Sunday, June 4, 2023

A Weekend Celebrating Beauty, Truth, Goodness, and Love

We had an amazing weekend in Pennsylvania celebrating the wedding of my dear friend W from college and her now-husband P! We drove up from Virginia and made a whole weekend of it. P's family is from India, and they incorporated beautiful Indian traditions into the welcome party on Friday night. We joined other guests in wearing Indian dress, including baby S. We stayed just long enough to see the bride and groom exchange garlands, which signifies their acceptance of and respect for each other. S was exhausted from the drive up, so unfortunately we had to leave to put him to bed before we could enjoy the amazing Indian dinner. (This was one of the many reasons we regretted not booking a room at the main hotel where so many events were held.)

We got settled into our hotel eventually after a bit of a wild goose chase for a pack 'n play after (to our shock) our hotel's receptionist said they did not have the pack 'n play we requested months in advance available. It's a long story, but we were ultimately able to buy a pack 'n play at a local Target and request reimbursement. Otherwise, the room was great and I couldn't wait to catch up on some sleep.

The next day, we knew we had a full morning before the wedding festivities started so I planned an excursion for us to Valley Forge National Historical Park. Valley Forge was the encampment site of the Continental Army during the winter of 1777-1778 during the American Revolutionary War. The park blew me away, and one could easily spend a whole day there in weather as lovely as we had. There were trails where folks were walking, jogging, biking, and pushing strollers. There were areas with scenic views and picnic tables. There was a range of fascinating history and a mix of recreations and original materials.

You can learn more about the history of Valley Forge on the National Park Service website. In recent years, it seems like the park service has really taken some time to research and share the stories of more marginalized people whose experiences didn't feature prominently in most of the mythos around Valley Forge in the public consciousness over the years. Now you can learn more about the women, Black people, and Indigenous people at Valley Forge. We also stopped by the newest monument: one dedicated to Patriots of African Descent by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a historically African American service sorority. I learned a lot on this visit, and I appreciate the ongoing effort to expand our understanding of our history and its legacy today.

After that, we returned to the hotel so S could nap and we could get ready for the main event. Once we were ready, we dropped S off with a complimentary nanny service graciously provided by our friends and arrived for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception at Philander Chase Knox Estate. Originally built in the late 1700s, the Estate once served as the summer home of Philander Chase Knox, former U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Senator. Even President Theodore Roosevelt once stayed in the house! I wish I had taken more pictures at the wedding because everything - from the venue to the decorations to the flowers - was stunning. My friend W has impeccable taste and class, and it showed in every detail.

There was just the right mix of hilarious anecdotes and tearjerker moments in the ceremony and reception that made me grateful I wore my waterproof mascara. We also loved the thoughtful seating arrangements that put us at a table with fascinating conversation partners with passions ranging from fighting cybercrime to studying macroeconomics to running a think tank to diagnosing foot conditions. It was a fabulous group and an unforgettable evening. Unfortunately, we didn't last too long after the cake cutting, knowing we needed to pick up S from the nannies and take him home. Our sweet boy was so tired he fell asleep before we even got there but let us transfer him to our hotel without an issue. It was our first time leaving someone to watch him with other kids, so we had been a little unsure of how he would handle it. To our relief, the nannies assured us he played wonderfully with the older kids there and they had all had great fun trying to teach him how to high-five.

Sunday morning, we joined our friends for a farewell breakfast and were amazed at their alertness given the party had apparently continued long after we turned in until about 3am! It was so meaningful to spend such a special time with friends. One of the toughest things about the Foreign Service is that we're usually overseas and have to miss so many of these important occasions and milestones. I'm so glad we could be here for this one, and we can't wait to host W and P (and any of the many other friends we met this weekend and invited) in Dubai!

Friday, May 19, 2023

After-Work Events Galore

Whether we're overseas or in Washington, DC, Foreign Service folks have plenty of opportunities to attend after-work events. Sometimes these are required, sometimes they are purely for fun, but many of them fall somewhere in between. The event might be optional but it's a good opportunity to network, build contacts, and pursue professional development. So although you don't have to go out every single night, there are personal and professional advantages to putting yourself out there (and on the flip side there are costs for skipping too frequently).

