It’s all been leading up to this

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid” -Basil King

In many ways, I knew this day was eventually coming. But it has come with such a swiftness that it leaves me amazed with how prepared I have become. As I write, my time in the comfort of my family, friends, familiar settings, and comfortable habits is wrapping up. Early in the morning, I’ll be headed to the airport to begin my long journey toward Madagascar.

I’ve packed my bags.

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I’ve said farewell to almost all of my family and friends.

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I’ve prepared my personal life to the best of my abilities.

The only thing left to do is to get on the plane and just go. Take all the courage I can muster, combine it with the love and support from everyone rallying for me, mix in a little common sense, and thrive in this experience.

I’ll take this space to publicly and repeatedly offer my heartfelt and sincere gratitude to every single person who has supported me through this experience so far. I’ve said it to many already, but it’s so amazing to know that I have such a fantastic and loyal group of friends and family that supports me and reminds me that what I am about to do is right. The times when I’ve been anxious, stressed, confused, scared, and even excited and obsessed with my preparations, having their support has helped me pull through some of those deep emotions. So I thank each of them and I can’t wait to share this experience as much as possible.

In the coming weeks, my access to Internet will probably be pretty spotty or even nonexistent. I don’t know exactly when I’ll be able to get everyone updated after landing in Madagascar, but I promise to do so as soon as possible. Communication routines, much like almost everything else in Peace Corps, will just have to be part of the adjustment process.

With that, I’ll leave you with these thoughts on the eve of my departure:

“It’s not goodbye. It’s just ‘see you later.'”

“Onward”

 

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Temperature reading: 2 weeks to departure

Just typing the title of this post sent a shockwave through my nervous system. But damn, the past couple of weeks have certainly solidified the notion that this next chapter of my life is really happening. It’s not a distant inevitability anymore, something to be concerned with some other week. This is happening NOW. Let me catch you up on the emotional roller coaster that has been my life recently.

This past week, I made my final departure from my home in San Diego. Spent most of the week packing up my apartment, spending as much time as possible with friends, and saying some goodbyes. I’d be lying if I said it was a smooth transition out of what has become the city where I feel most at home. After my car was packed (to the absolute brim) with boxes and bags containing the “essential” material things of my life, I drove away from my apartment complex for one last time, hopped on the freeway, and headed north. Not knowing when I would in fact be heading south again. And then the tears started; in fact I cried probably most of the way driving through San Diego County. It was such an unnatural feeling to have to peel myself away from my life in San Diego and to really not know exactly when I would see some of my friends and family there again. I cried because I was scared, because I was second guessing my decision, because I couldn’t yet make the connection between leaving all that I knew and loved and trading it in for something so immensely foreign and unfamiliar. While I absolutely feel like I left San Diego on good terms, saw/did/ate pretty much everything I wanted to before leaving, it was still such a task to give myself permission to move on. I really can’t predict where I’ll be after completing my service, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I somehow found my way back to San Diego eventually. I don’t know of any other place that can make an authentic California burrito, so there’s that.

A few hours later, I finally arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house where I dropped off my things and started to settle in. I intend to spend the remaining two weeks before departure with my family and friends in the Los Angeles area. But I was back home for less than 48 hours before I hopped on a plane and headed out to Scottsdale, Arizona, to spend a week of vacation with the family, where I am writing this from now. Sorry if that was a little confusing, but let me help: I don’t have any family that lives in Scottsdale, but my family from the LA area decided to group up and spend a week out of town together. It’s all about sun, relaxation, family time, laughs, and memories. Memories and stories that I will undoubtedly cling on to like a life preserver during my dark days of Peace Corps service. The days when I’m crippled by emotion, too distressed to draw cold water for a bucket bath, and altogether content with moping in whatever living arrangements fate may have in store for me. That was probably a bit dramatic, but you get my drift hopefully. So it’s been nice to be here in Arizona, spend time with the family, and not be as stressed as I have been lately about packing and preparing for Madagascar.

