Archive for May, 2010

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Why Are You Doing This?

May 28, 2010

The most asked question between my group of friends here in England is: ‘What are you going to do after you’re done with the Masters?’ It started months ago and has become increasingly frequent as we face the end of class and the beginning of summer where all we have to do is write a small thesis before heading back to our respective homes. Everybody in my group is well aware of what I’m trying to do by now, I’ve talked their ears off about it for months, especially as I worked through the frustrating, and sometimes frightening, medical process. They have been incredibly supportive and seem genuinely excited for me, and I must say I am so blessed to have spent the past year with such an amazing group.

But I remember the first time I was asked that question many moons ago. It was late in the evening and it was just me and one of my classmates sipping tea, as one is wont to do in England. We had been talking about our program and how we want to do well in it especially because she wants to go into a PhD program back in her home country. ‘Well,’ she asked, ‘what do you want to do when you get back?’ I told her I’m trying to join the Peace Corps, explaining to her what it was. ‘That sounds really cool! How much will you get paid?’ Uhh…not much. It’s volunteer, though I will get a small payment when I complete my service. ‘Then why are you doing it?’

Pushing aside the urge to rant about how money Is Not Everything, it is a valid question that every applicant and volunteer needs to continuously ask themselves. Why are you doing this? I’m sure I was asked this question in my interview, but as I face the very real possibility of a possible invite, I go back to this question and think about it. Why am I doing this?

My immediate response is that I want to help people. I want to make a difference in this world, change it and make it a little better, touch a life even if it is just in the smallest of ways. I’ve always wanted to help people, and I want to improve other’s lives. But I try to blink these stars out of my eyes, try not to be naive (but maybe that makes me cynical?), be completely honest with myself, and recognise that I may not make much of a difference. Studies show that less than 50% of RPCV feel they made significant lasting impressions in their communities. I read about PCV coming to their end of service who feel disheartened and disillusioned as their projects fail or as they realise that things haven’t changed much since they’ve started service. So if that’s the only reason you do it, to make a change, how do you get over that? If that’s the only reason you do it, how do you get over the fact that it may all be in vain? You could have just stayed in the States. As I have been reminded multiple times, I made a small difference in my students back home and touched their lives. Why devote 27 months of your life abroad to something that you are just as likely, if not more so, to succeed in if you stay State-side?

For me, helping people is not the only reason I’m doing this, which may be selfish, but there you go. Even if I don’t make any lasting impression, there are other reasons why I’m doing this that, no matter what happens, will be satisfied. I also want to do it because I want to travel and live in another country. I want to truly experience another culture in the way that only comes from actually living in it, learning the language and becoming a member of a community. I want to learn about people. I want to be challenged, challenged in every way, challenged so much I can’t see straight. I want everything I know to be questioned and every belief I have scrutinised. I want to experience that awe I get everywhere I go when I look at people and realise how, no matter how different we seem to be at first, at heart we are all the same – all human, all people. I want to test the Universal Truths I’ve developed over the years that I think are in all people no matter where they’re from.

I really think it’s these reasons that will help me the most when push comes to shove, that will help me get to the end of my service with a smile on my lips and joy in my heart. Even if I end up teaching English and the students are staring at me without an ounce of caring in their eyes, no one recognising how much work I put into what I do, it’ll be okay. It’ll actually make me laugh because (I wish I could tell those volunteers who are bemoaning these very problems in their various countries) it’s the exact same way in the States, the long hours without any recognition and students who would rather watch grass grow than listen to you explain what pluperfect and future perfect tenses are. My desires, the reasons why I’m doing this will still be satisfied, no matter what happens. Because even if I change nothing and touch not a single life, I know wherever I go they will change and touch me. And that’s all I really want, all I really ask for.

But to be honest, none of these reasons fully and completely express why I’m doing this. It’s all of these things and more. It’s a feeling in my soul, something that I can’t quite put into words. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s like a calling. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do. And I can’t freakin’ wait.

