FSOT 2017 – Result

So, today the result from the Personal Narrative Questions (PNQ) portion of the Foreign Service Officers Test process finally arrived. I have again, as I expected, received the dreaded, “We regret to inform you that your QEP-determined relative ranking in your career track is not high enough to continue your candidacy to the next step of the Foreign Service Officer selection process, the Oral Assessment.”

This is the third time I have been rejected from this stage out of four attempts. I probably will keep taking the test, because it is basically free ($5). Who knows, one day I may actually pass. My feelings were kind of meh. I knew that my success was a distant possibility and I have never focused my plans and dreams on this route anyway. I keep trying because it would be an interesting career and allow me to serve my country. That is it. So, life goes on. :-P

October FSOT

On October 5, I once again tried the Foreign Service Officer Test, which is the first step in a long process of gaining employment with the US State Department. Although I have friends in government work, I have never placed all my hopes and dreams on passing, since a large number of people are competing for relatively few positions. So, that night I made my way to the Pearson Vue testing site in Taipei, as the only available slot was at 5:00 p.m. I was already extremely tired before the three hour test began, so let me just say that I should have opted for another time even if I missed class.

I thought the test was going well until I hit the situational judgement section. This recently replaced the biographic questionnaire, although both use the metric of gauging similar responses. Last time, I just answered consistently, if not entirely truthfully. This time I was flummoxed. The final essay question is really what threw me for a loop. I looked at the question about a living wage and started writing about guaranteed basic income. About 2 & 1/2 minutes left, I noticed what it was actually asking. I typed faster than I had ever typed in my life. What a disaster, as I thought I was finished.

Well, today I received the results: I passed. I seriously think the grader on that essay was smoking something. Here are the comparisons with my last test in July 2015:

Biographic Questionnaire: 57.78
English Expression: 59.67
Job Knowledge: 56.43
Multiple Choice Total: 173.88
Essay Score: 8

Situational Judgement: 46.2
English Expression: 53.21
Job Knowledge: 58.32
Multiple Choice Total: 157.73
Essay Score: 6

So, as you can see, I did poorly in comparison. My job knowledge improved, which saved me. English went down quite a bit, which I typically blame on living abroad. I often joke that my English is going, with nothing unfortunately replacing it. I will be reduced to grunting soon. The situational judgement score tanked, as I thought it would. My essay passed by the skin of my teeth. Altogether, I was just lucky someone was merciful out there.

Next step is the Personal Narrative Questions (PNQs), which I have never passed. I hate this section, as you have to write about yourself. As many friends have told me, do not be afraid to “embellish” a little, or a lot.

Update: Nov. 17: Finished and sent off the PNQs. Thanks to my friend Michael for his help and guidance. I would not have done as well as I did without his critiques.


An End to My Employment

Yesterday marked the end of my employment of 3 years at Beijing University of Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Beihang, for short). I have turned my grades in and hope that no modification of them is needed. Grading is my least favorite part of teaching. Some people are the most earnest students, but quite frankly stink at studying languages. I always feel that there are some who received a better grade than they deserve and a great many more who received less than their due. That is one of the difficulties in judging grades for classes that are oral based. Any mark is almost entirely subjective. For example, a introverted student usually receives a lesser score because of the nature of the class. Being a natural introvert myself, I can understand this. I hope that they themselves consider it fair. One of the things that sooth my conscience was the fact that I only provided half of the English grade, with the rest resulting from an English writing class given by a Chinese teacher.

All in all, I have taught almost 4,000 students at the university, the great majority of them graduate students. I have been deeply impressed by their skills and desire to learn. I have had a few jackasses, but those have been extremely few. A similar experience in the US would have no doubt had more. I should know, since as a student I could sometimes be a jackass with the best of them. I wish them the best in all of their future endeavors. Along with my previous students at Beijing Normal University (2005-2007), these guys have deeply influenced me more than they know. This is especially true to my visiting students and my classes in American history.

