Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope this holiday has found you surrounded by friends, family, and a proper feast.

I can't believe how fast this semester has flown - it doesn't seem like the holiday season should be starting so soon!  The unusually warm weather in Nashville sure hasn't helped, although this morning we woke up to temps in the thirties, so it appears that winter has finally decided to grace us with its presence.

A lot of my friends have been complaining about the unseasonable warmth -- especially those artist types that thrive on the melancholy of cold, overcast, and rainy days.  I truly don't understand the inspiration they find in inhospitable weather. Furthermore, I've diagnosed myself with SAD -- Seasonal Affective Disorder.  

I would be very happy to wake up to the sun every morning for the rest of my life.  And more than the light, I really need heat.  I spent the night with friends yesterday after Thanksgiving celebrations, and woke up to a very, very chilly house.  I must be cold-blooded, and I just can't function when I'm too cold.  Even worse, if I wake up cold I'm pretty much guaranteed to be cold the rest of the day.  The light problem can be solved with these nifty little HappyLightsbut what can I do about the heat?  When I'm in my own home I can choose to pay a little extra on the heating bill to keep it at a livable temp., but I can't really enforce my heat needs on every household I visit.

This leaves me with one burning question: How will I EVER make it through the winter in Moscow? 

Speaking of Moscow, the State Department granted me an interim security clearance a few weeks ago, so I've begun the application process for my work visa.  I interviewed with a Special Security Investigator from the State Dept. on Wednesday, who was assigned to do a background check on my foreign travel and foreign contacts.  He said,
"As investigators, when we get new cases assigned to us we always flip to the back to check how many foreign contacts they have and how much foreign travel they've done -- that tells us how much work we'll have to do.  When I got your case files I said, 'Ahhh, this girl's been everywhere and knows everyone!'"

I was surprised when he continued, "In all the years I've been doing this, I've never seen someone with so many personal foreign contacts."  So THAT is why this whole process has been extremely lengthy and time-consuming.  For each of my foreign contacts I've had to fill out an entire page of information -- Full name, alias(es), DOB, Place of birth, nationality(ies), relationship (to me), current address and tel. number, occupation, current employer, current employer's address and tel. number, date I met the person, where I met the person, how/reason I met the person, how often I have contact with the person each year (a) in person, (b) over telephone, (c) written, (d) electronic/email, (e) other, and list all the countries in which contact has occurred.  Imagine trying to recall all of that information for 20 people. 

THEN, I was drilled about my travel. The investigator was especially concerned with my time in China. Was I questioned or interviewed by any Chinese government officials? Did anything unusual happen? Did anyone ask me to bring anything back to the U.S.? 

My investigator was very pleasant and told me a little about his former position with the FBI.  His advice to me as I pursue a position with the State Dept (or any govt. agency): 

"I am surprised the Department issued you an interim clearance. They don't like to issue those and hardly ever do it; they must know or have read a lot about you.  Most people are quickly disqualified for a clearance because of a history of drug use or financial issues.  You have neither, which makes you a prime candidate for a clearance....Sometimes in life your good living pays off.  So just continue what you've been doing and you'll be good."

An interim clearance means that my case hasn't been formally wrapped up and approved, but  even without the full background check I've been deemed trustworthy enough to receive my visa and information on my new position, and even start work without a full clearance.  Of course, the understanding is that if any red flags pop up in my file my clearance will quickly be revoked.  But my investigator assured me that I'm in at this point -- the rest of the process is just going through the formalities.
Being hired by this type of agency has definitely been an interesting experience...leaves me wondering what else is around the corner as I head overseas and start work!


  1. Shirah: Have you watched "Three Days of the Condor" yet? Food for thought, heh, heh...


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