PLP Passport Project: U.S. Department of State Student Intership

Stole some of my own writing…but here is a blog I wrote for my leadership program’s blog at DU because I received a grant from the alumni for my travel to Abu Dhabi for my internship!

The PLP Way

This summer I was selected to be an intern at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, UAE with the State Department Internship Program and had some of the best learning and cultural experiences of my life.

The ten weeks I spent in the management section were very informative, interesting, and fun. I worked on projects such as locating pieces of missing embassy artwork and getting new nameplates for them, gathering information on certain reports from each of the management sections and then putting that into a full report to be sent to the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), conducting a survey on the customer satisfaction at the embassy cafeteria, and various other odd jobs from around the management section.

As an intern, I was able to facilitate brownbag sessions with the other sections in the embassy in order to build a network and learn what the other sections do. I…

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October 3, 2016 · 3:05 pm

I Didn’t Get Creeped On Today!

Today was the day that marks the beginning of my ascent from the valley of culture shock. The past week was very busy with school and starring in the opening ceremony of the U17 FIFA Women’s World Cup here in Amman; being famous is exhausting!! However, despite all of the fun activities I have been randomly thrown into, the inevitability of culture shock always looms and it definitely hit me last week. Although I have lived in the Middle East for a year of my life, I am not immune to the trap of culture shock. It can happen at any time and to anyone and it is not very fun!

Alas! While sitting at my favorite café doing homework and studying for the Foreign Service Officer Test (which I am taking on Tuesday – prayers are appreciated!!), I had a moment where something shifted. I knew that from tonight onward I would be making my climb back up to the peak of cultural awe, which is completely fitting seeing as I am reaching almost exactly halfway through my time here.

I could tell today was THE day when I was buying falafel sandwiches from my favorite shop where I can get 2 sandwiches for a little over $1. I though about how sad it will be to not have cheap falafel sandwiches just down my street.

I could tell today was THE day when I was ordering argileh at my café and the two waiters knew my argileh flavor and chatted with me and my friends in a NON CREEPY WAY (not that they have been creepy before, but just as a general rule the “shababs” [Jordanian young men] are very creepy and never hesitate to throw out a good cat call or shameless stare or a casual stop of traffic to watch you walk by).

I could tell today was THE day when even at midnight we found a new place called Planet Donut that had REAL ice cream for only $1.40!! Something I haven’t had in a long time.

I could tell today was THE day when I was planning my fall break trip with friends and getting super pumped about hiking for 5 days around natural Jordan. (I can’t wait to share pictures and my experience from this trip which will take place in two weeks!)

And I could tell today was THE day when I realized I had been complimented three times over the past three days about how good my street Arabic was….AKA the best possible compliment a native Arabic speaker can give you about your speaking abilities. Reminding me that all of the creepy catcalling, staring, and car following is worth it!

 

**Disclaimer: I never feel unsafe, though I am always vigilant and don’t walk alone especially at night. The creepiness is mostly harmless and just makes for extreme discomfort.

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Beautiful Amman

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A pic representing my nighttime fun in Amman…pictured: Nizar, Ana, me, Arie at U Roof Lounge (one of our favorite spots)

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Even my family got to watch the opening ceremony all the way from America! Jordan lost to Spain 6-0

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My costume from the opening ceremony of FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup

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I’m High….on Arabic!

It is nights like these that remind me why I study Arabic and leave me on such a high!

Today was a long day of struggling through Arabic class and then having my first day of content classed (taught in Arabic!!) (I am taking History of the Conflict in the Middle East [a very broad title, so I am interested to see what we learn!] and Jordanian Culture and Society). After classes were finished a group of us students found ourselves on the way to King Hussein Sports City to rehearse the opening ceremony of the Fifa U-17 Women’s World Cup that’s happening in Jordan…somehow I am not surprised that we keep getting thrown into these odd/crazy/amazing experiences. We will be wearing white jumpsuits with soccer netting and black capes….THIS WILL BE TELEVISED INTERNATIONALLY SO I WILL KEEP YOU ALL POSTED.

After this fun excursion I had to write AN ENTIRE PAGE in Arabic as a part of my semester-long Arabic research paper. This does not sound like a lot but writing one page in Arabic takes 4 hours on a good day… a group of us went to our favorite argileh (hookah) café down the road to write our papers there in true Arabic spirit.