Speaking of which, the past few weeks and upcoming weeks have been a good lesson in how far stretching my life really is. Firstly, working on my packing list has been an interesting exercise in learning what I already have in my possession versus what I may need to borrow from others or buy new. I think I pretty much have all the clothing and comfort items taken care of, but some of the more “tactical” or utilitarian items I’m still looking to procure. Seems like a good plug for my Amazon and REI wish lists, both of those links you can find in the “My Humble Wish List” page at the top of this blog. Just saying. But it’s also been fun to be reminded how many things I’m connected to in this world. For example, utility bills, charitable donations, magazine subscriptions, email marketing lists, mailing addresses, etc. As part of my preparations, I’ve been shedding a ton of excess “connection” lately in order to make it a little easier to manage from half way across the world. It started with unsubscribing from random email lists that I get frequently, and that seemed to be happening 4-5 times per day from so many different groups or companies. But along with any other major relocation, you have to start thinking about things such as registering to vote, changing your address, canceling utilities, and moving other subscriptions. The material things that are an extension of your interests, values, and activities. It’s just fun to see what things pop up out of nowhere and how to deal with them. I’ve been using the mentality of “will I need or want this information in 2.5 years when I return home?”

As in previous updates, I try to spend a little time on my mental preparations for this experience. And for this check-in, it will be no different. The two most prevalent emotions for me lately have been fear and anxiety. I believe that I am not only scared to be making such tangible changes in my life (and yes, I completely understand this is part of the experience) but I’m also terrified of a couple of things when I get out to Madagascar. I’m terrified that either I’ll hate it so much and want to come home early or I’ll completely fall in love with the place and want to permanently resettle in Madagascar. Although these two fears are both extremes on opposite ends of the spectrum of possible experiences, I guess it’s still possible that either one of them could happen. At this point I’m not as worried about having electricity, large insects, or potentially getting malaria, although those are all legitimate concerns, but rather I’m currently more worried about how I will react to this drastic and inherently life altering opportunity. And for my anxiety, if that really is even the proper description of my feeling, I think it mostly has to do with my packing and preparations. It was a little stressful to pack up my things in San Diego and clear out of there. And it’s been somewhat taxing to put together my packing list over the past month or so, checking it multiple times, consulting with other Volunteers, and making sure I give myself enough time to get the items I need. So I think it’s a mixture of making the physical preparations along with processing the mental/emotional experiences associated with this experience. Not only closing out my physical life in San Diego, but for all intents and purposes, closing out my social life there as well. Preparing myself to essentially live at home with family again for a couple of weeks, although I am extremely grateful and excited to spend time with them, it’s still an adjustment. So all of that is what I tend to be clumping into “anxiety.”

But as I’ve said before, this is all part of the gig. I can’t just wake up one morning and instantly be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’m learning that it takes a lot of preparation, patience, and obscene amounts of support from family and friends. So deep in my heart I know that I’ll be fine and that I (probably) have things under control, but my mind still races. It still tries to predict, tries to prepare, tries to reassure me. But my goal is to really soak up these last two weeks in the US, spend time with my family, eat lots of delicious food, and prepare as best I can for an experience I cannot possibly understand yet.

Bon voyage in San Diego!

As my time with friends and family in San Diego draws to a close, it’s been hard to think about packing up my life here and moving on to the next chapter. The actual task of packing up my apartment is daunting on its own, but now I’ll be throwing in all my last-minute farewells and cranking up the emotional levels to maximum potential. But to help mitigate some of that, I spent some time hanging out with friends at a little “bon voyage” social event that I organized at Stone Brewery in Liberty Station. It was a picture-perfect San Diego afternoon, the drinks and food were phenomenal (certainly something I’ll miss terribly in Madagascar), and I really appreciated the effort that some of my friends made to come and join us. Here’s some photos from the day:

My best friend from high school, Katelyn, and her boyfriend, Scott

My best friend from high school, Katelyn, and her boyfriend, Scott

My roommate, Bobby

My roommate, Bobby

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With my dad

With my dad

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Friends from college, to put it simply

Friends from college, to put it simply

In other updates, I have also received all of my staging information and international flight itinerary! The plan is to meet up with the rest of the folks in my staging group on June 9 in Philadelphia, have a day of orientation, than fly our of New York City on the morning of June 10. We have a 15 hour flight from NYC to Johannesburg, South Africa, then it’s just a quick 3 hour flight over to Madagascar. It’s really exciting to know more about my travel plans, but it also just means that we are getting that much closer to the actual departure. Still so much to do to prepare!