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Link to ‘The Secret to Being a Happy and Integrated Peace Corps Volunteer’

May 28, 2010

Last week I was procrastinating studing for my Latin exam (which went very well), and now I’m procrastinating studing for my Old English exam. In my procrastination, I found this blog post from a gentleman in Gambia who’s about to begin his third year of service as a PCV. It’s his advice about how to be a Happy and Integrated PCV, and I just thought it was really well written and wished to share.

Enjoy!

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Home & Homesickness

May 27, 2010

In all my years of travel, I’ve never really ever been homesick. Not when I was studying abroad in Germany, working in China, living here in England, or on holiday everywhere else I’ve been. I think the closest I’ve ever gotten to being homesick was in Germany, but it was easily cured by going to T.G.I.Fridays in Berlin and eating the biggest burger this side of the Atlantic in air conditioning with ice in my Coke.

I have spent multiple nights with friends is each country I’ve lived in giving them hugs when they’ve become homesick, missing their families and just wanting to go back to their home countries. I’ve never really felt that way myself. I mean, of course I miss my family and friends back in the States, my walls are literally covered with pictures of them, but I love where I am, and for me it has always been enough just to chat with them online or send an e-mail to them every now and then. I’ve wondered why it always seemed easier for me, wondering if it’s because I don’t Skype with them on a daily basis like so many other and therefore don’t have that constant reminder, or if it’s because I just adapt really well, but I really don’t know. So last night it surprised me that, after a fun but really hard day, I was walking through the dark city streets of Leeds when it hit me. I wanted to be home. Right now. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be where things were familiar and known. Where I could forget about my problems and be comforted.

I trudged my way to my building as the waves of emotion washed over me, trying not to cry. The mantra of ‘I want to be home, I want to be home’ kept replaying in my head. I got to my flat, turned the key, and suddenly the mantra stopped, and all of my pain fell away. I paused in surprise, looking around my little room. What had happened? I stood there in my doorway for a long moment, keys in hand, when I realised something.

I was home. I had assumed when those feelings had come over me that I was wanting to return to America, when in reality I just wanted to go home after a hard day. At some point, sometime during this year, this little flat has become my home. I had realised this months ago, how I was beginning to consider Leeds my home, but I had yet to be faced with such a hard day here in England that made me see how much of a home it really has become. I curled up into bed and felt the comfort of home all around me, all of my problems melting away in its warmth.

I know the Peace Corps will be completely different from everything else I’ve done, and I know, some day, probably a lot of days, will be hard. I’m going to feel the exact same way there as I did last night, wanting to go home to get away from all the hardships of a bad day. Maybe at the beginning I’ll long for America or maybe I’ll even long for my little flat here in England which has become my home. But I know that at some point, sometime during the years, whatever country I’m in will become home. My flat there will be my home, the place where comfort is, where things are familiar and known, where problems melt away.

I guess I still haven’t ever really felt homesickness, not as most people define it. But this experience has made me wonder if I even have a home, a physical place with those emotional attachments, in America to miss anymore. Yes, there’s the place Super Dad lives, but it’s not the place I grew up in since he’s moved recently, and I have no attachment to my hometown. I guess, for me at least, home is where I am. I’m not sure why this is, why I don’t long for America like so many of my friends, but I guess it’s all I need.

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Impending Doom

May 23, 2010
I really try not to worry about things, and usually I do a pretty good job, especially if said things are completely out of my hands. But there is one thing I’m really worried about when it comes to this whole waiting-for-the-invitation thing. Actually, it’s more like a lot of things I’m worried about that all have the same cause. The worst part is: I’m about 98% sure my worries are valid and there is Absolutely Nothing I can do about it. I’m just anxiously awaiting the Impending Doom.

