Going to Berlin: Mostly business, a little pleasure

In a little less than two weeks, I will be taking the Foreign Service Officer Test, which is used to determine a person’s eligibility to serve the State Department at overseas embassies and consulates in tenure-track work. I wanted to take the test in February and the only place I could do it by the time I was able to register was the U.S. embassy in Berlin.

I’ve been to Berlin before and I read German very well — I sound dumb trying to speak it, but I just haven’t had the practice in a long time — so I wasn’t terribly worried to go back. It’ll be like a mini adventure!

I’m going to have to skip a Tuesday class, but my teacher understood what I was doing and said it wasn’t a problem. I’m taking the train from Canterbury to St. Pancras, then another train to Luton airport, then hopping on a plane to Berlin Schoenefeld and then taking an express train from the airport to the Hauptbahnhof (the main city train station). I’m spending the night, then taking the U-bahn (subway) to the embassy in the morning, taking the test, grabbing a bite to eat and flying back to London. Piece of cake, right?

The exam itself is split into four parts. One part is mixed bag of questions about U.S. history, world geography, economics, culture, government, computer literacy and management skills. The second part is all about written expression, including grammar, reading comprehension and editing. A third part is unassessed and asks you to give biographical information. The fourth part is a critical essay, which is graded in the event that you pass the multiple choice portion.

If you pass the exam, you’re invited to complete a broader biographical survey. If that’s sufficient, a panel of current foreign service officers looks over your full package and determines if you’re fit for an oral examination. Following that, then you may be offered a post off of a list, depending on your qualifications. Whew. So as important as the upcoming test is, it’s really just the first part of the gauntlet.

I’m hoping I have time to get a nice German meal that isn’t from a train station cart, and can maybe run over to Brandenburg Gate and/or the Reichstag again for some quick photos.

Wish me luck!

Paris: Day Four

Read about the first, second and third days in Paris.

Monday, our long weekend in Paris came to a close.

Lauren and I rode the Metro to Gare du Nord and stashed our bags in a locker, so they’d be safe and we wouldn’t have to carry them . We had breakfast — crepes, coffee and apple juice — at a cafe by the train station.

We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon up in Monmarte, visiting the beautiful Sacre Coeur basilica, which is on a hill and can be seen from across the city, and walking around the district. We stopped outside the Moulin Rouge for photos.

We had heard about good flea and farmers markets in Marais, but unfortunately the ones in which we were interested were closed.

Our next stop was the area around the national opera. After taking photos of the building’s exterior (the interior of lovely also), we visited the Apple store for the free WiFi and got coffee at a very opulent Starbucks. We’re talking chandeliers, tiles ceilings, shiny metal fixtures. It was swank. I also dragged Lauren into the United Colors of Benetton and picked up my souvenir of the trip — a UCoB shirt with “Paris” on it. I have one from London, too. It may just be my new collection.

With the afternoon left to kill, we went back to the Eiffel Tower so Lauren could see it in the daylight. It was so cloudy out that going to the top would have been pointless, as the view would have been obscured, so we hung around down at the bottom, took photos and watched souvenir peddlers run away from the police. Good times.

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We walked across the Seine to the Trocadero, a complex of gardens and museums. The complex has an impressive history in international affairs — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed there in 1948, and it also housed the first headquarters of NATO.

Lauren and I had one last late lunch together in a restaurant off the Trocadero, before heading back to Gare du Nord. I set up shop in a cafe with a coffee and a croissant, waiting for my train depart. Lauren took an overground commuter train to Orly, from where she was flying back to Germany.

So there you have it. Four eventful days in Paris. Très bon, oui?