Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Fascination with Oswiecim

Came across a blog post today written by a gentleman about life in Oswiecim, Poland. It's a small town in southwestern Poland better known by its German translation: Auschwitz.
The author was commenting on how the locals were at an ice hockey game cheering on the Oswiecim team, something that people do when they go to sporting events.

Articles like this aren't uncommon. I seem to recall Ruth Ellen Gruber writing something earlier this year about life in Oswiecim, and I recall either earlier this year or late last year a photographer having his life-in-Oswiecim photos published in The Global Post.

I've been there twice, the first time in 2007, where I didn't have the chance to venture into the actual town; I had spent 6 hours at the actual Auschwitz complex, I and II. I went again in 2009 and made certain to spend time in the town. It's a quaint little town, nothing out of the ordinary. It was there before the Nazis, home to a majority Jewish population, and it's there now, no longer home to any Jewish population.

The fascination is understandable: when I went the first time, I was blown away at the houses built maybe 100 yards in front of the Birkenau gate. All post-war build up. The thought crossed my mind: I want to check these local people to make sure they are not blind, and/or, make sure they have read their history books. Why have you chosen to live here?

I was equally caught off guard at the young people walking through the brush, having to step over the train tracks that once brought Jews and others to this place 60 or so years ago for one simple purpose: to remove them from the planet. Life was carrying on normally, seemingly without a thought about where these people were and what had happened here only feet in front of them.

And therein lies the fascination. But life does go on. The locals didn't put the camp there, nor did they participate in the activities that occured inside the camp. They live in a town in Poland, where through no fault of their own, is synonymous with all the evils that man can do upon man.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Foreign Service Officer Application Process

Small victories count, so when I passed the foreign service officer exam, something a whole lot of people do, I felt good about it. Not ecstatic, the way I would feel if the whole thing actually came to fruition. The way I would feel if I were able to get past the Narratives and get past the Oral Assessment and learn that I've been selected. That day is a long way off, and may not even be seen.

Like so many, I am now working on the 6 short essays. I've completed 3 so far - it's not all that difficult. Only 200 words, so it's not like writing those 20 page papers I had to write for school. And, I think my real-life experience is plentiful enough to be able to pull examples out of and write about them in a step by step fashion.

It's the narratives where the qualifying panel cuts the majority of applicants out of the running. I don't have numbers, nor have I seen any, but it's quite obvious. The people who make it to the oral assessment stage have something a bit more special going on where they not only were able to achieve a passing score on the written exam, but they also have something in their background where they can write compelling examples of how they've used specific skills and also have a decent enough resume where the qualifying panel can see the qualities they look for in a FSO.

It's a long wait after I submit the narratives. I won't know until late January if I am in or out. But, I'm used to waiting. I waited for the Fulbright, and a fellowship, and another pseudo-fellowship, and for the VSO's decision, and I waited for the Peace Corps. I now wait for other things over and above the FSO application process as well. It's what I do, I wait.