Recently, I've had the opportunity to attend a lot of after-work events that cut across these categories. I'll highlight three of them here. First, I attended a cocktail dinner for the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association, of which I'm a member. It was not a command performance by any means, but I'm so glad I attended because I connected with some of my favorite colleagues, met new folks from other organizations outside of the State Department with fresh perspectives on Asian American advocacy that energized me, and even gained a new mentor and sponsor who's taken me under her wing. It was also very empowering to see the broad range of senior-level support from State Department officials, including phenomenal Asian American representation, at the event.

Just a couple of days later, I attended the Global Good Fund annual gala with my sister who was visiting from out of town. My friend L gifted me a ticket since he was unable to go, and my sister and I split the cost of a second ticket. The charity event drew an amazing crowd of social entrepreneurs and philanthropists and featured a guest of honor who is a pioneer in sustainable fashion, Autumn Adeigbo. We were blown away by the brilliant and innovative entrepreneurs from around the world whose projects save and transform countless lives. It was a special night, and I was thrilled to support the great work the Global Good Fund does.

The following week, I took a night with just M so we could go on a date at the relatively new Capital One Hall. We saw Cosmic Cycles, a special performance by the National Philharmonic of Henry Dehlinger-composed music inspired by our explorations of outer space and set to a selection of images, videos, illustrations, and data visualizations of Earth and the universe. (I especially loved the section on Earth, which you can watch online.) It was such a cool collaboration between NASA, the private sector, and the artists.

These events come at a cost that I don't want to diminish: these past few weeks, I've had less time with baby S, less time for my hobbies like reading (and writing blog posts), and less sleep than I like. A really important aspect of a successful career in any high-intensity field like diplomacy, though, is rigorous prioritization and time management. My two cents are that even if you haven't been great about defining your priorities and setting boundaries in the past, it's never too late to start. Some weeks you may have a lot of after-work events, and others you may need to cut back and say no more often to save your energy for the next wave. I loved all the events I attended recently, but I'm looking forward to a bit of rest and quality time with my family that I only get when I'm home.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Four Days in Hawaii

Yes, you read the title of this post right: we flew to Hawaii for just four days! We spent almost as much time transiting from Washington, DC to Honolulu and back as we did on the ground. We were visiting my grandmother, my last living grandparent, who retired there with my late grandfather ages ago. She had not had a chance to visit us and meet baby S, so we went to see her instead. It was so precious to see my grandmother with S, her only great-grandchild.

For the record, traveling with a one-year-old is a lot tougher than traveling with a five-month-old (as we did when we PCS'd from Seoul). Newborns and infants sleep most of the flight, but toddlers are squirmy and antsy and awake longer to cry. They also eat more food, so the logistics of feeding them are more complicated than making sure you have whatever you need for milk or formula.

All that being said, S handled the travel like a champ. I was especially scared about the damage to our sleep schedule given the long flights and time zone changes, but those were much less painful than I feared. We adjusted well and were able to visit my grandma every morning we were in Hawaii and hang out for hours before heading back to the hotel for a nap. It was a pretty intense language immersion for me, as my grandma speaks Korean and Japanese but not English. I did a lot of interpreting and translating while I visited, but it took intense focus and attention to keep up with my impressive grandma.

We stayed in a boutique hotel in Waikiki that was perfectly convenient. When we weren't hanging out with my grandma, we went for long walks together as a family and explored a few nearby restaurants. Our favorite was an all-you-can-eat Japanese barbecue restaurant, where we definitely got our money's worth. I also picked up a souvenir box of Honolulu Cookie Company cookies - my favorite treat from Hawaii that I personally like more than the Hawaiian Host chocolate-covered macadamia nuts others might find more classic.