So what is the basis of all of my worries? What is causing the Impending Doom to loom in the distance, casting a dark shadow of worries over my already restless and anxious mind? One word: England. And the fact that I am here until August 27th. And I was nominated to leave in September.
I am worrying hardcore that me being in another country is not just going to make my invite unnecessarily difficult, but may actually seriously hinder the process. Let me break it down for you, and maybe try to find some solutions along the way:
  1. The Placement Office usually calls applicants before they are placed for last minute discussions and application run through. Well, considering I don’t have an international phone, I listed Super Dad’s phone number on my toolkit. So they’re going to call him, he’s going to have to let me know, and I’ll have to find a way to call them back from over here. SOLUTION: I have a phone card that I could use to call them back with, though the prospect of trying to work through this over a payphone is less than appealing. Maybe my flatmate will let me use her Internet phone…
  2. The actual, and hopeful, mailing of the invite, which will be sent to Super Dad’s address because it’s the one I listed on my toolkit. So he’s going to have to send it my way fast enough so I receive it within the 10 day acceptance window. SOLUTION: Two words: Express Mail. Though I wonder if I could change my toolkit to reflect my UK address, and maybe they could send it straight to me. Hmm…now there’s a thought… Oh, hey, that actually worked! Spiffy! See, it’s good to lay out your worries one by one instead of freaking about them en masse, sometimes you’re able to find a solution! Though I wonder why they accept international addresses but not phone numbers…
  3. Accepting the invitation. Need to be able to call them for that. SOLUTION: See worry #1.
  4. And, finally, the biggest fear: the passport. The reason the Peace Corps gives at least six weeks notice before departure is because of visa and passport processing. Okay, easy enough. Except I’m supposed to leave in September. And I’m not back in the States until late August. Anyone else see the problem with this? If I’m supposed to send in my passport for my visa, how am I supposed to get back into the country? SOLUTION: Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how this one will play out. Maybe they’ll allow me to mail it in a little later. Maybe I’ll be able to get back into the country with just a copy of my passport. Maybe I’ll be invited soon enough where I can send it to them and they can send it back to me before I have to try to re-enter the country. No clue. Don’t even want to begin to think about how I want to do some European traveling before heading back to the States and how that would work if my passport had to be sent in.

Wow, I actually feel a lot better breaking it all down like this. Still worried, especially about that passport thing, but better. But you know, despite my worries, and despite it feels like a runaway train is barreling towards me at 100 mph, I hope the Impending Doom comes. I hope it all comes, every hassle, every headache, every worry. Because along with the Impending Doom comes a beautiful big blue envelope with the words ‘You are invited to serve’ on it…

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The Application Process Part 3: Medical cont.

May 23, 2010

After sending in my medical packet, the Peace Corps informed me that, due to a slight blip on my lab results, I needed to go to an endocrinologist (henceforth called an ‘endo’) to have my thyroid checked out. And let me tell you, getting the thyroid thing taken care of was one of the greatest trials of my patience and perseverance. It felt like everything that could go wrong, did. Including an island exploding. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I received the letter that I needed to see an endo in early February 2010 (on my birthday actually – talk about a bit of a downer). Being in England, without a clue on how to find a doctor or how I was supposed to pay for it (will it be covered by NHS? will I have to pay out of pocket? the exchange rate is at WHAT?!), I did what any other person born and raised with technology would do: I turned to the Internet! And God bless the Internet.

I was able to find an endo and called his office, being told I needed a referral from a GP. No problem, Super Dad back home went to my doctor’s office and they wrote me out one. Referral in hand, I set up an appointment with the endo. I had to run to it because the only appointment they had open for the month was right between two of my classes (Old English and Study of Heroic Culture – I love what I do!), but thankfully the hospital he works at is within walking distance.

The appointment went well.  He reviewed my lab results, checked my reflexes, and asked me some pretty random sounding questions that he assured me were pertinent. At the end of it, we sat across his desk and he told me I seemed like a perfectly healthy young woman. There was nothing to indicate that anything was wrong, and to be honest, the little over activity of my thyroid seen on my lab report was so minimal that it was absolutely nothing to worry about. However (my growing happiness that this would be easier than I thought fell as he continued), he wanted to get some more tests done anyways, just to make sure nothing was up. Once he had my results, he would write me a letter for the Peace Corps if everything looked good so I wouldn’t have to return, or we would schedule another appointment if things looked off. I felt annoyance prick at me. If the over activity was truly that minimal and that meaningless, why couldn’t he just write me a letter then and let me move on with my life? But he was insistent, and I left his office with a blood request.

