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


With my dad

With my dad


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





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.

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!)