TLG Motivation Letter

Here, I thought this might be interesting.  It’s the motivation letter I wrote for my application to the TLG program in Georgia.

To Whom it May Concern,

Thank you very much for considering my application to the Teach and Learn in Georgia program! I have heard many good things about Georgia and the Caucasus from my friends, and I am excited to live and work in your country.

This will be my first time teaching English as a foreign language, but it will not be my first time teaching English language skills, or working with children and non-native speakers of English. At Brigham Young University, I worked for two years as a writing lab advisor and teaching assistant, where I tutored my fellow students with their papers and taught them college level writing skills. In my church, I volunteered for almost nine months as a children’s Sunday school teacher, where I developed a life-long connection with many of my former students. I’ve also volunteered as an English-Arabic translator, and as a “study buddy” at the English Language Center in Provo, where I helped native Arab speakers to master the English language and fit in with the local culture.

Studying Arabic at BYU brought me into close contact with a culture very different from my own. By studying abroad in Jordan, living for two years with Arab roommates, and connecting with the Arab community in Utah, I not only came to know and love this foreign culture, but to love the process of expanding my mind and experiencing other cultures as well. At the same time, I came to recognize that no matter our differences, all people share many of the same things in common, whether it be love of friends and family, our concern for the welfare of our children, our hopes to build a better future for them, or our joy in seeing them succeed in life. From my experience studying abroad in 2008 in Jordan, I recognized the importance of English in helping the people of the developing countries to succeed in today’s international world.

My education philosophy is that nothing else else enriches more lives or opens more opportunities than quality education, especially education at a young age. Instead of spending money on lavish vacations or expensive gifts, my parents sent me to a highly rigorous private school, where I excelled enough to earn a full-ride scholarship from BYU. Through volunteer service in my church and work experience at my university, I have spent most of my adult life teaching in both formal and informal settings. I have seen lives changed in tremendous ways through the power of good teaching and believe quite firmly in the importance of education. I have been blessed with an excellent education myself, and know that by sharing it with others, I can help to improve people’s lives as well.

I would like to come to Georgia because of the positive things I’ve heard from friends who have lived and worked in Eastern Europe, and from roommates from the Caucasus region. As with my experience in Jordan, I would consider myself a guest in your country, and would conduct myself accordingly. In particular, I would do my best to learn the local conventions and adapt myself to them, rather than expecting others to change according to my American way of life. I have learned through my studies and travel experiences to embrace cultural differences, and look forward to experiencing the people and culture of your wonderful country.

Thank you once again for considering my application to the Teach and Learn in Georgia program. I look forward to working in your country.


Joseph Vasicek

Sorry I haven’t blogged much recently; I’ve been crazy busy with moving, publishing, and putting everything else in order.  Things should quiet down a bit over the Christmas vacation, though, so I’ll have time to catch up then.  Also, I’ll be driving from Utah to Texas with my brother in law, so I should have some interesting stories to tell from that.

Until next time, take care!

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Thanksgiving in New England

This week, I took the train from Utah to Massachusetts to spend Thanksgiving with my family.  My parents had invited all of my east coast relatives over, and we had a fun couple of days together.

The train ride over was long but mostly uneventful.  The California Zephyr was running late, so I had to wait in the train station in Salt Lake City until about 5:00 am.  I’m not going to lie, it sucked–but once on the train, it wasn’t so bad.

We paralleled I-70 through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado, and it was pretty spectacular.  The intermountain west is a vast, beautiful place, and riding the train is a great way to see it.  I saw a bald eagle and maybe a dozen deer, and I wasn’t even looking all that hard.

I spent most of the time working on my latest novel and editing the manuscript for Journey to Jordan.  I’m hoping to epublish that book in the coming month; more on that later.  Even though I rode coach, I was able to sleep fairly well.  The secret, I think, is to bring a blanket and something to cover your eyes.