When I finally returned home after my computer died on me, I sat up with my Jordanian roommate Dola and chatted with her in Arabic for an hour even after my exhausting day (was very proud of myself for not caving and going right to bed). But this conversation was SO rewarding. It DIDN’T feel like pulling teeth when trying to search for the right Arabic word or the correct conjugation. It felt like it all rolled off my tongue so easily! Even Dola told me I sounded so much better than when she first met me a month ago. Anyone who has learned a second language will understand how amazing this can feel when you have a smooth conversation about topics other than the weather or what they did that day. We were talking about the differences between Arabic and English IN ARABIC. I told her all about my trips and work in Haiti IN ARABIC. We even talked about Jordan’s recent parliamentary elections IN ARABIC. Needless to say I will sleep soundly tonight after a long day but especially because even as I write this, many of my thoughts come to me in Arabic first before I remind myself I need to type in English (most of my audience doesn’t know Arabic 😉 ).

P.S. I must apologize for being so absent in my blog writing. I have promised (mom and dad) many blogs that never got written. I’d love to blame it on “writer’s block” but truthfully I am kept very busy here and then in turn become very lazy when it comes to keeping my blog audience updated on my life (which is amazing and crazy here in Amman).

P.S.S. I traveled to Israel and Palestine last week, which was UNREAL.

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Oh Man it was Oman Again!

I can safely say that four days in Muscat was not anywhere near close to enough time to revisit the friends, family, and memories I have here. I immediately felt at home once I found my family eagerly waiting for me at the airport on Friday night. It was a quick turnaround from my bittersweet goodbyes in Abu Dhabi to the happy welcome in Muscat. I was able to fill my days in Muscat with nearly everything I wanted to see and do. My first day back in the city, my family took me to a young cousin’s birthday party at Pizza Hut (so typical), which allowed me to see the whole extended family. I think it was a positive surprise for them to see me after three years. Of course, a host aunt told me I got fatter, which is an endearing comment in Omani terms. That night we went to a mall called the China Market where all of the stores sell goods manufactured in China (was I in America again…?). My sister was looking for housedresses to wear in the girls dormitory at the Oman Medical College where she will be moving to in the fall. (Wow! Last time I was here she was vigorously studying for her high school exams so that she could get scholarship to attend a good private college and look where she is now!).

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The coolest skirt I have ever seen I found in the China Market…wish I would have bought it!

The next day my sisters and three host cousins wanted to go to the mall, go bowling, and jet skiing. It was a fun-packed day (much different than the majority of the days I spent with them last time!). It was my first time jet skiing so I was reasonably nervous to be out in the ocean with Omani drivers on jet skis…if you’ve ever been to the Middle East and seen Middle Eastern driving you would understand my fear. But needless to say, I lived and had a blast! Being out on the open water on the Jet Ski solidified even more for me the knowledge that the beach/ocean is my happy place.

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Me after jet skiing and making it out alive

On Monday my host brother Saleh took me to the Grand Mosque, as I requested to see it again. It was just as awesome and beautiful as I remember. After the mosque we went onward with the tour to a new museum that opened only one month ago. Museums are few and far between in the Middle East so this was a big deal. It is called the Oman National Museum and it was very nicely put together. It covered everything from Oman’s maritime history, a very important part of the historic country, Oman’s forts, its renaissance period, and Sultan Qaboos. Good job Oman!

Monday night began my rounds of visiting old friends. I stayed with Miriam’s host family that night and was able to talk to her host father Salem Darai about his work at the US Embassy in Muscat now that I knew the ins and outs of embassy terms! On Tuesday morning I visited with Mac’s host family and was able to see their new house and hung out with Mac’s host sister Shurooq. On Tuesday night I had dinner with Munira, the program coordinator from Amideast who acted as our mother while we were in Oman last time. I missed Munira so much so that when I first saw her I began crying. Dinner with her brought back so many wonderful memories, but was also bittersweet because we covered all of the recent news in our friends’ lives and ours, which was sad and happy all the same.

This morning before heading to the airport I went with my sisters to a famous “coffee shop” (don’t picture Starbucks or Costa…) called Tea Corner. At the Tea Corner (ركن الساي) we had the famous Oman bread with eggs and cheese as well as the famous drink called chai karak. It was such a fabulous way to go out in true Omani fashion. Saying goodbye to my family again was challenging but I promised that next time I come back I will bring my whole family (I’m talking to you mom, dad, and Carson!!). Maybe it will be for Saleh’s wedding! With that, maa salama Oman. Until next time! Thank you for the wonderful memories and reminding me why I keep challenging myself with the task of learning Arabic – so that I can connect with such an amazing people on an organic and deep level. I will miss you!

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Back to wearing my abaya and hijab in my old bedroom!

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To a Successful Internship!

