Be Awesome

Look, our forefathers died for the "pursuit of happiness," okay? Not for the "sit around and wait of happiness." Now if you want, we can go to the same bar, drink the same beer, talk to the same people every day or you can lick the Liberty Bell. You can grab life by the crack and lick the crap out of it.
--Barney (HIMYM)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thoughts on Language Training

Happy to report success in finishing Indonesian language training today.  It was more difficult than I was expecting but perhaps it was nervousness.  When I last tested in Mandarin, it seemed not nearly so nerve-wracking, but I think I had less on the line if I were not able to pass.  I now have the necessary language requirement completed to fulfill tenure and for my position in Indonesia.

Language at FSI is very well run and rigorous.  Despite however good the instruction is there though, it is necessary to anticipate dedicating a significant amount of time to self-study in order to really master the vocabulary.  The idea of learning an alternative word for every word one might have to be articulate in English is an intimidating task.

I think I now have a good foundation of the language but feel I will need much more in order to feel completely comfortable with it.  I fully plan on continuing studying the language and practicing as much as feasible when at post.  Trends indicate a significant role of Indonesia in Asia and becoming adept in the language and culture will only be useful. 

I'm happy to have completed language training and look forward to moving back into my role in international affairs.

Off to SE Asia!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Religion in International Relations with Sec. Clinton

Today, morning classes were replaced with a session on the influence of religion in international relations.  This event was hosted by an organization called the Appeal of Conscience Foundation with the FSI.  The Appeal of Conscience Foundation is an interfaith coalition working to increase dialogue and promote understanding among religions.  Evidently, this seminar has been an annual tradition for the past 30 years.  This session was entitled "Resurgence of Religion as a Factor in International Relations.

When I received notice a couple weeks ago that this event would take place, I wasn't sure what to expect or make of it.  The notice only really said "Appeal of Conscience" and I didn't understand what that was referring to and didn't investigate it further.  So when I arrived today to the event, I was greatly surprised to open the program and see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the keynote speaker!  Moving up to the closest front row seat remaining, I eagerly anticipated the program start.

It was actually a very interesting seminar.  Religion plays a very important part of the lives of people who have faith and in order to fully understand the perspectives and situations in other countries, one has to be cognizant of religion.  In terms of fulfilling US objectives overseas regarding promotion of democracy, equality, trade, and many other aspects, religious leaders or the role religion is often very prominent.  Even in countries without official religions like China, religion still plays a major role as that will often will be the source of intolerance or oppression.  So US officials should really understand religion in their country of assignment in order to fully be effective in they reporting, negotiations, and programs.

A message that was often conveyed, even by Sec. Clinton, was that supporting religious freedom and combating intolerance should be on the agenda in every country of assignment.  I very much agree with this as every US foreign policy objective is supported by working with other countries that support openness and discussion.  If every country we worked with was an open and free democracy, US business abroad would be booming and we could expect economic growth for all (with the assumption that open and free democracies lead to economic prosperity).  South Korea was mentioned as case study for this theory.  Being that the peninsula of Korea was a very homogenous society but now has an arbitrary border separating the North and South, the evidence of economic growth in the south supports the theory that democracy is conducive to prosperity.  I suppose the argument could be made that privatization is the key but anyway..

One last point that I like about Clinton is that she has always been a strong advocate for the role of development and USAID in her tenure.  She consistently makes sure to mention the role of development in the US foreign policy strategy and I hope whoever follows her will be equally supportive and knowledgeable.

Following the presentation, I was warming up my lunch and overheard a couple talking about the presentation.  The wife was saying to her husband that she didn't agree with statements by some of the presenters that FSO's join to help humanity abroad.  This got me thinking about motivation.  The motivation to join the Foreign Service.  One's real motivation, not whatever one might have submitted in the Statement of Interest before taking the Oral Assessment.  But that will have to wait for another post.

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