Temperature reading: 1 month to departure

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

In through the nose, out through the mouth.

It’ll be alright, Michael, you’re doing great.

This was the little voice in my head the other day when the reality of my transition really started to set in. It’s getting very real for me. I’m anxious. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I’m trying to mentally catalog the actions I need to take and things I need to have in order to best prepare myself for this transition. Buying new sandals. Calling my cellphone company for options about terminating my service. Studying my basic Malagasy language. Thinking about how I’m going to start packing up my apartment. And it got real the other day.

With one month to go until my departure, it’s hard not to think about kicking it into overdrive and freaking out a little bit about what is going to happen over the next four weeks. I sort of feel like I’m trying to corral kittens, if those cute little kittens were things I need to do and buy before I leave for Madagascar. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what’s on my plate, but as soon as I scoop up a few kittens in one arm, there’s a few other that start to wander away. I try to scoop them up too, but then the first ones start to wander away. What I need is some sort of kitten net and team of kitten wranglers. Or catnip. Am I that delusional?

In other recent happenings, last week I officially resigned from my job! *insert crowds of people cheering* So that’s going to happen pretty soon, my last day at work will be May 16. It’s been a bit of a weight off of my shoulders to be able to openly talk about my move with my colleagues. We’ve had some pretty tangential conversations so far about the animals that I’m going to run into and the experiences that I might have, and overall it’s been good fun. I do owe a few people at work a big thank you for not saying anything about me moving around the office sooner. Apparently my privacy and sharing settings through this blog and the social media sites I attach it to haven’t been as air tight as I had thought.

I am still waiting for final staging information from PC, which really could be coming at any minute. This will be my ticket to Philadelphia, information about what happens at staging, that sort of thing. I am anxiously awaiting this information, more out of pure curiosity rather than logistical concern. As far as my travel arrangements are going, I’m really in the mindset that I’ll be wherever PC needs me to be whenever, but just tell me. Please.

My San Diego bucket list has been coming along quite nicely as well. I’ve crossed off nearly most of the thing’s I’ve wanted to do. It’s been great to share those experiences with friends and family here, something I will fondly recall often when I’m in Madagascar. Just a couple of the bigger things on my list remain, like kayaking in La Jolla, but I’d be content at this point if that didn’t happen. With only a couple weeks left in San Diego, I’m really trying to soak it up as much as possible. And Mexican food, trying to have globs of Mexican food.

I’ll leave you all today with this personal anecdote. I had a pretty interesting conversation with a coworker this week that really helped reaffirm my decision to join the Peace Corps. I was making some coffee in the office when a colleague came into the break room to make herself some coffee as well. We exchanged pleasantries, and then almost out of nowhere she says, “You know, Michael, I don’t see you working here forever. I imagine you going off to India or some part of Africa and maybe teaching kids or building villages or something.” I was shocked, so much so that I had to stop what I was doing. My first thought was, “wow, that’s pretty spot on. Who in the office have you talked to that told you I was going into the Peace Corps?” This is coming from someone at that I am friendly with at work, but also someone I know I haven’t explicitly told about my upcoming journey, so it was really shocking to hear this come from her. There’s no way she could have known before this conversation, right? I asked her a few times, “Are you sure? What makes you think that I would do something like that?” She responded and at that point I had to say something truthful to her. It started as, “That’s really interesting that you would say that, because it’s pretty much exactly what I’ll be doing in about a month. I’ve accepted an invitation from the Peace Corps and I’m going to Madagascar…” and I gave her the rundown of what I was doing. I think she was just as shocked as I was a minute before. She kept asking me if this was a joke and if I was being sincere, to which I reassured her this is not joke. I even brought in another colleague, whom I had already told my news to, to help corroborate my story. And we talked about it for a few minutes, I explained a little more about what I was going to be doing and shared the limited knowledge I have of Madagascar so far, but it was good fun to cross paths like that. So before we took our freshly brewed coffees and headed back to our respective desks, I had to thank her for sharing her thoughts with me because it was really cool to get some unsolicited feedback like that. Maybe she’s just that intuitive.

“Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” amateur film review

I did it. And I’m really glad that I did.

In an effort to get more of a taste for the biodiversity and culture of Madagascar, my dad and I went to see the new documentary film “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” at the California Science Center this past weekend. Plus, who doesn’t love a movie about cute fuzzy ancient primates?

Here’s the official trailer for the film, in case you’re not familiar with it:

The film was really well put together and did a fantastic job of showcasing the story of the lemurs. Despite the stunning visual images and landscapes, this documentary presented the evolutionary path of lemurs in a simple and easy to understand way. The filmmakers chose to focus on only a handful of the many species of lemurs, which brought more depth and emotion to the storyline. Issues such as habitat conservation and species survival were highlighted to emphasis the notion that these animals are such a strong part of the Malagasy story.

As a (very!) soon-to-be PCV in Madagascar, seeing this film was a great way for me to get more familiar with the country that will be my home for the next 27 months. I’ve seen some pictures, heard some stories, but I have never seen the country come alive like I saw in this film. To see a glimpse of the villages, the markets, the people, the landscape, this was a real treat for me. The film definitely focused on the lemurs and their natural habitats, but the short scenes in towns and on public transportation was of extra special interest to me. It was a way for me to further imagine myself immersed in that culture. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little choked up as I took in the opening scenes of large wafting views of the Malagasy landscapes. The expansive valleys, the lush forests, and the pronounced rock formations sent chills down my spine and reminded me that I will soon be a part of that beautiful culture.

I would definitely recommend seeing this film if you have the chance. It seems to be in limited release right now at some IMAX theaters, but it’s worth a shot if it’s in your area. I really enjoyed the experience to learn more about lemurs as a close evolutionary relative of humans and to see the nation of Madagascar in a new light. It was another experience that did not frighten me, but helped reaffirm my excitement and willingness to immerse myself in this opportunity. One more step toward my so-called Malagasy life.

Can you believe it took me this long to use that reference?!

Temperature reading: 1.5 months to departure

The past few weeks since my last post have been remarkably busy and filled with some exciting Peace Corps updates. To help me stay on topic, I’ll share these happenings with you in short bursts. In no particular order:

Received final medical clearance

Officially speaking, I’m healthy! Receiving my final medical clearance is basically the last major checkpoint that I need to pass to keep moving on toward departure. After receiving thorough medical, dental, and vision exams, I have been deemed “fit for service.” Part of the medical evaluations also included getting some vaccinations and booster immunizations, but apparently there is much more of that to look forward to during the Staging process and early parts of Pre-Service Training. As you might imagine, it can be pretty nerve-wracking to go through all these intense exams, make sure the paperwork is filled out just right, submit the paperwork, and just wait. But the wait is finally over, and I can finally let out a huge sigh of relief.

Peace Corps send-off and story slam

This past weekend, I was able to attend a local Peace Corps event in San Diego that really did an amazing job of bringing together Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, those who are preparing to depart for service (that’s me!) , and those considering if they want to start the application process. For me, it was a great opportunity to meet other San Diegans who are getting ready to depart for service within the next few months and also connect with local RPCVs who have served in either my sector (Education) or my region (Madagascar, more broadly Africa). Lots of stories back and forth, nothing that put me off or scared me, but really just learning things that made me more excited to be a part of this experience. A few of the RPCVs got on stage and told some stories from their days of service and shed some light on some of the more day-to-day interactions of a PCV. So it was great to hear stories about what it’s like to get settled into your site after going through training, how to invest yourself in your local community, and funny stories about language barriers.

