C. is 68° F to 88° F). Many firms close down for the month so that the entire staff can take vacation. The average annual rainfall in Stockholm is 22 inches, compared with 39 for Washington, D.C. New arrivals often have the impression that the statistics should be reversed, and for good reason. It doesn't rain more in Stockholm, but it does rain more often: 164 days a year compared with 113 for Washington, D.C.
End of Orientation

My job training starts next week. The last 3 weeks have been orientation and not training. Orientation was a fire hose of information to give us all the same baseline of what the State Department and Foreign Service is really about. There was some information overload but it was all really needed to fill our brains with things we can refer back to as we assume our new roles. I didn't have much free time in the evenings between homework (additional computer-based training), researching the bid list, and selling our house during this same time frame. This wasn't maybe the best timing for me personally but we picked it to time the housing market here and I think that worked well.

We've sold our house and are hitting another downside of being a local hire. I'm not getting temporary lodging or per diem for being here for training like the non-local hires. Our move out of our house into a temporary apartment will all be at our own expense since we sold the house so quickly. If it was closer to our departure then we probably could have had a direct pickup of our household effects by the State Department even though the apartment would still be our expense. We could have it heading towards Stockholm a little earlier since the post is one of the few with unfurnished housing.

They'll provide temporary furniture in Stockholm until our stuff arrives so we'll just hold onto our stuff here until we leave. On the bright side, we'll have more time with it all to figure out what will fit in the smaller European housing and what we'll have them put in long-term storage. Cramming our house of stuff into an apartment will be the first test of what might fit. :-) Once we hit our first official move at the end of training then our belongings will all get moved somewhere and paid for as a travel benefit. If you're a local hire then you may hit this same issue. Local hires remain responsible for their own housing. Any local area moving expenses are ours until the end of training departure since the only directed move for us is the one at the end. The non-local hires have a directed move to training and then another to post so they get more moving benefits than I do.