Now, this is when I learned some very interesting things about the English health system. They have public health doctors, covered by NHS, and private doctors, which have to be covered by personal insurance or out of pocket. Well, as far as I could tell from my research on the Internet, it’s difficult to see an endo under NHS, if it’s possible at all. So my endo had been a private doctor. Let’s just say when I, a very poor grad student, got his bill, I staggered. And then the nurse came and told me that to have the blood work done at the hospital would cost £300. About $500. Ouch.

Then she told me, if I went to a GP here in England, they could get my blood work done and it would be covered by NHS. It was at this point that I began to wonder: would NHS have covered the visit to the endo if I had been referred by a GP here in England? I immediately decided it wasn’t worth wondering, it was over and done with now, and I banished the question.

It took weeks for me to get signed up for NHS, get a GP, have an initial meeting with the GP, and have blood taken. It was amazingly frustrating, including a lot of phone calls, walking to the clinic, and long waits for incredibly short visits. The initial meeting with the GP had to have been my favourite: I wasn’t able to get in to see the GP for a couple of weeks, and I was already frustrated because all I needed was blood work done, I didn’t need to actually see the GP, can I just make an appointment to get blood drawn? No? Well then can I go ahead and make an appointment to have blood drawn for after the meeting with the GP so I can get it taken care of quickly? No? WHY NOT?! But I waited, went in to the clinic, waited longer, and finally saw the doctor. It literally took her five minutes to look at my lab reports, look at the blood request, and send me out with the clinic’s request. What in the world was the point of that? Ah, bureaucracy, you suck. My frustration was complete when they told me I would have to wait a couple of weeks for an appointment to have blood drawn. Argh!

Finally, blood was drawn and sent off to the lab with results to return in a couple of weeks, Spring Break had started at my school, and my sister had come over from the States to go to Greece with me. We spent three incredible weeks wandering that beautiful country, and it was so nice knowing that when I got back, a letter from my endo should be waiting for me and this could all be over. Imagine my surprise and annoyance when there was nothing in my mailbox when I got back.

I called my GP to ask if the results had been sent to my endo and called my endo to see what the hold up was. Both doctors were out of the country and wouldn’t be returning for a week.  Right. Of course. I went ahead and set up an appointment to see my GP to talk to her directly about my results, waited a week, and went in. She told me there had been some significant delays in my tests being processed, but the results had just come in, and was told that everything came back negative except one little blip of activity, but she couldn’t tell me what it meant. She was actually really nice, saying they had sent the results to my endo, but if things didn’t move fast enough, she was willing to write a letter for me since she knew the time restraints I was under.

I called my endo when I got back home, thinking he should be back in the country and could write me that letter, since the results had come in fine. Well, turns out, he wasn’t back yet. And, actually, he couldn’t get back. You see, this volcano up in Iceland had exploded, covering England in an ash cloud and grounding all flights. He couldn’t get back. Because of an island exploding. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!  ARGH!

So I waited. And waited. I was tempted to call again every day, but I waited, giving him a couple of weeks. I’m sure my friends here were sick of hearing me complain about it, I just couldn’t believe that I had seen the doctors in February and here we were in early May with nothing to show for it, especially since I had been told the blood results would be given to me in mid March. Then one day, I randomly checked my mail, and there is was: the letter. The beautiful letter saying that I was perfectly, 100% healthy. My thyroid is slightly under active (despite the initial test saying it might be overactive – yeah, I don’t get it either, something about how I probably had a bit of an infection at the time of the initial test which made it appear overactive when it’s actually under active), and though it is something I should keep my eye on as I get older, there is nothing to stop me from being able to go off into the Peace Corps.