Foreign Service Results

Last week I finally received my results from round two of the foreign service selection process – the Personal Narrative Questions. Once again, I failed to make the cut. Unfortunately, the State Department does not give explanations for why or how people do not make the cut.

In the rejection letter, it states:

“Please note that QEP scoring is not a pass/fail exercise nor is there a pre-set cut-off score. Rather candidates receive a relative ranking in their respective career tracks. The most highly competitive candidates in each career track are invited to the Oral Assessment based on our anticipated hiring needs. Foreign Service Officer hiring targets are adjusted annually. At present, a very large number of individuals are applying for a very limited number of Foreign Service Officer positions and the process is extremely competitive. There are numerous cases where individuals who received an invitation to the Oral Assessment in a previous year will not receive one in a current year.”

I do not know if I will take it again next year. I am not bummed about this, because I knew it was a long shot. I have other irons in the fire, as they say. It is one of the jobs, however, that closely fits my dream job.

FSOT & July the 4th


American FlagHappy Birthday to the United States of America! Today she is 239 years into her glorious existence. To those who gave her birth and those who now keep her free, Thank You & God Bless America

In related news, I just this week received my scores for the Foreign Service Officers Test (FSOT), which is the first step in a long process to work for the United States State Department. This was my third attempt. The first time in 2011 was successful, but last year I failed because of my low score on the essay section. This time I passed.

Last year:
Biographic Questionnaire: 42.65
English Expression: 59.56
Job Knowledge: 61.7
Multiple Choice Total: 163.91

Essay Score: 5

This year:
Biographic Questionnaire: 57.78
English Expression: 59.67
Job Knowledge: 56.43
Multiple Choice Total: 173.88

Essay Score: 8

As you can see, I did much better at the Biographic section with an increase of 15 points. In the English section, I barely budged – 0.11 points increase. I thought the English section was extremely easy and felt that I should have done much better in this category. The job knowledge section was a severe blow, because this is usually my highest area and for some reason I blew it. I decreased by over 5 points. I was going for a 180 total, but was unsuccessful.

To have your essay graded, you needed to score at least 154 on the multiple choice. I thought that my essay was pretty poor when I finished, but it looks like the ones giving the score had mercy on me. This was my actual best, since I scored a 7 on the one in 2011. (You need a 6 to pass to the next step.) I still don’t think it was that great, but I will take the victory. The next step is the Personal Narrative Questions (PNQs) which are due July 23rd.

Foreign Service Test

I had the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test) on June 14. It was an interesting experience, as the test was at the Beijing Embassy. This was actually my first time to go to the US embassy, even though I have lived in Beijing for 3 years in total. I went to the consulate in Chengdu once, but this was much different. It still has the same intense security, both Chinese and American, but the embassy is so much nicer inside. I guess that is to be expected since it is only 8 years old and cost us $434 million. Anyway, I had the test with about 15 or so others. Since Beijing only offers a single testing day, my reservation was moved to that time – 8:30 a.m. At the time, I thought I did rather well on the job knowledge section and the English section, but felt uneasy about the biographical section. Also, I was not finished with my essay and knew that part could definitely trip me up.

I finally received my grade. Here is the breakdown:

Job Knowledge:                       61.7
Biographical Questionnaire:    42.65
English Expression:                 59.56
Multiple Choice Total:               163.91
Your Essay Score:                    5

Because I scored above 154 on the total, my essay was graded. I needed at least a 6 out of 12 to pass to the next round, the PNQ (Personal Narrative Questions). So, as you can see, I failed. I looked at a website that listed results from 139 test takers in 2013. My Job Knowledge was quite above the average, about 5 points. My English was also above average by 5 points. My biographical section was 15 points below the average. The average essay score was 7.28. So, I know what killed me.

Writing seems to be the bane of my test taking experience. I always thought of myself as a decent writer, but this test has dealt a couple of blows to my ego. This is the second FSOT that I have participated in. I passed the first test with a similar multiple choice score, but with an essay score of 6. I then failed the PNQ, which also involves a great deal of writing.

