Sunday, February 3, 2013

Conferring

My consular conference has wrapped up, and I have to say, it was pretty great. Assistant Secretary Jacobs came and talked about the next five years of consular work. With comprehensive immigration reform finally on the table in Congress, some aspects of visa processing may be in for some major changes in the coming years, depending on what the final agreement looks like. In the meantime, the Washington offices are doing their best to make sure the State Department in general and Consular Affairs in particular are actively involved in the discussion. That kind of big-picture long-term perspective is really fascinating, and easy to lose sight of dealing with day-to-day issues in a little visa window way out in Conakry.

This particular conference was aimed mostly at managers of small consular sections, so as the junior partner in a two-person section some of the subject matter didn't necessarily apply to me, but I found more than enough useful material to make it worthwhile. I had expected/feared a lot of buzzword-heavy management theory blather, and while there was a little of that, overall the presentations were very practical and down-to-earth. There was a session on process mapping that will be especially useful as I spend the next several months trying to get the section a bit more organized in preparation for my successor. We also had a very informative talk on crisis management and preparedness, which has a lot of relevance in a volatile region like West Africa.

While the official materials were helpful, the best thing about the conference was getting to meet my colleagues from other posts like mine. It was really helpful to be able to talk about common issues and see what other people are doing to solve some of the same problems we have at post. Most of the attendees have several tours under their belt and I appreciated getting to learn from their experience. I also appreciated finding out that these veteran consular officers had some of the same questions I did, so I feel a little less stupid now.

But work stuff aside, it was wonderful just to meet these folks and hang out together. They're really cool people with great stories to tell. Sure, every organization has its bad apples - and they certainly came up in the stories swapped over a couple of beers - but the overall quality of the people working in the State Department was one of the main things that drew me to the Foreign Service in the first place. This impression has not yet been proven wrong. We ate, we drank, we sledded, we sang karaoke, and I for one had a wonderful time. Can we do this again soon?

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