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!

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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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