Shockingly, I did not have a single minute to spend on the beach itself or in the ocean. The one day we had a little bit of time to go after visiting grandma - our last - it was pouring rain and I decided to pass. We barely made it to the edge of the sand in the gloomy weather before we had to run back, ducking under awnings to keep the stroller dry.

Not one to give up, I found a brunch spot we could visit early right before we had to leave for the airport that had a beautiful view of the ocean. Our breakfast was delightful, and I got to at least feel the ocean breeze and see the crashing waves before we had to say goodbye to Honolulu.

I hope that's not our last visit to Hawaii, because every time I go I fall in love with it again. It's easy for me to see why my grandparents chose to retire there. Although this trip was short, I'm so glad we made it.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

S’s One-Year Party and Doljanchi

I can’t believe our baby S is one year old! Taking him home from the postnatal luxury spa, going back to work after maternity leave, PCS-ing (Permanent Change of Station; i.e., moving for official duty) with him… All of those things don’t seem like they were that long ago. As I mentioned in my baby advice post, it’s so true that the days are long but the months are short.

We celebrated S turning one with a Korean doljanchi (돌잔치), also known as simply a dol (돌). At a dol celebration, the child participates in the doljabi (돌잡이), where parents place objects on a table in front of the child and whichever one the baby picks up first says something about that child’s future! Of course, all the items are good and the parents get to pick the options, so it’s a little bit rigged from the start.

We chose six objects that were a mix of traditional and modern: a braided thread for long life, a fortune pouch for wealth, a soccer ball for athleticism, a pen for an intellectual life, a stethoscope for a medical career, and a toy robot for technology. (For the record, I picked the pen at my own doljabi, which is pictured above.)

As our guests arrived, they took raffle tickets and voted for which object they thought S would pick. I wondered if it would be difficult to tell which object he picked if he went for multiple at once or didn’t show interest in any of them. It turns out, I didn’t have to wonder at all: he immediately and confidently went for the soccer ball. (In true S fashion, he also immediately started chomping on the soccer ball.)

I was thrilled to pass this beloved tradition down to S, putting him in an adorable baby hanbok (한복, Korean traditional clothing) and taking photos I can show him when he’s older. I also appreciated that so many of our loved ones could attend and support baby S’s milestone as well as let me share Korean culture right down to the food (including a 떡 tteok rice cake birthday cake) and drinks (including a themed dirty soda bar).

Our hearts (and fridge) were full long after we cleaned up and everyone went home. I am so honored to be S’s parent and am so grateful he made me a mom one year ago. There were incredibly hard, tearful, and painful moments that I don’t want to minimize because motherhood is no joke, but I gained so much more than I lost and I can’t imagine life anymore without my baby boy. I will treasure the memory of S’s dol forever.

Friday, March 31, 2023

My Last Week of Maternity Leave: S's First Cruise

I'm so grateful for the wise and wonderful Human Resources Officer (HRO) who (1) reminded me as the birthing parent I was entitled to sick leave to recover from birth in addition to my three months of paid parental leave (PPL) and (2) suggested I consider splitting my maternity leave into chunks instead of taking it all at once. At the Department of State, we can split up our PPL and take it any time up until a year after the birth. That may not work best for everyone, but it worked splendidly for me and gave me more time to bond with baby S after I had recovered more fully from the postpartum period.

We decided to use my last week of maternity leave right before S turns one to go on a family cruise to the Caribbean. We picked a cruise that sailed out of Baltimore so we could drive there from home in Virginia and not worry about flights to Florida, the more common departure port. This meant we spent many more days at sea and visited fewer ports, but it was the best choice for us for the convenience. We requested a pack and play for S's room and were able to put him down for his regular naps and bedtime with minimal disruption.

Logistics-wise, we felt prepared for S's first cruise with plenty of clothes for varying climes, pouches and puffs for him to eat in case we couldn't find something he liked at the buffet, and his white noise machine, babycam, and sleep sack from home to help him sleep more comfortably in an unfamiliar place. We were relieved to find he loved plenty of the food on the ship and didn't seem bothered by the rocking over choppy waters. (I looked it up, and most babies under age two don't get seasick. They have a lower center of gravity and their world is already pretty wobbly anyway, so they don't have the same disorientation out on the water. Isn't that cool?)