More than once during this process, when yet another thing went wrong or another hurdle had to be jumped, some of which I didn’t recount here, I wanted to say forget it. Throw my hands up in the air in exacerbation and say ‘This just isn’t worth it, it is way too much of a hassle.’ But then I remembered why I started this journey in the first place, why I want to do this so badly. And with that in mind, I kept on going, kept on calling the doctors, kept making appointments, and faced the challenges. And I conquered them.

The day Super Dad faxed in that beautiful letter from my endocrinologist to the Peace Corps medical office was the day my medical was cleared. Again, I felt special and wanted because things had moved so quickly on their end.

So that’s where I’m at now in this application process. Now all there is left to do is wait. And hope.

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The Application Process Part 2: Medical

May 22, 2010

Medical: the bane of almost every Peace Corps applicant’s life. It’s complicated, frustrating, and drawn out. And according to the infamous Out of 100, it’s where most applicants trip. I honestly can’t blame them.

My medical packet arrived in September 2009, but by that time I had already moved to England to begin my year long Masters degree in Medieval Studies. I am covered by the national insurance over here (called NHS), but I decided that I didn’t want to try to find and go to doctors and dentists over here. It would be way too much of a hassle, I didn’t know how much NHS would cover (especially when it came to the shots), the pound to dollar conversion was less than inspiring if I had to pay out of pocket, and I had plenty of time. So I set my medical aside for when I returned to the States for Christmas break, focusing on school and adjusting to life in a new country.

Oh, did I mention I was only going to be in the States for two weeks over Christmas break?

Those were the most medically intense two weeks of my life. The day after I walked off the plane I had my first appointment, jet lagged and exhausted. Basically anytime I wasn’t baking, decorating the tree, or shopping for presents was spent in various waiting rooms. The doctor poked and prodded me, tested me for everything under the sun, took out five vials of blood and replaced it with four types of vaccines which left my arm sore for a week. The dentist jabbed at every single tooth, and I actually had to go to the dentist three separate times to have fillings done. Considering I hadn’t been to the dentist in at least five years before this…well, let’s just say I was pleasantly pleased I didn’t need more work done.

Fun side story: Novocaine doesn’t really work on me. I’ve known this for years and always tell my dentist because one shot of the stuff just isn’t going to cut it. Turns out, neither does three. Or four. After waiting an hour for the drugs to kick in and poking my jaw asking if I could feel it and me giving him the affirmative, he became really frustrated and busted out The Big Guns, shooting some sort of extra strength numbing stuff straight into the nerve in my jaw, which still wore off much faster than it usually does for other people. So you would think, after doing this on one side of my mouth, they would just start with The Big Guns when I returned for the other half of my fillings. Nope. After my last appointment I tried to count how many times I was pricked by needles between the doctor and the dentist, and I figure that I had at least 17 separate shots. My jaw was still sore when I went back to England.

The eye doctor was actually the easiest. Just handed him the prescription I had gotten this past summer and he filled it out and that was that. Took 5 minutes, tops. So I had everything, all the lab results came in before I had to head back to England, and everything was normal, except that some of my thyroid activity was a little high, but even though my doctor noted I might want to see an endocrinologist someday, it wasn’t necessary to do so. But when I was looking through the papers, I realised the doctor hadn’t filled out my vaccinations and forgot to sign one of the pages. I went back to the office, vaccine record in hand, and told the nurse what was missing. Turns out, the doctor was out of town and wouldn’t be returning until the following week when she would be glad to sign it. Too bad I was leaving for England the following day.

How was I supposed to get the papers signed? I knew I had to have that part filled in, but I was leaving the next day, what was I going to do? In swoops Super Dad! He very kindly offered to hold on to the papers and take them in when the doctor had returned and mail everything once it was done. I breathed a sigh of relief, though I must admit I was reluctant to hand the papers over to anyone. Heck, I was reluctant to leave the papers with my doctor’s nurse as things were filled in and checked over. Paranoia is a common side effect found in Peace Corps applicants during the medical evaluation, worrying about every tiny thing not being perfectly filled in, and petrified something will go missing, extending the torture that is medical even further. Of course I had nothing to worry about, the week after returning to England I received the e-mail from my dad saying everything was sent off and all good. The hurdle had been cleared. I was so happy that there had only been one hiccup, and even that had easily been taken care of. So what if all of those visits crammed into a single week had been hard, everything was done and it should be smooth sailing from there to Invite.