On my way to Muscat! Wow, what a whirlwind of a couple months that was. I completed my internship at the US embassy yesterday and I must say I could not have asked for a better experience there. The embassy community welcomed me with open arms and continued to fully embrace me throughout the duration of my internship. The goodbyes that inevitably took place yesterday and today were painful, but that is something that people that work for the Foreign Service and other embassy jobs are forced to do every 1-3 years. Guess that’s something I will need to work on for the future! Now that I think of it, I will be going through a big series of goodbyes in only 2 years when I graduate from DU. It’ll be here before I know it! Back to Abu Dhabi…I want to give some highlights of my time there.

 

  • Sri Lanka and Kuwait were both amazing for different reasons but I will write a separate blog about the both of those because there is so much to say!
  • Friday brunch is not what it sounds like…Friday brunch in the UAE is something everyone must do if you visit this country. All hotels in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have (very expensive) “brunches” every Friday that range from $70-$400 per person depending on what package you get. The brunch we went to was at the Westin Abu Dhabi and one ticket included all you can eat food with selections boasting a bread and cheese section, any seafood you can imagine, Arabic dishes, Indian dishes, sushi, dim sum, a BYO pasta station, sandwiches, and my personal favorite: the dessert section including macaron towers and two chocolate fountains!! The ticket also includes unlimited drinks. In order to get your money’s worth, this event begins in the late morning and lasts all the way into the early evening. Needless to say we were all rolled out of the Westin that Friday.

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    Bubbalicious brunch at the Westin Abu Dhabi

  • Ladies nights at bars and restaurants around town are a dime a dozen and usually offer fabulous deals for those bearing the double X chromosome – sorry gents. Any night of the week you can find a ladies night. The seasoned ladies will know where to go on any given night of the week. One of my favorites was an open-air bar/club called the Catch that is situated on the corniche (meaning it’s on the beach) and has a resident DJ, a dance floor, tables, and offers shisha and a range of bar food. Ladies get 3 free drink ticket here! Ladies nights are fabulous places for meeting people from all over the world. Some people that I met were from Italy, Palestine, Lebanon, South Africa, Zambia, and many others.

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    Ladies night at The Yacht Club!

  • My mother’s cousin, Greg, was passing though Dubai on his way back from India for business and extended his layover in order to visit me in Abu Dhabi. I was able to play tour guide for the day (even though all the sights we saw were new to me!). I took Greg to the NY Burger joint, where you can find the best burgers in Abu Dhabi. Then on to Ferrari World where we tried our hand at changing the tire on an F1 racecar and rode the fastest roller coaster in the world! After that we headed to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to soak in its breathtaking architecture at sunset. We concluded the awesome day with a quick look at the Emirate’s Palace, a 7-star hotel, and then ate dinner on the beach. Thanks again, Greg, for giving me a little feel of home and bringing me hamburger helper that traveled more than I have to get here.
  • One thing I am going to miss when I leave the gulf is the fact that you can get literally any food place delivered. I (shamelessly) will miss McDonald’s delivery the absolute most </3
  • Despite the insane heat of about 110 degrees with 45% humidity, my friends and I decided to try kayaking in the mangroves one evening at sunset. Once the sun went down we had lights on the bottoms of our kayaks so we could see the bottom! Many fish were jumping out of the water and would land in our boats and a few even managed to hit us as we were paddling back in to the shore.

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    Night time kayaking through the mangroves!

  • A two-day trip to Dubai was a must while I was in Abu Dhabi. I took a friend who hadn’t seen the city before so I was able to play tour guide. We spent time at the beach (the water is like hot tub water this time of year!), went to an American themed bar, saw the Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates, and went to Dubai Mall where there is the largest aquarium in the world and the Burj Khalifa, which of course, we had to go to the top of!
  • On my final weekend in Abu Dhabi I decided to put my new scuba certification to use and go on a dive trip with a few friends from the embassy. We drove to Oman on Thursday afternoon, spent two nights on a dhow, did 7 dives in total, and then returned to Abu Dhabi on Saturday evening, It was my first time diving in true open water, and boy, let me tell you, I am hooked!! It’s amazing exploring the underwater world.
  • During my final week in the capital city, I was able to spend as much time as I could with all of my favorite people I met through the embassy. A special thank you to all of the Marines: Jordan, Josh, Tom, Angel, Marcus, Miguel, and my other friends: Madison, Randi, Austin, Akshay, Mike, Paul, Adam, and countless others! You all helped make my experience what it was. I will miss you!