Our first port of call was Cape Canaveral, Florida. A lot of folks do Universal Studios or Seaworld as a day trip from that port, but I stopped supporting new Harry Potter-franchised things and places with my hard-earned money due to issues (especially transphobia) from J.K. Rowling and I've heard too many reports of animal abuse at SeaWorld to attend with a clear conscience. Many had warned us there wasn't much to do in Port Canaveral itself, but we decided to venture out and explore on our own anyway.

First, we visited Manatee Sanctuary Park. It had a nice little walking path and some exercise stations, but the day we went was too hot to see any manatees. According to our local driver, you'd rarely see manatees there anyway - so folks who drop by should manage their expectations. After that, we went to the Wizard of Oz Museum. It had an impressive collection of over 2,000 Wizard of Oz-related items including the first known copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book that started it all, printed on May 23, 1900. Also on display is a 1914 book in the Oz series (which was much larger than I realized) that contains one of the first maps in fantasy literature, which fantasy fans will know later became a staple of the genre. At the end of the collection, there was an immersive room with images projected on every wall to make various scenes. S and I got to walk down the yellow brick road together, and we had so much fun!

The biggest disappointment was learning just how racist the older books were; I saw some very offensive depictions of Asian people in particular that I'll spare you but apparently many of the characters and peoples in Oz are coded for races that would have been widely understood at the time. Just because it was commonly accepted back then doesn't make it right. I firmly believe that it's important not to erase problematic history and that we must teach it to the next generation so they can understand the problematic legacy we're building on and discover what's right and wrong for themselves. S is still too young for me to have those conversations with him, but I hope I'm laying a good foundation.

Our next stop was CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas. It was phenomenal, and I wish we could've stayed one more day so I could've gotten more time on the beach! Baby S touched sand and the ocean for the first time, but I had to pull him away when he tried to eat a bunch of pebbles. When M went back to the ship to put S down for a nap, I went swimming with some island pigs!

The Bahamas are famous for swimming pigs, which are not native to Major Cay where they are today; however, stories regarding their origin conflict. Some say they were the sole survivors of a shipwreck, while others say sailors left them on the islands on purpose as a food source they could revisit at any time. Regardless, I was glad I could have fun swimming with them, and M was more than happy to skip paying to swim with pigs!

The final port we visited was Nassau, capital of the Bahamas. We took a self-guided walking tour of the city, We climbed the Queen's Staircase, 66 steps built into limestone in the 1700s by about 600 enslaved people to create an escape route from Fort Fincastle. Then, we swung by the bright pink Governor's House, a colonial building that displayed a Christopher Columbus statue until last year after someone damaged the leg of the statue with a sledgehammer. The man reportedly shouted, "You destroyed this land; I’ve come to take this [expletive] back" while destroying the leg. The government decided to move the statue into storage for now as Bahamians debate what role colonial symbols like that should play in an independent country and whether such a statue might be a better fit for a museum than a seat of government. (That debate sounds familiar...)

Last, we stopped at the historic Graycliff Hotel. I especially enjoyed the Graycliff chocolatier shop... So much so that I neglected to take any pictures of the chocolate. Suffice it to say the chocolatier's stellar reputation is well-deserved. We ended with a delicious lunch at a Greek restaurant called Athena Cafe & Bar. (Apparently, there is a substantial Greek community in Nassau.) We enjoyed Bahamian conch fritters, a lamb gyro for M, and a trio of dips with pita bread for S and me. We grabbed some ice cream at Italian Dolce Gelato afterward. Unfortunately, it was cash only, but we scraped together enough bills to get a cup to share since I wanted it so badly. What can I say? It was a hot day.