Time passed. I didn’t even really notice it flying by as I wrote essays, studied for finals, took said finals, hung out with friends, and began the new term. I wasn’t expecting to hear from the Peace Corps because my leaving date was for September, 9 whole months away, so I just didn’t worry about it. Why would they be looking at my stuff this far in advance? Then I get an e-mail in February 2010 from my dad: I had a letter from the Peace Corps and he had sent it to me. Holy crap, really? My stuff was under review already? Why in the world would they be reviewing my stuff already? Who knows and who cares, I thought, dancing on air with how utterly special I felt. Very excitedly, I waited for the letter to cross The Pond, and when I checked my mail and found the parcel, I ripped into it, pulling the letter out.

And in bold were those dreaded words: ‘During the review of your medical kit, we find the submitted information to be incomplete.’ Oh, no. They needed a copy of a laboratory report and a current evaluation from an endocrinologist due to that tiny blip of abnormal thyroid activity my doctor said wasn’t necessary to worry about. Oh, God, please no. The lab report was easy, a call to my doctor and it was sent in the next day. But how was I supposed to do the rest from across The Pond, all the way in England? I had no endocrinologist, I didn’t even have a general practitioner yet, and on top of that I didn’t have a clue how the medical procedures or insurance works over here!  What in the world was I going to do? I couldn’t wait until I got back to the States like I had when I first received the medical kit because I’m not returning again until August; time was running out. I stared at that letter for a long, long time.

Then I turned to my computer, opened up Internet Explorer, and typed in a search query: endocrinologists in Leeds. And so it continued.

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The Application Process Part 1: Applying – Nomination

May 20, 2010

I started this journey over a year ago when I submitted my application on May 1st, 2009, the first day recommended to apply for a September 2010 departure. I must admit I started the application at least a month earlier, working on it in the mornings before the students would come barrelling into my classroom. The Peace Corps websites were the only personal sites I had favorited on my work laptop. Though I guess one could argue the journey actually started in the summer of 2008, when I first heard about the Peace Corps and began to really consider it.

I remember sitting with Stephanie that summer having tea at Starbucks and her mentioning how she wanted to volunteer and work with turtles in South America and maybe join the PC someday. The Peace Corps, I thought, Wow, what an adventure that would be. I went home the evening and for the first time went to their website, reading through the material. Something about it really called to me, drew me to it, but really? The Peace Corps? It sounded interesting, something right up my alley, but I couldn’t even fathom actually doing it. It was like a golden dream, something desired but unreal, existing on the fringes of my mind out of the realm of possibilities.

So life continued. I was supposed to leave for England that fall but I decided to postpone my entry, opting instead to work for the year to earn the money for school. I took a job teaching English literature to 7th and 8th grade students with no education experience whatsoever in my background, and am proud to say that from day one, even though I felt in over my head, I was able to swim and not sink. But the thought of the Peace Corps kept nipping at me, bugging at me. In September I began to look at more websites with an almost obsessive regularity, reading about it, learning all I could about it. The dream slowly solidified, lost its golden haze, became a real possibility, something that could actually happen, something I could actually do. The more I read, the more I realised: this is what I wanted to do. Exactly what I’m looking for in the PC, why I want to join, will be saved for another post, but I realised that here was a program that would allow me to do everything I wanted. November 2008 is when I decided that I was going to do it, and I began to eagerly await the day I could start the application process.