Thanksgiving itself was a great family event.  My uncles came up from Washington DC and New York, and I caught up with a bunch of cousins who are married now with kids ranging from 2 to 12.  After dinner, we had a talent show, with piano, cello, violin, and some martial arts.

The next day, we did a little touring at the museums in Springfield.  Apparently, Springfield is not only the birthplace of basketball and home of Dr. Seuss, but the place where the first gas-powered automobile was invented and where Milton Bradley first started making board games!  I had no idea.  While we were out there, my cousin and her kids got interviewed by a local news channel for a story on the museum Christmas lighting ceremony, which was pretty fun.

We didn’t do any Black Friday shopping, but we did watch Mr. Krueger’s Christmas, which was an excellent way to start off the holiday season.  When I have a family of my own, I might just make that into a tradition.

After all the family left, we went to church on Sunday, and it was good to see a bunch of old family friends from when I was growing up.  I was surprised to recognize so many people, though of course everyone my age has moved on elsewhere.  Those who are still active have generally moved out to Utah, and those who haven’t are generally not practicing anymore.

New England is a beautiful place, but I don’t think I’ll ever settle down here.  The winters are long and dark, the cities old and run-down.  Even though I grew up here, I don’t think I’ve ever understood the people; they tend to keep to themselves and have values very different from my own.  One of the old family friends from church said that he visited Qatar recently, and that the whole landscape over there is brown–that he couldn’t wait to get back to New England, where everything is so green it’s like paradise.  While it’s true that New England is much greener, there’s something about the desert that draws me, whether that desert is in Utah or the Middle East.

I’ll be back out here in January to put things in order before going abroad, but I’m looking forward to being back in Utah, if only for a few short weeks.  I might have grown up here in New England, but except for the fact that my family is out here, it doesn’t really feel like home.

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What’s next?

Before I finish catching up on what I’ve been up to these past couple of years, I want to explain where I’m heading next and what my plans are for the next few months.

Tomorrow night, I’m boarding a train and traveling across the country for Thanksgiving with my parents.  It’s an interesting ride; I’ve done it before, and I’ll be sure to blog about it again this time.  After Thanksgiving, I’ll be out in Utah for a few more weeks, spend Christmas with the family in Texas, and then move back with my parents until I go abroad, hopefully in mid-January.

After that?  I’m not quite sure.  My Dad doesn’t like it when I say this, but I don’t know when (or even if) I’ll come back.  It’s true that every adventure has an end, but that doesn’t necessarily mean coming home.  And “home,” to me, is kind of a weird concept; ever since I turned 19, I haven’t lived in the same place for longer than sixteen consecutive months–and most places, much shorter than that.

My dream is to spend a few years living in the Middle East, becoming familiar with the people and the culture.  I hope to do that by teaching English, and I hope to gain the relevant skills and experience through the TLG program in Georgia.  The contract for that program ends in June; if I like it there, I might stay on another semester, but I’ll be looking out for jobs in the Middle East just the same.  And hopefully, I’ll have enough confidence by the end that I can show up in Cairo or Amman and find a job locally if I need to.

Of course, all of this depends on getting into the TLG program.  I’m sure that I qualify, but positions are first-come, first-served, and it probably won’t be another month until my application is all in.

So right now, I’m in this weird quasi-limbo kind of state until January, when everything REALLY begins.  I have a feeling that things are going to be like this for a while, even after I’m overseas.  It’s not a bad place to be, though; if everything in life were certain, there would be no sense of possibility.  It’s all about pursuing opportunity while keeping grounded just enough to stay sane.

Anyhow, that’s what I’m going to be up to in the next couple of months.  If the train ride is interesting (and I’m sure it will be), I’ll blog about that, then spend a couple of posts catching up on the last couple of  years.

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Why I left Washington DC

In the next couple of posts on this blog, I want to recap what I’ve been up to in the last year and a half.  Since I went on hiatus on the tail end of the BYU Washington Seminar program, I suppose I should start by explaining how that episode ended and where I went from there.

