Joining the Foreign Service: A-100 and Flag Day

I am excited to join the 6% of Latix Diplomats in the U.S. Foreign Service! I officially joined the State Department on July 20, 2020 – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, my introduction to the Foreign Service was abnormal.

I was part of the second ever virtual orientation for U.S. Diplomats. We were all guinea pigs, as State Department tried to figure out how to train its next group of incoming foreign service officers. For the first time ever, State Department gave foreign service officers the option to stay at their state of residency for training or to relocate to Washington, D.C. and live in government-paid housing. Typically every newly hired diplomat relocates to Washington, DC or Virginia to start their in-person training.

I love Washington, D.C., so I’ll take any opportunity to move back! For housing, State Department gives us the opportunity to choose between apartments in Washington D.C. or Arlington, VA. I chose to live in Arlington in case we eventually went back to in-person training.

I moved to D.C. on a Sunday and I officially began A-100 on a Monday. “A-100” is the name of the orientation or training for newly hired U.S. Diplomats. This training is organized and led by instructors at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA. A-100 is typically a 6-week orientation but mine was condensed to 4 weeks. To my understanding, the cohort can be as big as 100 students; mine was 86.

Training officially starts with a swearing-in ceremony. During A-100, we network with other diplomats joining the service, learn about how embassies operate overseas, hear from high-level diplomats, learn about the resources and benefits that State Department offers to diplomats, and learn about how the foreign service is not just a career but a lifestyle. Additionally, we learn more about the different “career tracks” of the foreign service. As foreign service officers we are characterized as “generalists” but we all chose a career track – like a specialty.

During A-100, foreign service officers also get their first “bid list.” The “bid list” is a database of all available entry-level jobs around the world. New diplomats have to do some research about the posts, think about their priorities, and rank all the jobs as high, medium or low. Diplomats have one weeks to do their homework and submit their list. Then, Career Development Officers (CDO) have two weeks to make the final decisions, while diplomats anxiously wait for the news until “Flag Day.” The first two tours of a new diplomat (which are typically 2 years each) are directed by their CDO. The 203rd U.S. Foreign Service class (my class) received their first bid list with 96 jobs, which meant that 10 positions were not be filled.

“Flag Day” is the highlight of A-100 — it’s the day that new diplomats find out their first assignment overseas. This is typically a big ceremony where State Department representatives call each name and deliver the news by giving a miniature flag representing the assignment. However, my Flag Day on August 12, 2020 was virtual. We had to get creative and plan our virtual celebrations. Thus, two other diplomats – including my best friend from graduate school – and I got together to celebrate our Flag Day together.

What comes after A-100 and Flag Day?

  • Regional Studies: where you learn more about the history, culture and foreign affairs of the country you’ve been assigned.
  • Language Studies: where you learn the language of the country you’ve been assigned (if required – not all posts require diplomats to learn the language).
  • Job-related training: where you learn more about the responsibilities associated with your specific position and how you’ll contribute to the overall mission of the embassy.
  • Foreign Affairs Counter Treat (FACT) Training: an emergency situation and self-defense training to equipped diplomats and adult family members with the necessary skills to survive during emergency situations.

I’m excited to announce that I will be heading to Vientiane, Laos for my first diplomatic assignment overseas. I will be learning Lao for 33 weeks before heading to post. My 2-year tour in Laos starts summer 2021!

YouTube Channel: Marta Aparicio

2 Comments on “Joining the Foreign Service: A-100 and Flag Day

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your journey! I swear I was crying with your Flag Day video 🇱🇦! It’s so exciting! I am looking forward to follow your step and be part of that 6% of Latino US diplomats!!

    Liked by 1 person

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