Things moved quickly once my application was submitted. All of my recommendations were in within a month, and I was contacted by the Dallas headquarters by the end of June to discuss when I could have an interview since they knew I was under time restraints. My recruiter knew I was leaving for England that September for school and that I would be out of town a few weeks in August, but she needed some papers that I was still waiting for. Don’t worry, she said, I could just bring the papers to our meeting, I just needed to let her know when I had them. I received the forms in July and sent her an e-mail telling her so, but then weeks went by without any meeting being set up. I began to become very concerned as my leaving date loomed in front of me, until I finally broke and gave her a call, asking her what the hold up was. I must admit I was really amused when she told me she was still waiting for those papers. When I reminded her she said I could just bring them to the meeting, she said, ‘Oh. Well then. August 14th good for you?’ I said it was.

Oh my, what a weekend that was! I took the opportunity of going to Dallas to meet up with a lot of friends (who, by some twist of fate, were all in Dallas that weekend as well) as part of a goodbye tour before leaving for England. But first things first: the interview. In downtown Dallas. Terrifying downtown Dallas. You’re just puttering along the highway, take the exit for downtown, and then spend the next fifteen minutes going ‘AHHH! AHHH! AHHH! Oh, there’s the building I need. AHHH! AHHH! AHHH!’ I would have made a sailor blush if they had been in the car with me, trying to maneuver through the poorly marked narrow one way streets, looking for someplace to park in that jungle while not running over people as they randomly cross the street. I’m glad I got there early, it took a few minutes for the screaming in my head to calm down.

Once the screaming stopped, I nervously went into the imposing federal building, which looks exactly like scary federal buildings do in the movies with guards and metal detectors and everything, and made my way to the Peace Corps offices. The interview went really smoothly, I watched some videos, we chatted about this that and the other, and I handed her the papers she needed. Then she asked me the two Big Questions:

1) Where do you want to serve?

2) What would you like to do in your service?

Where? Anywhere but Africa. She paused at that answer, giving me a strange look. ‘Why not Africa?’ Way back at the beginning of all of this, when I first told my parents I was going to join the PC, they supported me whole heartily but had one request: don’t go to Africa. ‘You do know that Africa is the safest place we go to.’ It doesn’t matter. I’m incredibly lucky and blessed with parents who have supported me in all of my life choices, and I’ve learned through the years that their advice and concerns have sound reasoning behind them, so I might as well take them into consideration. I honestly don’t mind where I serve, and if not going to Africa makes my parents feel more comfortable, it’s something I’m willing to do for them. She just smiled and shrugged, making a note in my file that I’m willing to serve anywhere except Africa, preferring Eastern Europe and Asia. My guess is she doesn’t get that response very often. Seems to me most people join the Peace Corps because they want to go to Africa. I don’t mind being the odd duck.

What would I like to do? Anything. But I must be honest, even though I have an education background now, what with teaching for the past year, I would really like to learn something new and not teach. She gave me another weird look. ‘Considering your background, education is really the only thing you’re qualified for. However, since you have teaching experience, you’re qualified to be a teacher trainer. You probably wouldn’t be placed as an actual teacher because you actually have some experience.’ Teacher trainer? What’s that? She explained the position to me and I got really excited. Sure, I would still be in the education field, but I would still be doing something new, something I hadn’t done before. Now that time has passed, I realise that I would still be incredibly happy teaching English somewhere. It would still be new and different, which is exactly what I want. Heck, I would be happy with anything. Whatever. I’m pretty easy.

So she searched the database and found a program she thought I would fit and I was nominated before leaving her office for a teacher trainer position in Eastern Europe/Asia to depart September 2010. I was walking on air as I left the imposing building, sending a text to my parents as soon as I was in my car, excitedly telling them I was nominated. They sent their congratulations and I spent the rest of the weekend travelling around Texas saying goodbye to friends, spending a couple of days in Dallas with Alli, Adrienne, Corey, and Sabby, then heading to San Antonio to spend time with Dana before heading back to Houston.

The next week I went to Hawaii with my family for two weeks. One week after that I found myself on a plane flying to England, my life reduced to two incredibly heavy suitcases. After I was settled in England, I got an e-mail from my parents telling me something had come for me in the mail from the PC: the medical kit.

The next part of the odyssey had begun.