We made the most of our last few days on the ship heading back. I soaked up the sun and enjoyed the pool and hot tub, and M enjoyed going all-out at the buffet and catching up on things over Wi-Fi. I periodically checked my work emails mostly so I could delete the deluge of things I missed but didn't need and maintain my inbox zero approach. Mostly, though, I did things that were relaxing and fun for me like reading and blogging and dancing and taking naps. It was so hard to come back home and end our vacation, but I feel so rested and healed. I'll treasure this time I got to spend with my family forever.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

What I Wish Folks in the Field Knew About DC

It's been so hard to find the time to blog lately, but I finally got a long weekend away and a few moments to breathe, enjoy nature, and catch up on things I enjoy. We booked an Airbnb in Lake Anna with friends, and despite almost cancelling the trip due to a stomach bug we recovered and ended up going after all. It was a lovely time, so I'll be interspersing this blog post on professional content with a few photos of our trip.

Doing even just a one-year tour at Main State (what we call State Department headquarters, also known as "HST" for the Harry S. Truman Building where Main State is housed) has taught me so much that I'm definitely going to take with me when I go back out to the field later this year. Some of the things I learned are tidbits I had vaguely heard before but didn't think about too much until I witnessed it firsthand. One is that work-life balance for most is generally better in overseas tours than domestic tours, especially domestic tours in regional bureaus. I'm going to think about that when I'm at post and corresponding with the desk - they probably have a lot on their plate that I don't have visibility on every day. Plus, when they message me after hours or ask for something in a ridiculous time frame, they're probably just the messengers and it's not their fault.

Whenever I worked on official U.S. government visits abroad, I felt like post did all of the work and the desk was just kind of there if we needed them. Now that I've seen visits from the other side, I know that's not the case. The desk does a lot of work helping prepare the paper and the logistics and serving as a liaison between those working the visit on the ground and the staffers and special assistants and others supporting whoever it is who's visiting. Even when a non-State Department official visits, the State Department does a lot of work to make sure the visitor is safe and the visit is effective and successful.

I wish people in the field knew how different DC work is from post work. It is not (as I previously thought) very similar work just happening in the United States instead of in a foreign country. There is a lot more paper and a lot less reporting, and the broadness of any given subject matter expertise is higher per position at least in a regional bureau. For example, a single desk officer in DC might cover all issues touching on another country including the bilateral relationship, their role in the region, their political and economic situation, consular issues, and more. At the same time, that post might have many officers that can each devote their attention to just one of those topics. I'm so impressed with the desk officers in my bureau, Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), for really knowing their stuff when they have to cover so much.

Bidding and networking are also a lot easier from DC, in my opinion. There are countless employee groups and professional development opportunities that span a huge range of interests and identities. While I've been in DC, I've been able to participate in a monthly breastfeeding support group, the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association, connections with colleagues who are also members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like me, and a DC mentoring program. I've also been able to find out about more bidding opportunities and connect with offices and hiring managers that I would have never had the same access to while serving overseas.

So many of my peers have said they'll never come to DC due to the cost of living, but I think it's doable for most depending on the job and where you're willing to live. If you have a job like mine where you get a special differential (in my case an 18% salary increase) and you're willing to live a ways outside of DC, it's a lot more affordable. Importantly, I think there are things you learn spending time actually working at Main State that you can't learn anywhere else, and I see higher level Foreign Service positions requiring DC experience more and more. Of course, compared to the housing provided overseas it will be a financial hit, but with enough planning most folks can prepare and budget for a few years of paying rent (like the rest of our country does all the time).

Others who have served in DC, please feel free to share your advice in the comments below: whether you agree with me that a DC tour is worthwhile, what surprised you, and what you wish people in the field knew. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 12, 2023

An Interview with Khalia Moreau, Author of The Princess of Thornwood Drive

This post I'm taking a break from my regularly scheduled travel and Foreign Service-specific programming to highlight my friend and former classmate from the University of Virginia (UVA): Khalia Moreau! I learned Khalia's debut novel is coming out this year, and the more I learned about it the more I knew I had to share it with as many people as possible. I and many colleagues and friends of mine are passionate about writing and aspire to be traditionally published, so I thought I would pick her brain for advice and learn more about her awesome book. She graciously agreed to share her wisdom on the blog, so please see our interview below.