But I think the biggest takeaway I got from the experience was the overwhelming sense of community among this group of people. I knew two people at the event when I showed up, and I felt like I left with a handful of new friends and supporters. It got me thinking about some of the ways Peace Corps service just inherently changes people. In my experiences so far, RPCVs seem to be outgoing, friendly, grounded, relatable, and curious individuals. And in some ways I see those qualities as being coping mechanisms that they might have developed or strengthened during service in order to work well within their communities. It was more than just being a nice person and a pleasant stranger to meet, I felt like these people really understood each other and could relate to me because they were once in my shoes as a new Volunteer. It doesn’t matter where they served, what sector, or how long ago they served, it was really such a pleasure to get to know a few of them even for an afternoon.

Group photo from send-off event

Group photo from send-off event

Progress with TEFL training

As an Education Volunteer, a major part of my in-country training will include getting TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. Not only will this help me be a more prepared teacher during my service, but having this particular certification can be very beneficial for me even after completing my service. So as part of my pre-departure training program, my supervisors in Madagascar have assigned some online projects for us to complete so we are better prepared to begin TEFL training. This includes brief introductory lessons on teaching theory, lesson planning, and student assessment. Most recently I’ve completed a sample lesson plan and learned about building trust with students. It’s been interesting so far because I don’t have any formal classroom experience, but I’m confident I’ll get more comfortable with teaching as I start to get in the Malagasy classroom.

In the coming weeks, I will be focusing more on physically preparing myself for departing. Really getting into the details of packing, moving out of San Diego, getting my other affairs in order, and spending time with friends and family. Hopefully I can keep my head from spinning during this time, sure to be filled with an intense mix of emotions. Here’s to trying!

Temperature reading: 2 months to departure

The overall feeling I have now: things are going to get real pretty quickly. I’m starting to feel like I’m a little behind in my preparations, but I’m also not exactly sure where I should be at this point. Confusion, excitement, anxiety are the feelings of this period.

This week, I was fortunate enough to hang out with a local San Diegan who is also a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer that taught English in Madagascar. We were connected through my Peace Corps recruiter who suggested that we get in touch and talk all things Malagasy. Well, it was mostly her talking about her time in Madagascar and me intently listening and asking random questions every once in a while. But still, it proved to be such a valuable resource and a really entertaining encounter. She confirmed some of my suspicions, calmed some of my nerves, opened my eyes a little more to the true nature of Peace Corps service, and gave me some great tips on how to get along on the Red Island. Her excitement and passion for Madagascar were contagious. She was candid about her experiences and brutally honest about some of the realities that I am bound to encounter. The types of things that you don’t necessarily hear from Peace Corps directly. We chatted for a while over beers and here’s some of the things I learned:

Getting a stomach malady is not a matter of “if,” but rather “when” and “for how long”

The bubonic plague is a real thing still but it’s not the worse disease to contract; it’s manageable with vigilant medical care

People will want to touch me because I’m a white person

Malagasy is pronounced “mala-GAS-ee”

Focus on packing more supplies and less personal items (clothing, creature comforts, etc)

Even as a teacher with a more structured work schedule, I’ll likely have more free time than previously expected

Running as a form of exercise is not widely accepted among Malagasy; you look dumb when nothing is chasing you

Overall, most Malagasy people have a very positive view of Americans because most Americans they come in contact with are PCVs

Our conversations were very engaging and informative. It definitely helped me get a more realistic grasp on the service that I am soon to enter, from staging and training all the way through service and coming home. And the best part is that it didn’t scare me at all, just made me more curious and thankful for having this awesome opportunity to live and work in such a special place. We will continue to keep in touch over the next couple of months and she has offered to help me start to learn the Malagasy language.

Temperature reading: 2.5 months to departure

“We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that, reverse it” -Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Over the last few days, I’ve been realizing with more certainty how quickly time is going and how soon I will be starting my journey with the Peace Corps. My group’s staging event is scheduled for June 9, and this is when the journey begins in a very real and tangible way. So between now and that date, there’s a whole mess of things that I want and need to do. Here’s a look at what’s ahead.