I don’t know if it came through in the subtext of my previous posts, but I was actually pretty miserable while in Washington DC.  I didn’t realize it myself until I came back, but the policy-making culture, combined with the more negative aspects of my internship, were so distasteful that I found it impossible to thrive in that environment.

For example, I remember going to happy hour with the other people at the institute and watching them pound the alcohol while talking passionately about this or that development in the area of their expertise.  When I asked them about the time they spent overseas, however, actually living in the societies that they study, they all said that they hated it.

What I saw in Washington DC was a self-serving culture of highly ambitious individuals who deal in abstract concepts and numbers while being utterly disconnected from the outside world.  These people work night and day to construct their own personal empires of influence, twisting facts to paint disjointed pictures of reality in order to support their personal political ends.  Even those who try to be honest usually end up deceiving themselves in one way or another as they do battle with opponents who are not so high-minded.

In the last month of my internship, I especially saw the dark side of Washington DC when I was fired three weeks early from my internship.  I haven’t said much publicly about this, and I don’t want to get too deep into specifics because I don’t have proof of anything, but I have strong reason to believe that I was fired not because of any shortcomings in my performance, but because I was not willing to twist my research in the way that one of my supervisors wanted.  I was fired from the institute without any warning whatsoever, and the reasons that I was given for my dismissal flatly contradicted several statements which I documented from my other supervisors and all but two or three of my fellow interns.

Basically, it all came down to office politics and other dirty games which I did not want to play.  I wish I could say that my school supported me, but they were all too quick to preserve their ties with the institute and treated me as if I were guilty until proven innocent.  To be fair, Professor Goodliff took my side and became an advocate for me within the administration, which is why I was able to receive credit for my work and graduate as scheduled in April.  But the board was largely against me, and one key professor whom I was hoping to list as a reference in later applications told me that she could no longer recommend me.

All of this so that one supervisor didn’t have to wait three weeks before receiving a new, bright-eyed intern who was hopefully less troublesome than this one.

I do have to confess, however, that when the HR director pulled me into his office and told me that I’d been terminated, my first reaction was one of relief.  Everything after that was positively hellish, but for one very brief moment, I felt freer than I’d felt in months.

After I was terminated from the institute, I could not leave Washington DC fast enough.  Going back home for a couple brief weeks before graduation was like a breath of fresh air.  It felt so good not to be surrounded by people in business suits, or to be labeled as a “human resource” in some spreadsheet somewhere.  I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to go, but I knew exactly what I did not want to do and where I did not want to go.

I decided, from my experience, that I did not want to pursue a government career or become a policy maker or intelligence analyst.  If anything, I wanted to be one of the people on the ground, making a difference directly–not a number cruncher or a peddler of abstract theories.  The only way to do that, I realized, was to leave the emerald city of Washington DC and pursue a career elsewhere.

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Starting a new adventure

I’m not sure how many people still follow this blog, but I just wanted to write a quick post to say that I’m about to embark on a new travel adventure, so I’m coming out of hiatus.

My plan at this point is to volunteer for five or six months to teach English in Georgia (the country, not the state) as a part of the TLG program.  The goal is to figure out whether I would enjoy teaching English abroad as a career, and if it turns out that I do, to make my way to the Middle East, preferably Jordan or Oman.

It’s been a rocky year and a half since I last posted, and a lot has certainly changed, but don’t worry; I plan on bringing you up to speed in the next couple of posts.  Also, before leaving for Georgia in January, I’ll go on a cross-country train ride for Thanksgiving, and a cross-country road trip for Christmas so those should make for some interesting blogging material.

Man, so much has changed since I went on hiatus.  I feel a little like Al Mustafa from Khalil Gibran’s poem The Prophet, from which this blog gets its name:

The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.

For to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould.

Fain would I take with me all that is here.  But how shall I?

A voice cannot carry the tongue and the lips that gave it wings.  Alone must it seek the ether.

