one year ago today

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

One year ago today, I woke up at 5:00 am (Stillwater, OK time) to take a phone call from the US Embassy Vienna. I had never studied so much for an interview before. (Well, I had never even had an interview like this before). Weeks before, I had written in a notebook every possible question I could be asked, with a 3 paragraph repsonse for each. I was seriously prepared to answer any question. The FSO who called me (my future boss) put me at ease as soon as I heard his voice; he just seemed so nice. As diplomatic as a person can be, but so nice. The interview lasted a little under half an hour, I think (which I find crazy, in hindsight, knowing now how insanely hectic his schedule is! I feel bad for taking up that much of his time). Before the interview, I had been told that a second interview would be scheduled during December/January (when I would be back in Austria) if the first interview went well. As our phone interview concluded, this FSO said to me (and I remember this verbatum), ''I'd like to ask you to come out and intern for us. Can you be here at the beginning of May?''. I know that everyone says you should always respond with, ''I'll consider it and get back to you'' but I was so shocked by the immediate offer that I could only say, ''Absolutely. Thank you. I very much appreciate the opportunity. Thank you''. I hung up and the first person I called was my dad.

Karlskirche, Vienna

I am actually getting teary eyed thinking about this because I had no idea what an incredible experience it would be. Words do not describe how wonderful my 4 months in Vienna were. I think that, before I left, I considered that time a mere ''prelude to Fulbright''. Fulbright was what I'd been working so hard for. Fulbright was what I really wanted and the Embassy opportunity was just an extra bonus. I also wasn't under any false impression that Vienna would be the magical experience Salzburg had been. And I definitely didn't expect to find lifelong friends there. In spite of all those expectations, the city stole my heart, the experience was indescribable and the people I met there (if you recall, I spent almost every waking moment with these 5 interns) are now so dear to my heart. I miss them way more than I ever expected.

The UN headquarters, Vienna

When I was visiting Erica in Italy last month, we were talking about how unreal our experience was there. I mean, I can honestly say some of the best months of my life were spent there (also the worst week of my life - something that will always be a black cloud in my memory and during which I actually considered purchasing a oneway ticket home). As Erica and I were reminiscing, I kind of had an epiphany. She said to me, ''You know, Jennifer, we spent a summer in Vienna - a cultural capital of the world. How many people get do that? There are Embassys all over the world and we got Vienna.'' I stopped and realized: During the past year and a half, I got to live in Salzburg and Vienna -- two incredible cities. So, in the spirit of thanksgiving, I am thankful for the phone call that happened exactly one year ago. I am thankful for the incredible opportunity to live in such beautiful places; I realize this isn't entirely normal and should not be taken for granted. I am thankful that I had the best boss ever, the best supervisors ever, the best staff in general, awesome interns and unforgettable events (seriously, still thinking about the events...especially this one). I made so many awesome contacts and I was shocked (albeit very pleasantly) by how people genuinely cared about my future and my professional aims and how they saw to it that I would benefit in the workplace.

The famous Prater Riesenrad, Vienna

In fact, I owe so much to my boss. After he offered me the position, a back-and-forth communication battle enused between me and the contacts in Washington (I wish it was known in the political world as ''D.C.''...much less confusing). I would send my documents to be processed, they would tell me they never received them. This went on for quite some time and I began to wonder why my security clearance hadn't gone through. My German professor knew of my struggle with Washington and said to me one time, ''Well, if that doesn't work out, you always have Fulbright'' and I automatically replied, ''Oh, it will work out. It has to work out'' with such conviction that I was almost embarrassed afterward by how passionate it sounded. He said, ''Wow, you really want this, don't you....'' I don't know why now and I didn't really know why then, either, but yeah - I really wanted it. I boarded my plane without having my security clearance (I don't think my parents know that, whoops!). I had full confidence it would come through. I was determined to fight for it. It did come in. But I didn't know until months later just how it came in. I was talking to one of my colleagues about how awesome my/our boss is and she said, ''He fought for you. He fought for you so much''. I asked her what she meant. Come to find out, Washington didn't want me. My boss had chosen me and Washington denied the security clearance repeatedly, labeling me ''too inexperienced''. This is true; I was very inexperienced. And security clearances are expensive and they take a lot of time. But somebody fought for me, believed in me and wanted to give me a chance. And because of that, I was able to have the summer of a lifetime. I worked hard, don't get me wrong. But the hard work was so, so worth it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I grew up so much this summer. So, so much. I learned more than I ever thought I could. I was challenged in ways that almost broke me (emotionally and financially, ha). The stories I have from this summer are incredible. I can't wait to see my family in person so I can finally share them. :)

Schonbr├╝nn Palace, July 2010

Schonbr├╝nn Palace, March 2009
It is so weird to think that I was running around Vienna in March of 2009, unaware that it was my future (temporary) home.
If someone had told me, ''A year from now, you'll be getting ready to move here to work for the US Embassy'', I wouldn't have believed them for a second.
Jan said...

That's so incredible how you got there and got your clearance. So glad you loved it there. It seems like so much longer than a year ago that you got the news!!

Anonymous said...

I just loved this post. The pictures are amazing, the summary of how you ended up where you are is amazing, and I cannot wait to actually see you next month. Can.not.wait.

minnja said...

I love the pictures::::)))


Barbara said...

aw lovely post :) full of memories!

S and O said...

Ow, I love your story it is indeed a wonderful thing to be thankful for.


Ahn said...

i am loving your blog and kind of wanting your life (but with my husband).

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