Tell us a bit about The Princess of Thornwood Drive. What was the nexus of it?

The Princess of Thornwood Drive is a story about two sisters trapped at opposite ends of reality who must fight to bring an abuser to justice. It's told from the perspectives of the two sisters, with alternating contemporary and fantasy narratives. Here is the jacket copy summary if you want more details!

One year ago, a tragic car accident killed 22-year-old Laine’s parents and left her 18-year-old sister, Alyssa, paralyzed and nonverbal. Now—instead of studying animal nutrition or competing as one of the few equestrians of color—Laine is struggling with predatory banks, unscrupulous health care organizations, and rude customers at the coffee shop where she works. That’s why when Lake Forest Adult Day Center offers to take care of Alyssa, free of charge, Laine is nothing but ecstatic./br>>Alyssa isn't ecstatic, though. After all, in her mind, there was never a car accident. Instead, she and her parents—the king and queen of Mirendal—were attacked one year ago in the forest, her parents kidnapped while she was cursed, and now must spend her days in Lake Forest's Home for Changels—a temple caring for mortals such as herself. Perhaps there, she could meet other changels who show her how to embrace her new life.

However, there is a dark prince at Lake Forest, one who has taken a peculiar interest in not only Alyssa but her sister as well. And while Laine struggles to make ends meet on an everyday basis, Alyssa finds herself leading a battle that threatens to destroy not only her and her sister but their entire kingdom.

I've read a lot of fantasy that takes place in what N.K. Jemison has described as "Medieval McEurope." How did it feel to write fiction that incorporates Trinidadian folklore?

Firstly, it's cool that you mention N.K. Jemison because my agent also represents her! I'm a big fan, so, needless to say, to be offered representation by the same person made my year :).

As for incorporating Trinidadian folklore, it was fun but also tricky! I'm currently on submission to publishers with a Caribbean young adult horror/fantasy set in 1963 Trinidad. In a story like that, it's easy to build a world steeped in Caribbean folklore. We're in the Caribbean, after all! However, for Princess of Thornwood Drive, one of the big themes in the story is the sisters' biracial lineage (half-black/half-white) and how that has shaped their experiences growing up. We especially see this in Alyssa's fantasy narrative, where her world plays off what she sees in real-time and past experiences. As such, we get this blend of your more well-known European-type fantasy settings/ creatures and those of Trinidadian folklore. Finding a balance to represent this identity struggle was challenging. Thankfully, though, I had a lot of beta readers and critique partners (both non-Trinidadian and Trinidadian to provide feedback and suggestions to achieve a balance!)

Your cover is gorgeous. What was the cover design process like? Did you have a vision of how you wanted it to look?

Thank you! I actually did have a vision, which was quite different. Before even writing the story, my brother and I brainstormed a cover idea where we'd have a house and car that would blend into a castle and carriage by the time we got to the other side of the cover. A plane on one side of the cover would be a dragon on the other. This was to show how Alyssa and Laine's points of view (POVs) are very much the same at their core. Of course, I sent this and some other ideas to my editor, but they have a marketing team and artists who work together to create what they believe will be the most aesthetic and marketable cover.

In total, we had three drafts. The first draft had similar colors, but I wasn't a huge fan. I told my agent and editor this. A few days later, we hopped on a call and discussed ways the cover could fit more of my vision. They also explained their ideas and why they thought certain things were imperative from a marketing front. The second draft was much better, and I loved the direction. After a month of incorporating a few more suggestions, we ended up with the third and final draft, which I loved!

Have you taken creative writing classes, workshops, or any kind of formal training? How many beta readers and critique partners do you have?

I actually haven't taken any creative writing classes or workshops! No formal training either, although if I could go back in time, I would have definitely taken a creative writing class while I was at UVA!