And alone and without his nest shall the eagle fly across the sun.

I don’t know what life has in store for me next, but whatever happens next, it’s sure to be an adventure.  So stay tuned–I plan on doing a lot more with this blog in the near future!

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On hiatus

This is going to sound lame, but I’m going to put this blog on hiatus for a while.  Short story: I figured some things out and based on what I’m going to be doing in the next few months, it doesn’t make sense to keep up this blog.  However, I will be updating my writing blog regularly, so you can keep up with me there.

Longer story:

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be like the blog I kept for the BYU Jordan 2008 study abroad, except that whenever I left on a new adventure, I could pick up where I’d left off the last time instead of starting a completely new blog.

Early on, I posed the question: where should I go? (the poll is still on the sidebar). I also blogged about it in December on my writing blog, where I broke down my post-graduation options along the following lines:

  • Go to grad school
  • Work side jobs while writing novels
  • Travel across the Middle East for a year or two
  • Start a career in Washington DC

Well, after two months of working on K street, I’ve decided that I’m not interested in a career related to public policy or government.  That means I probably won’t be sticking around Washington DC after this semester, since the cost of living is so expensive and I have relatively few connections here.

As for traveling to the Middle East, it’s something fun and adventurous that I could do, but for numerous reasons, I think I’ll pass (at least for the time being).  Most of the reasons are personal: I don’t know how studying Arabic fits into my long term plans, I don’t want to cut too deeply into my finances without having a solid reason for it, etc.

There are other reasons, however: tensions between Iran, Israel, and Lebanon are extremely high, and the consensus (at least in Lebanon) is that things will erupt into a regional war in the near future.  If/when that happens, I don’t want to be there–even if I’m in a “safe” country like Jordan or Egypt.

As for grad school, I’ve got some figuring out to do before I take that step.  I’ve been in school all my life up ’til now, so I’d like to take some time and see what life is like outside the university.  Besides, I don’t want to commit to a program until I know what I want out of it.  Otherwise, there’s a real danger that I’ll lose motivation and not do too well.

So, with all those options no longer on the table, I’ve decided to return to Utah for the next couple of months, get an apartment (because they’re cheap in Provo in the summer), look for a job, and figure out what to do next.  I’ll probably hit up a few sf&f cons in the summer, finish my latest novel and try to get an agent, and focus on my writing when I’m not working or figuring out life–but whatever happens, it’s probably not going to involve much long-term travel.

So with all of that figured out, I’m going to put this blog on hold until my next big adventure.  I’m still here in Washington DC for the next month, but I’m not really “here” because my mind is on figuring out the next step.

As for that adventure, keep up with me on my other blog, One Thousand and One Parsecs! I may not be interested in government or public policy anymore, but I am and always will be a writer.

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To stay or to go

One of the big questions in my mind before I started this internship with WINEP was whether it would lead directly into a job; whether I would want to continue on with the organization after interning here.  I think I’ve reached a decision on this end, but it’s still tentative (as is just about  everything at this point).  Here are my current thoughts.

Think tanks are interesting places–kind of like universities without the students, nothing but the research apparatus.  At the same time, it runs very much like a business, with an administrative staff, press people, expenses, stuff like that.  The people who do all the thinking and writing–the ones who actually influence policy–are the senior fellows, around whom all the administrative stuff and research staff orbit.

There are basically two routes to become a senior fellow: the academic route and the government route.  A lot of senior fellows are former government officials taking a break from politics in order to step back and see the bigger picture (or sometimes, simply because the other party came into power and they found themselves without a job).  Others are academics with PHDs on related issues, who come to the think tank because they want to have a greater, more direct influence on the world than the would in the lofty halls of the university.

Think tanks are exciting places of  ideas, but they are not the places where ideas are generated or nurtured.  That happens in the university; think tanks are where the ideas rally to do battle.

