For several weeks, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the U.S. Consulate at my high school. Well, they came, they saw, and they rolled out before I even had time to pledge allegiance to the Consul’s flag pin.
Here’s the background: About 45 high schoolers from around the world are chosen each year to participate in a month-long conference in the U.S. that will remain unnamed on this blog. (Hey, I don’t want to get sued.) It’s a fascinating project that allows globally-minded leaders to get together to discuss current issues while getting a free summer trip to the states. Some kids at my school were tapped to take part in the application process, which includes a tête à tête interview with the regional American Consulate. These kids have to be not only engaged individuals with top grades and legitimate reasons to want to experience American culture, but they have to be able to express all of that in the program’s lingua franca: English.
So we’ve been practicing. I took some extra time the past few weeks to ensure that the seven candidates knew how to conduct themselves in an American-style interview (snappy business casual attire, shake hands instead of chest-bumping, etc.) and express their main points clearly (keep the main thing the main thing, don’t quote Breaking Bad unless absolutely relevant, etc.). By the day of the Consular visit, they were shaking like leaves on so many proverbial trees, and they were totally ready.
So the Consulate (which consisted of two people) showed up at about 9 AM and started meeting the candidates. I stood outside the interview space and acted as moral support the whole morning as each kid hyperventilated on his or her way through the door. As per usual with anything on a tight schedule, the interviews went waaaay over time and we were rushing to get the meetings over so the visitors could get to their next engagement- a conference on Franco-American relations with about a hundred of the high school’s seniors.
This “conference” ended up being a recitation of literally every single link between the US and France since 1776, facilitated by the worst Powerpoint presentation I’ve ever seen, followed by a blanket “thank you” by the Consul for everything France did to help make America da best kuntrie evarr. I was pretty disappointed. It was probably relatively interesting to the students, who hadn’t heard it all before and are likely less OCD than me about how images should be centered on slideshows, but for the cynics in the room, it was mostly disappointing, and felt more like an advertisement for the U.S. than a spontaneous exchange of ideas about international relations.
I was still hopeful, though, and incredibly psyched to be invited to a private lunch meeting with the consul, the school principal, and several other English teachers. I’d looked forward to it all day while I was standing outside waiting on other people and giggling through the American study abroad advertisement. Unfortunately, a bunch of other profs gatecrashed and basically made it almost impossible to speak to the consul or anyone else at the luncheon. I know I have some weird pet peeves, but it was beyond my intercultural abilities at that point in the day to empathize with the insane rudeness of inviting oneself to a private meal. Beyond that nonsense, we weren’t there just to nosh and chitchat, but to debrief on the students’ interviews and provide further details so that the consul could eventually make the decision for which kid will get to go on the trip of a lifetime.
I. Couldn’t. Even.
Meh. It was certainly an exciting day, and a very successful one for the students who worked tirelessly to prepare for it, but less than wonderful for the poor little English Assistant who had hoped to schmooze with the Consul so her pending State Department application would be well received. Let this be a lesson to us all. Or, at least, those of us who tend to get overly excited about events that have nothing to do with us.