During staging in June, all the members of my cohort will meet in Philadelphia for a few days to prepare ourselves for the trip over to Madagascar. I don’t know too many details about what exactly happens during staging, but I imagine it’s full of introductions, getting to know the other trainees, and learning more about our roles in Madagascar. It will also be my first major face-to-face interaction with Peace Corps staff, so I’m very excited to start meeting the folks that will help train and support us during our time in Madagascar. The travel arrangements for staging and departure to Madagascar are still being worked out, but I’ve been told that the June 9 date is a fairly solid timeframe.

To get another, more formal, update out of the way…this past week I was finally able to submit all my medical paperwork in order to get final medical clearance. This process was rather daunting because it was composed of getting a full physical exam, blood tests, immunization updates, dental exams and x-rays. The way I understand it, Peace Corps not only wants to make sure that I am healthy enough to leave in June but they will also be coordinating my primary medical services for the entire 27 months that I am in Madagascar and they want to make sure they can accommodate whatever health needs I have. I am a reasonably healthy and capable young man, so I don’t foresee any major issues with this step in the process, but it’s still a little stressful knowing that I need that final clearance.

But while I still have a few months here in California, I’ve decided to put together a small bucket list if things I want to do and places I want to visit before leaving in June. It’s mostly a collection of things I’ve wanted to do for a while anyway, but now the impending urgency of leaving the country for more than 2 years has put these things in a new priority. I also see this as a great way to spend more time with friends and family and make some fun memories that I can take with me when I’m in Madagascar. Here’s a look at some of the things on my list:

As you can see, it’s a fairly San Diego-centric list of things to do. But can you blame me? My plan also includes a couple of weeks spent in the Los Angeles area being with family and friends. Needless to say I’m very much looking forward to crossing things off this list and soaking up the memories and people who come along with these experiences.

But as I alluded to in the beginning of this post, the fact that I am only a few short months away from the next huge chapter in my life has been weighing reasonably on me. I feel like I can plan out that far, I can see the light at the end of that tunnel, I can start to mentally organize my efforts for how I need to pack and prepare my departure. Thinking about the time I have left is a very real thing to me now. It’s exciting, but mostly it’s shocking and a bit unnerving to think about. I feel like I want to still do so much and spend so much time with people while I have access to it all, but I also need to balance my job, health, and preparations for leaving. There’s an element of bittersweet urgency at play here, because I’m starting to feel like I want to make myself available and create those fun memories with the people I care about the most, but I’m also scared that the more fun we have now the harder it will be to say goodbye to them in a couple of months. It’s going to be extremely emotionally taxing to say goodbye as it is, I’m sure of that, but I also want to create these memories and foster these bonds now so I can have something familiar and comfortable to hold on to during the tougher times of training and service in Madagascar. It’s all part of the transition, so I know I need to do my best to prepare for the next stage in this adventure. I’m just thankful for the having some close friends that are also willing and able to make these memories with me (especially going to the opera, thanks Bobby!)

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Repost: 10 Common Misconceptions About Peace Corps

While doing my usual rounds through Facebook today, I found this simple and fun post from another Peace Corps Volunteer currently serving in Ethiopia. She brings up some very interesting points about what it’s really like to be a PCV sometimes and I felt compelled to share her thoughts with my audience as well. Although I cannot claim to have written these words, I hope that spreading this message will help expand the sometimes limited views of PCVs around the world.

Enjoy and share!

Abroad With Ashley

Peace Corps turns 53 this week, and in honor of that accomplishment, I’ve decided to let you in on the truths behind some of the more prevalent myths surrounding this organization…

  1. We all live in huts. Ok, I thought this too. I joined Peace Corps figuring I’d live in a hut and walk to the stream to fill my buckets each day, not true. Yes, many volunteers live in homes made of mud and sticks, but they’re still homes. Mine’s made of concrete and gets really hot during dry season!hut
  2. We can only connect with those back home via snail mail. This one’s pretty dated, but I think all volunteers head to their country of service curious about how frequently they’ll be able to get in touch with friends and family back home. Well here in Ethiopia, which has one of the worst telecommunication systems in the world, I can…

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The most cordial of invitations

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” -Laozi

I feel as though I am at the verge of my long-awaited journey, and I have now been allowed to take that very first step. The step that I will not look back from. The step that I will repeat time and time again as I set out to fulfill a dream of mine. The step that I take toward Peace Corps service.