Like all think tanks WINEP has some very strong ideological leanings; it is very pro-Israel (though it supports the two state solution), very pro-March 14, very much opposed to the current Iranian regime, and very much opposed to the AKP/Islamic regime in Turkey.  When our research fundings support these positions, we find a way to publish them.  When our findings do not, we discard them and go back to the drawing board and rethink our strategy.

Currently, I’m an unpaid intern.  I work in the cubicles with the other interns and research assistants.  There are about a dozen of us, and of them, I am the oldest.  The highest education that anyone has achieved is a bachelors; most of the interns are still undergrads, while the RAs are taking a few years off before grad school.

If I want to stay with the organization, I will probably become an RA for a year or two.  If, after that point, I still want to stay with the organization, these are my options:

  1. Join the development team (one of the RAs did this my first week).  By doing this, I would become a full time employee on the administrative staff, running the office, fundraising, managing accounts and the database, perhaps doing some editing or publication work, etc.
  2. Leave, get a masters, and then follow either the academic or government route to become a senior fellow.  This would take several years of hard, focused work in other organizations, where I would have to distinguish myself as an expert in my field.

I’m not too keen on the first option.  Not that the office isn’t a great place, or the people aren’t lots of fun to work with (because they really are), but…I just don’t think I’d do well at a standard desk job.  I need something more active, more intellectually stimulating, more centered on working with people and ideas.

As for the second option, I don’t see how I can juggle that with my writing goals.  In order to become a distinguished expert in this field, I would need to commit everything–every inch of my professional life–to this end.  It would have to become my only career.

So all this leads me to wonder, is it worth it to try to stay on after this internship as an RA?  The people are great, the research is interesting, I am much more informed about the Middle East now than I was before I worked here…but do I personally have a future here?

Unless something big changes in the next month, I’m probably not going to stay on with WINEP–not because it isn’t a great place, or because the people aren’t awesome, but because working here isn’t going to bring me closer to my long term goals.  As to what I am leaning towards doing, that’s a subject for another post.  Stay tuned.

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New York

President’s Day is a federal holiday, so last week I took off with a bunch of friends for New York city.  It’s been fun!  Let me just say, though, after living in / visiting both places, I can see why people call Washington DC a “town.”  Just check out the subway maps:

Here is the Washington D.C. Metro.  Not too bad–easy enough to figure out.

Now, check out New York city:

Holy crap!  How am I supposed to get where I need to go?  If I want to take the red line, do I  take the one, two, or three train?  And what’s the deal with random subway stations being closed down?  Local and express switching tracks, because of construction?  And why does the ticket fare kiosk in this station take cash, while the one in the next station doesn’t?  Gah!

Fortunately, for much of the time, we had someone with us who was familiar with the system.  It ended up being a lot of fun!

We spent Sunday afternoon at the Met–holy cow, what a crowded museum!  Unlike the museums in DC, it cost money, too, so that took a little getting used to.  But as for the art–it was pretty legit.  I’m not an art buff by any stretch of the imagination, but even I recognized a lot of the stuff in there.  For  a lot of the time, I tagged along with a friend of mine who’s an art history major, and it was quite entertaining to watch her eyes light up in every other gallery!

In the evening, we spent a lot of time walking around down in Soho, went to a delicious bakery for some dessert after dinner (I want to say “helwiyyat” but this isn’t the Middle East), walked across the Brooklyn bridge (yes, we are insane), and went to the top of an apartment building near the financial district.  It was fun!

I have to admit, though, after visiting New York city, I can see that I wouldn’t want to live there.  Our friend’s sister lives in Soho, in a dingy apartment building that costs more per month than college tuition at BYU for a semester.  The subway system is cramped and filthy, unlike the DC Metro system.  People in general smoke more, are more rude, less approachable, and are far more numerous than what I can handle.

Not that it’s a bad place, though–I always enjoy going over there.  And before heading back to DC, I stuck my head in one of the local independent bookstores–mm, love bookstores. :)

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