Although I have to wait another year, I am not giving up on this. This is partly due to my inherent obstinateness, having aptly earned the title “pigheaded” in the past. Also, this is a job that I desire to do. I have always wanted to perform service for my country. When I was young, this desire revolved around military service. As my physical limitations (weight and eyesight) denied me that, I am looking for other opportunities. I will continue to do so, because I feel that this career has a meaningful purpose.

For the next test, however, I know what I must focus on.

The End of the School Year

This past year of Beihang University has been great for me. I was happy most of the time, even though I fell completely short of two of my goals. My Chinese is still completely abysmal and my weight is still entirely too high. I did lose about 15 kg during the first semester and then gained it back over the spring. Financially, I am in a much better place. I make about the same comparatively in the States, but I don’t have to finance a car, pay insurance or gas, or the rent on an apartment or room. All of that money goes to my savings (ok, my debt).

In January, I went to the home of my friend Anna, in Wenzhou. I met her family and stayed at her home for a couple of days. It was very beautiful there among the rice fields and mountains. The people of Wenzhou speak a dialect that is extremely difficult, so I understood none of it. Her family is very nice. We then went to the wedding of our mutual friend, Sabrina, in Hangzhou. I also stayed with her family. Her mom tried to murder me with food. She was beyond gracious and welcoming. I enjoyed getting to know both families.

Anna and I

Anna and me, Wenzhou.

Serena's Wedding

Serena’s Wedding, Hangzhou.






After that, I went to Hong Kong and Macau (my 2x) where I visited with my friend Jan (from Czech Rep.) and my 妹妹 (Masako from Japan). I met both of them while living in the dorms of Sichuan University. They are some of my favorite people. Jan was studying at HK Polytech and Masako came to visit with us both. We also went to Macau and had dinner at the Grand Lisboa Casino with two other friends, Ricver Chan and Elaine Seng. Ricver was Jan’s roommate at Sichuan University. Elaine is a friend of mine that I met while teaching at Beijing Normal University. She was a student then and is now a teacher in Macau.

Jan and me in Macau

Jan and me, Macau

Jan and Masako, Hong Kong

Jan and Masako in Hong Kong

Elaine and me, Macau.

Elaine and me, Macau.






I had another trip later in the year. I went to Pingyao, Shanxi Province with friends from Church. It was great hanging out with those guys, especially since one of them will soon be heading back to the US. The city itself was very interesting. I also bought the first souvenir (other than books) in the past ten years – a gun that fires matchsticks. I didn’t tell anyone but I immediately regretted buying it. First, I am an avowed cheapskate and it cost me about $8. Second, it was a silly purchase. I could also have had a miniature bust of myself made for $48, but didn’t because it was too expensive and a bit egotistical. All of the souvenirs in the past ten years were given to me.

As for the school, I love teaching here. My students are respectful and eager to learn. I felt that my Western Culture classes were interesting and had something of an impact. Several mentioned that my class was their favorite. I think that had more to do with my no homework policy than anything else, though. I felt some regret about my Oral English class. My students were exchange students from outside of Beihang and they paid more to come to this university. I could see their progress, but could also sense their frustration because they did not feel they were as capable as others. I knew this was not true, but I could not seem to convey that to them. They were the only class I had for the whole year and were my favorite. Each of them is an example to me in striving for my goals.

My students.

My students.

Returning to China

Great WallIt seems in many ways that my life has come full circle. Or maybe just that it has not gone anywhere, if I were a complete pessimist. When I was 25, I set out for China as an English teacher. I was young, reasonably healthy (if very overweight), and happy. My second time in China was a time of depression and despair mitigated only by the presence of awesome friends. My roommate Bruno and our companions Beata, Rob, Jan, Masako (and so many others) did more of a service in my life than even they know. 2009-2012 was one of the darkest periods of my life and in the last two years of that time, I almost folded. But now I have returned triumphantly (mostly in my own head) to China at 34, still as an English teacher. I may have not been a huge success in the last decade, but most importantly I am happy. Still overweight, though. I have found that I am usually happier abroad for some reason. Probably something to do with not paying taxes.