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    A polaroid from the final night in Abu Dhabi featuring the Etihad towers, arguably the best view in Abu Dhabi, in the background

 

As my plane is landing in Muscat, I must say how excited I am for the next few adventures in my Middle Eastern life including visiting my old host family, with whom I will be staying for my short 4 days here, and visiting the other host families and teachers from my time in Oman three years ago.

 

Alhumdullilah my life is great, thanks be to God. Peace!

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I Went To Jail Today

Alright, now that you’ve gathered yourself from the possible cardiac arrest I might’ve just put you in, let me explain.

I had to go to the expediters at the embassy today, per the reminder on my phone that I have now been in country for almost a month. This trip up to the third floor of the General Services Offices was for me to extend my 30-day tourist visa for another 30 days (at a cost of 700 dirhams, yikes!). It was at this moment that I realized “WOW. I have been in Abu Dhabi for almost a month and have only posted ONE BLOG. Whoops.” To keep the past month somewhat succinct I will give some highlights about my experience so far:

 

  • In comparison to my life in Muscat three years ago, my social life here in Abu Dhabi is poppin’! This is such a blessing, because the lack of social life in Muscat often got draining and I figured it would be somewhat similar this summer, but boy, was I ever wrong! I haven’t had a night in and to myself in almost two weeks. But hey, no complaints here.
  • I have made some awesome friends with people from the embassy; it’s such a close community here, so I am not surprised at how easily it was to begin to be invited to parties and events.
  • During the holy month of Ramadan, I have attended numerous Iftars and Suhoors (the meals Muslims eat during the moonlit hours), which have all been delicious and ranged from hotel-fancy to big, important Emirati family type events. I met the spiritual advisor to the royal family at a Suhoor he hosted at his family’s farm!
  • I have casually had dinner with the Ambassador, as she “dropped by” during a small girls night we were having (while her drivers and bodyguards sat outside in their cars, of course). That was way cool.
  • The other intern, Austin, our friend Madison, and I just purchased our plane tickets to Colobmo, Sri Lanka for next week during the Eid holiday (for which we have time off at the embassy). Can’t wait to share pictures of tropical beaches, elephants, and waterfalls with you all!
  • During my first week on the job, I was involved in helping with the Secretary of State visit to Abu Dhabi. What a neat experience that was!
  • Today I visited American citizens being detained at an Emirati prison with the American Civil Services section of the embassy. I can’t say too much about it due to privacy reasons, but that has been one of the most intriguing parts of the embassy to me thus far. Tomorrow I am scheduled to observe a few visa interviews in the consular section. Should also be really cool.

 

There is a lot more to come in the life of Kirby very soon. I am living on the edge of my seat constantly; never knowing what is coming next, but I am having a complete blast with this spontaneity. Absolutely loving it here!

 

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The Latest in the Life

Friends and family –

As I write this blog, I am in transit on my way to Abu Dhabi for yet another adventure. Many of you knew I was headed out, but for those of you who don’t, I am on my way to the UAE to complete an internship with the US Department of State at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. The details I have for this leg of trip are limited, however, I do know my internship will be 10 weeks long and I will be working in the management section, whatever that means. From my understanding there are one or two other student interns that are already there (I got a late start because of DU’s odd quarter schedule; I just finished my last final exam on Tuesday the 31st of May…quick turnaround!). During my time in AD I will have to do one or two “visa runs” in order to renew my visa, meaning I will have to exit and reenter the country. For these I hope to be able to see some other gulf countries or possibly India! At the conclusion of my internship in the beginning of August, I plan to travel back to Muscat, Oman for a few days to visit my old host family and friends I made in the city the last time I was there two years ago. Finally, I will be completing a study abroad course through CET Academic Programs in Amman, Jordan with a heavy language focus on Arabic. There will be other DU students there, though I don’t know who they are quite yet. While in Jordan I hope to have the chance to visit Israel, as that is somewhere I have always dreamt of going. My program in Jordan ends in the beginning of December and as of now my plan is to embark on a guided tour from On The Go tours in Egypt for a couple weeks before heading back to Denver to begin another quarter at DU in the beginning of January, where I will be starting my position as Education Vice President for my sorority, Gamma Phi Beta.

These next six and half months will be full of learning, adventure, and new experiences that I could not be more excited to journey through. I know many of you are worried for myself and my safety so I must say, as I have said many times, I will be very careful!! Nevertheless, any and all prayers for me and my family back in Littleton are very welcome and will give us all great peace of mind.

I look forward to sharing my happenings here on this blog, on Instagram, and Facebook. Thanks for following me and expect postcards!

Peace and blessings

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