If I had to count how many beta readers and critique partners (CPs) I've had in my lifetime, I'd say close to sixty. However, if we're only considering the CPs and beta readers I had for this book, it was four critique partners and five beta readers. I also had one official agent critique on the first 100 pages and one query package critique from a freelance editor. Lastly, I had a very close friend and parents read it. The general advice is to never give your friends or family things to read because they won't be honest. However, my friend and parents are some of my best beta readers. My friend is an avid reader, so she knows what to look for when it comes to tropes and pacing. My mother is the same, as is my father!

This wasn't the first book you wrote. What kept you going, and how did you stay motivated to write and query and do all the things necessary to get traditionally published?

It was not! Fun fact, my first book was a young adult (YA) dystopian fantasy that I'm actually in the process of revising right now. However, when I first queried it in 2018, the consensus from agents (who were kind enough to provide feedback) was that the writing was, to be blunt, trash. I refused to let that soak in for a long time and got defensive. Writing is subjective at the end of the day. However, when you have several people alluding to something, it's best to take a step back and approach it from an objective perspective. So, after a year, that's what I did. I started to read more and work on my craft. I also took my aunt's advice to write something else a year later. This idea turned out to be Princess.

How on Earth did you manage to write a novel in med school?

Time management, time management, time management! Also, writing was very much a stress relief for me. It's one of my biggest passions, so I easily get caught up in it. Another thing, which I don't tell many of my med school friends, is that I find medicine easier than writing in certain aspects. To expound, in medicine, there's cause and effect. You run tests, read results, and get your answers. There's an objectiveness to it that I like. However, in writing, a lot of it is, in fact, subjective. An agent might reject your novel because they were having a bad day and not in the mood for the story you submitted. Another might not like your writing style, while another might love the writing but hate the plot. As such, getting immersed in medicine almost served as a getaway from writing (as much as writing functioned similarly for medicine).

What's your best advice for aspiring writers?

A lot of people will tell you don't give up. I'm going to echo that. You have to keep at it. It only takes one yes. That said, it is crucial to know when to take a step back. I had to take a step back several times. After all, rejection is part of life, but it does hurt. Be kind to yourself and remember why you write. The inability to do this will only lead to stress. After all, traditional publishing is a capitalist industry at the end of the day, and that puts pressure on authors to be constantly hustling. (For example, getting an agent is cause for celebration but then comes trying to sell your book. Sometimes, the book doesn't sell, so you have to write another. In the case of authors who do manage to sell their books, some might compare the sizes of their advance...whether or not their book was optioned for film. It's comparisons galore, and very detrimental to one's mental health. So, stay grounded and remember why you write in the first place!

*Also, no one's journey is the same. Self-publishing is a viable route. So is being a hybrid author (an author who self and traditionally publishes).

Where can we follow you online and buy your book?

You can follow me on Twitter @kmoreau11. I have also been making a lot of Tiktoks about my publishing journey if you want specifics. You can find me awkauthkc. In terms of preordering, you can do so using this link!

Also, to make things easier, here is my linktree :)

Thank you, Khalia, for offering your insights and for sharing your talents with the world through your book (that I've already pre-ordered and can't wait to read). I wish you the greatest success with your debut this year!

Sunday, February 5, 2023

A Week Away from DC, Speaking at CNU and W&M

After a rough week in world events and work, I was thrilled to get away from DC for a long-planned weeklong family road trip. I split up my maternity leave and was able to use one of those weeks now, which was such a delight. A friend of mine from college invited me to give talks at two universities, Christopher Newport University and the College of William & Mary, as part of a speaker series for their students. I was so happy to accept and make a little family getaway of it.

First, we visited friends of ours who had moved from northern Virginia to Midlothian. Baby S loved playing with their kids' shiny, unfamiliar toys that still had sound capabilities (as M removed the batteries from pretty much every toy we have that makes sound). We also visited the Children's Museum in Chesterfield, and it was perfect for letting kids of all ages learn and play. After the kids went to sleep, we adults had a blast catching up and playing Crokinole, a Canadian bar game my Canadian former roommate taught us.

