Being Smart and Stayin’ Alive.

When you apply to the State Department there are things that they don’t talk about much.  They don’t talk about all the smart people you’ll meet.  I guess you should expect it from what they want you to do to get in.  

There’s a test.  They tell you to study by reading The Economist and Foreign Affairs magazines.  There is an essay.  Actually, I think there were seven essays.  Some people have to participate in a day-long interview to see how you interact with other applicants.

I didn’t have to do that part.  I had to take another test and then I was put in a room with 5 unnamed, unsmiling peers and asked questions for an hour.  I rambled and sweated. Mostly I rambled. and I didn’t think was was too articulate.  But, I must have rambled smartly, because here I am.

But they don’t really talk about the other smart people you meet. But, you see and feel it the moment you walk in. Wander the halls and the snippets of conversations are right out of the news.  What are we doing about Ukraine, or Crimea or the Ebola outbreak?

I work with a man who invented his own style of cardiac catheter. And, another who developed a simple and efficient electronic health record that actually only asks for information that is required.  The reason it is not in use?  “It didn’t cost enough to implement.”   

You also get to hear about other smart things as well. For instance, one of the ways to lift a society out of poverty is to have educated women and girls.  Folks in the State Department have found that one leading cause of girls dropping out of school is that boys and girls have to share the same toilets in many rural schools.   When they reach puberty, it becomes a privacy and modesty issue and, so they drop out.
So, there is a program being implemented to try and provide separate bath facilities for young girls in rural areas. A separate hole in the ground opens the world to half the population.  I think that is pretty cool.

The other thing they don’t talk much about is all the danger you’ll face when you head out into the world.  In the last week and a half of our orientation there have been hours of classes, telling us all the different ways we could be injured or killed.  Or raped. There was that too.

All that plus kidnapping, and fire and earthquakes and radioactivity and biological weapons and pandemics and more!  One class taught us how to use a personal, single use gas mask. “Don’t use this in a fire or it will melt to your face.”  Also, “make sure the little red light is on or it’s like putting a plastic bag on your head.”

Another segment taught us when we’ll know to use our nerve gas antidote.  “The room will go dark and you’ll be drooling like crazy, if you see someone convulsing, give them three injections.”

It’s all been enough to give one second thoughts, until they showed a slide at the end of one day demonstrating how most people working overseas get hurt or die.

80% of US employees are hurt or killed in car accidents or are hit by cars. The smartest way to stay alive is to look both ways when you cross the street and don’t drive too fast.

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