It’s finally here – time for me to swap my econ job for a year of consular work. Or perhaps I should say already here, as the year really has flown by. I’ve enjoyed my time as EconOff and am sorry to let it go, so my physical descent from the second-floor pol/econ suite to the ground-floor consular section has taken on some moody metaphorical overtones as well.

This week the vice-consul and I are crosstraining each other, as he runs me through my wobbly consular paces and I induct him into the mysteries of the econ portfolio. It’s been a pretty lopsided training; I still have all kinds of things to learn about consular systems and case processing and other procedures, while I was able to fill him in on the how-tos of economic work in the space of about three hours. This isn’t because one portfolio is so much more work than the other but because they’re so different: consular is very big on process, while econ is mostly substance.

In consular there’s a pretty set pattern for how you spend your time. Certain days and certain times of each day are dedicated to certain tasks, each of which has very specific required actions. For example, non-immigrant visa interviews happen on Mondays and Wednesdays. There are a series of things that have to be done for each interview and certain ways to do them, certain buttons to click each time. I’ll need to know all the mechanics of how to conduct an interview and process it correctly, but I’m not expected to know much about the content of an interview before it starts.

Econ, on the other hand, is all about content. My main job there has been essentially to know things – or to know how to find things out – and to get that information to the people who need it. Between pre-arranged meetings and long-term projects and priorities I generally have had some kind of plan for my day before it starts, but if something comes up that plan may undergo anything from minor adjustments to complete derailment. I’ve needed to have a lot of knowledge at my disposal, ready to call up at any moment, but the ways I’ve acquired and communicated that knowledge have been flexible and varied.

Who knows, maybe I’ll end up liking downstairs just as much as upstairs. I wouldn’t count on it, but I do count on this year being very different from the last..