For the last month and 1/2, I have been teaching at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (北京航空航天大学), or simply Beihang (北航). This time around I am teaching graduate students majoring in a wide variety of majors. Mostly, though, they are engineering and science majors. All of them are smarter than me. It is a strange atmosphere as well, since I teach about 90% male. When I worked at Beijing Normal, I taught the reverse – almost all girls. In addition, they were English majors. It is still really interesting. As I told one student, I learn as much or more from the class than perhaps they do. I do have one class of English undergraduate majors, but they are a special class made up of students from other universities outside Beijing (called appropriately, Visiting Students). They are pretty cool kids and very enjoyable to teach.

I found that my Chinese has reached new levels of terrible. I was surprised by how much I remember since I haven’t spoken it in three years. Still, this is countered by the great majority that flies over my head. I still have quite a bit of perseverance though. I will eventually become good at this language. I keep telling myself this and hope through repetition that it becomes true.

Beijing itself has changed so much since I was here in 2010, and even more so since 2004 on my first visit. The people seem worldlier, yet the air quality remains about the same. I went to play basketball yesterday and almost hacked up a lung. Ok, the fact that I have eschewed physical activity for almost forever had a great deal to do with it as well. I have been slowly losing weight – mostly because I walk almost everywhere and I eat better. I eat tons of vegetables here rather than meat.

The only real complaint that I have is that I forgot how slow the internet is on Chinese university campuses. The speed is slower than at my Dad’s, which I had previously thought was the slowest “broadband internet” available to mankind. I have been proven wrong.

Working with Mr. S

superman-logo-013Tonight was the first time that I worked as a caretaker with Mr. S on my own. I had taken on this job because I needed the extra money and my insomnia suggested this would be a decent job to do at night. While I do not get paid very much, I am there for 4 12 hour shifts a week so it adds up.

Mr. S is an interesting fellow with a very funny, if vulgar, sense of humor. He is about 27 years old and had been in a motorcycle wreck when he was about 20 years old. So, mentally he is still stuck at 20. I remember how I was at 20, so I can cut him a lot of slack. Generally, my duties are to change him for bed, hang out for a while, and watch over him at night. So far, pretty easy. Last night, he had not taken his anti-cramping medication as his prescription had ran out. I helped massage his partially paralyzed hand about 5 or 6 times last night and he was not able to achieve a deep sleep until 2 a.m. I slept for about 3 hours or so. This was sufficient till I was able to return home.

The only real issue was a family guest and his girlfriend that stayed the night in a room separated from me by a hanging sheet. This fellow was considerably drunk and proceed to have an hours long conversation with his significant about her sexual congress with other men. While I found that strangely entertaining in its own way, it was annoying because it kept me from hearing if Mr. S needed me. Around 2 a.m. he asked me if I had heard their conversation. Yes, idjit, I did.

PNQs – Finished

I just finished my PNQ – Personal Narrative Questions for my application for the US State Department. It was quite interesting trying to articulate leadership and management. I have not necessarily aschewed these opportunities but I do not go out of my way to find them either. I should hear the results back sometime in mid-January. If I pass this round, then I continue on to perhaps the most difficult part, the Oral Interview. I am optomistic but realistic at the same time. There are a great many accomplished people vying for only a few jobs. Wish me luck!

Now that is out of the way, I have several projects that I really need to finish up. I plan on rearranging my room tomorrow as well as trying to finish several long overdue papers. They will take more than a day, of course. This is, however, the first step to completing my thesis. I also plan to listen to a lecture that my friend Kathy sent to me. I have put it off long enough as well. I also need to really start looking for a new job so that I can pay off some bills. In addition, this Friday I must once again go to my therapist for my once every six weeks checkup. She will no doubt ask me about all of this so I really should get some of it done.