The past couple of weeks have been filled with many emotions, including excitement, relief, anxiety, confusion, and hope. This is because earlier this month I received my invitation to join the Peace Corps as a Volunteer in Madagascar. I will be teaching English to middle and high school students in rural areas of the country. My assignment begins with in-country training in early June 2014 and I will likely not return to the United States until August 2016 (27 months).

Allow me to catch you up on a brief timeline of my journey thus-far:

  • February 10, 2013: Submitted an online application as a prospective Peace Corps Volunteer
  • April 4, 2013: Face-to-face interview with PC Recruitment Officer
  • May 8, 2013: Received my nomination letter. At that point, I only knew I was nominated for an Education/Community Development assignment possibly leaving in June 2014
  • June 24, 2013: Received medical pre-clearance
  • June 26, 2013: Began taking French language courses at UCSD Extension, as requested in nomination letter
  • July-December 2013: Waiting “patiently” for updates…
  • January 22, 2014: Started to gain education experience by becoming a weekly tutor with Reality Changers
  • January 28, 2014: Phone interview with Placement Office. Essentially the wrapping up of all the loose ends before finding a suitable assignment for me
  • February 3, 2014: Received my invitation letter
  • March 13, 2014: Submitted required paperwork for medical clearance
  • April 24, 2014: Received final medical clearance

And that pretty much brings us to my current situation. I’ve formally accepted my offer, and that also initiates a cascading amount of paperwork and documents to be completed as soon as possible. For example, applying for a new passport and visa, getting a final medical physical exam and immunizations, and continuing to gain volunteer experience (I’ll explain in a later post). So far, this has been more hectic than leisurely but I guess I wasn’t expecting a walk in the park. In some ways I don’t mind the anxiety of applying for a visa, for example, because I can understand it’s a necessary action to prepare me for an amazing adventure. I have a feeling I’ll be dealing with the administrative tasks for a few more weeks. But it’s also a great time for me to learn more about Madagascar, the Malagasy culture, and what it’s like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. Luckily I have some friends and family members that are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (meaning they’ve completed their service) that I can connect with to get a more personal perspective on service.

With about 4 months left until I depart for this life-changing experience, I’m starting to put things into perspective and develop some priorities for myself while I’m still here. I don’t feel as though when I leave California this summer it will be forever, but I’m also not blind to the fact that 27 months is a very substantial amount of time. That’s why I am hoping to find a balance between getting my affairs in order, savoring the experiences that I enjoy the most, and making great memories with the people I cherish so I can still feel close to them when I’m lying in my new bed in Madagascar. There’s plenty of things I need to do between now and June, and these next 4 months will fly by so quickly, but I’m going to try to make the most of my time here.

I think the two most prevalent emotions that I’ve been feeling lately are relief and wonder. I’m very relieved that the hard work and waiting I’ve done in the last year have finally paid off and I’ve received such a special invitation. To know the specific country that I’ll be serving in and to know more specific date of departure, it just helps paint a more clear picture for my immediate future. And I would say I’m in a state of awe, wonder, amazement when I think of this experience. It’s hard to fully understand how I’ve come to this point, knowing that I have so much more ahead of me, but I genuinely feel very humbled and excited to be a part of this. I have daydreams of what my host community will look like, how my future students will learn from me, and how this experience will change me in ways I cannot comprehend at this point. This is certainly an experience that I’ve wanted for many years, I’ve finally been offered the opportunity, and the pieces seem to be fitting together quite nicely.

As things develop over the next few months, and as I begin my service in Madagascar, I will be sure to update this blog as often as possible. I’m glad that despite any geographic distance or access to communication tools that may separate us, this blog can hopefully be an easy and comforting way for us to keep in touch.