Unfortunately, most of us came down with a nasty bout of food poisoning halfway through our trip. Somehow, M and baby S escaped unscathed but I felt pretty awful. After a day of resting, staying hydrated, and sleeping 10+ hours, though, I started to feel better. We arrived in Newport News to gloomy weather, but S got to enjoy the view of the fountains in the city center from our hotel window and it was so fun to see his face light up with excitement.

On Thursday, I had lunch to catch up with my friend Dr. Francesca Parente, gave a talk at The Reiff Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at Christopher Newport University, and then enjoyed dinner with my host and a few of her colleagues. I even ran into a student with whom I'd overlapped at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and with whom I shared many mutual friends. It's such a small world!

On Friday, we popped over to the International Justice Lab at the College of William & Mary. I grabbed coffee with some students, held my talk in a very modern venue that defied my pre-conceived notions of Williamsburg campus spaces, and then joined my host Dr. Kelebogile "Kelly" Zvobgo for dinner with several other scholars. Our conversation really got me thinking about the importance of learning from the past when determining the way forward on transitional justice, or "how societies respond to the legacies of massive and serious human rights violations" as defined by the International Center for Transitional Justice.

Meeting with my academic counterparts, such inspiring rising stars in human rights and international affairs scholarship, and spending time with students really energized me. Although I didn't recover 100% from my stomach bug in time to enjoy more of the touristy activities and museums I had planned, I was so glad I could continue with the main purpose of the trip: outreach to these bright young people. It reminded me of some of my favorite days in Public Diplomacy and gave me a lot of hope for the future of our field.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Miscellaneous Bidding Advice Roundup

I've written a few posts consolidating advice that's helped me when bidding, the term we use for applying for our next assignment in the Foreign Service. Now that the main bidding season is winding down, I wanted to do one last post with other tips I received that didn't make it into previous posts.

  • If the incumbent is lousy, it might be worth keeping the job in consideration. My friend S pointed out after my last blog post on bidding that it might be smart not to write off a job with an unimpressive incumbent. Because that person will turn off other bidders, you may have less competition for the role. In addition, replacing a mediocre employee will give you more opportunities to shine, clean up any messes they left behind, and make an impact in that post or office (as well as in the minds of your colleagues).
  • Your bidding doesn't have to be a secret. Some people keep where they're bidding close hold, but I like sharing it with as many people as possible. Multiple times, that has led a colleague or friend to say, "Hey! I know someone there" or "The hiring manager is great" or even "I don't know about that post; they've had a lot of toxic workplace complaints lately." Insights like that have led me to informational interviews, a deeper dive on some of the issues at that post, and even to people lobbying (i.e., advocating for and recommending me to the hiring manager) on my behalf for the job whom I never expected to do that for me. You'll miss out on a lot of informal networking and information gathering if you keep your bids a secret.
  • Bidding success is not necessarily reflective of your competence as a diplomat or worth as a person. Some people are better at bidding than others. I personally think bidding strongly favors extroverts (like me) who enjoy talking to people, interviewing, and networking - even when those aren't the most important traits for a particular job. Every year, there are plenty of awesome diplomats who don't get a handshake (i.e., job offer) on handshake day (when offers are traditionally extended by in the main bidding season). There are also awful employees who seem particularly adept at getting great assignments through our bidding process. It happens. So although I've done well and been very lucky in my own bidding experience, I don't agree with those who suggest Foreign Service bidding is a pure meritocracy.
  • Don't take a job just because someone else says it's a good career move. You have to actually be in that job day in and day out doing the work, so choose work that you're actually interested in at a post or office where you actually want to be. If you're passionate about the work, you will more likely excel and be your best (and happiest), but if you take a position you're not interested in then you won't be at peak performance or job satisfaction.
  • Sometimes hiring decisions will be opaque or unfair. It's extremely frustrating to experience and watch, but don't let one closed door prevent you from looking for other open ones. There is always more than one fantastic job available at any given time.

Best of luck to everyone still looking for their next assignment and every office still looking for a great candidate! I hope you find your match soon.