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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ami Bangla Bolthe Pari

So I was very, very stressed out today. The State Dept. process is now in full swing. And today was the language proficiency exam.

When I took the oral exam in February, I received a passing score on the lower end. If I could prove my proficiency in a language "in need," my score would be increased fairly dramatically -- about 20%. That's where Mom's insistence that I practice Bengali came in handy. State has consulates in Calcutta and Dhaka, and proficiency in Bengali also means that I can pick up other Sanskrit-based languages (Hindi, Punjabi, etc.) fairly easily. The test was scheduled for 1 PM today, over the phone. I'd been practicing by listening to Bengali language tapes and speaking almost exclusively in the mother tongue with my parents. But as the time for the test came closer, I became increasingly nervous. This peaked last night, when I couldn't sleep and could hardly sit still.

I sat down in an office conference room today extremely wired on a combination of nicotine and caffeine (rocket fuel!). And the nerves were bad. I was stuttering, skipping words, speaking to quickly... but when the actual time for the test came, I somehow magically calmed down. The test itself was very hard. 12 minutes of interview, a 5 minute extemporaneous speech with cross questions, and 12 minutes of interviewing my interlocutor and then translating her words to the test proctor. All to be done in my best Bangla.

Somehow, I passed the test. My speech was probably the worst part; I imagine that to a native Bengali speaker, I sound roughly like a mix between a loquacious tween and a tourist with a thick American accent. When your day-to-day conversations are about dinner and school, how can you speak to a stranger about unemployment? (Yes, I had to do this, and my phrase in Bengali for welfare was "money from the government." For recession? "Country not doing so good with money.") I was best at the translation portion. Luckily, the topic I got was transportation and infrastructure. After many hours spent on the disgustingly crowded streets of Calcutta, that's something I can speak about in Bengali at length. For the Bengali speakers who read this, some choice vocab phrases I dropped include "paka poth," "rastha ghat," and "pani thhey thhok-thokke." (dirt road, streets and alleys, flooded with water). That's right, I even remembered that since my interviewer was Bangladeshi I had to use "pani" instead of "jaal". My interviewer/interviewee spoke immaculately clean Bengali and was very easy to understand, and I picked up most of the words I didn't know in context.

Now that's another step done with. This process has been really fun in retrospect. Security clearances will most likely take some time, but there's nothing proactive for me to do except get my physical. The waiting game begins anew. One step closer to getting that sweet government job. Oh, and if I get shipped to Calcutta or Dhaka, I'm totally going to rename this blog "Calcuttaist" or "Dhakaist." But there I am getting ahead of myself. Baby steps...