Archive for the ‘pre-departure’ Category

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Protected: Staging

September 18, 2010

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The Day Before

September 15, 2010

Wow, the last couple of weeks really have been a whirlwind, and suddenly I find myself with only one day between me and leaving for Ukraine not knowing quite how this happened. I have been to California, Indiana, and all over Texas visiting family and friends, and while at home I’ve been constantly running errands. It’s been nuts. I haven’t been able to fully grasp what’s been going on because I haven’t had long enough to get used to being home. So I’ve been running around in this strange state of almost disbelief, not really comprehending where I’m at or what I’m doing.

Hm, that sounds really strange, let me see if I can explain: It still hasn’t quite hit me yet that I’m here and will not be returning to Leeds. I haven’t had long enough to readjust because I have only been at home itself for a little over a week. So when I drive around or fly out somewhere else, I look around and find it hard to fully grasp what’s going on. It’s similar to how I felt when I went to Wales  – I couldn’t believe my incredible good fortune (going on a trip for free that cost £400), so the whole trip I just could not quite grasp that I was actually there, that it wasn’t some sort of a dream. I also felt this way the first couple of months in Leeds, just amazed and dazed by the fact I was living in England, it was too amazing, who does that? I would still have moments of realization throughout the year, walking along campus, seeing something particular to the country and realizing, ‘Oh wow, I’m in England.’

When that whole departure date thing happened during my application process, I briefly thought about pushing back my entry date to October. I discussed it with my seester, and I realized that even though leaving in September would be a crazy adventure, with only a couple of weeks at home, it would probably be better for me because I knew I would be in this state of whoa. I think it’s better for me to not have the time to readjust to being home and just jump quickly from Leeds to home to Ukraine. I’m hoping it cuts down on my emotional turmoil by living in a state of almost disbelief.

Anyways, today I need to finish up packing and running all of those errands I have (just over a week of time devoted to Peace Corps prep – not really enough time). I fly out tomorrow for Washington DC, have a day of meetings for Staging on Friday, and Saturday we’re off to Ukraine. I’ve been going through a wide range of emotions, but mostly excitement. Surprisingly, I’m not nervous at all. I know I’m going to absolutely rock this. I’m going in with no expectations but with the knowledge that I can 100% handle anything life throws at me. I have never felt so sure about anything in my life, I know I can do this, know that this is what I’m supposed to do. It’s an amazing feeling. Even if I haven’t learned any Ukrainian. 🙂

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Back in Texas

August 28, 2010

I arrived back in Texas yesterday after spending a week in Scotland with Super Dad. Oh, it was an amazing holiday, exactly what I needed. We drove all over, enjoying the views, and stopped by lots of castles and abbeys. It was really nice spending the time with him and finally having some time to unwind after the school year and before the whirlwind that will be my time back in the States.

Leaving Leeds was really hard on me, though. It still feels so surreal, I just can’t believe I’m gone, can’t believe it’s all over. The last night I was there, instead of going to a party, I walked around the city just a bit. Went to this little park near my flat and just sat there, thinking and remembering. God, this past year was amazing. I’m really hoping my friends all keep in touch, I have some very tentative plans to possibly see one or two of them before I leave for Ukraine, but I have no idea if it will actually work out. No matter what, though, it was such a blessing to have met all of them, to get to know all of them. They were all there for me during one of the hardest times I have ever gone through, they supported me and helped me every step of the way, they accepted and loved me quirks and all, and they all touched my life in ways I don’t think they’ll ever truly understand. They made this year so incredible, it’s because of them that this was one of the best years of my life, despite everything. I’ve been really missing them since I’ve left.

Actually landing in the States was hard, too, surprisingly. I was so overwhelmed with feelings that as we sat in the shuttle to the parking lot, all I could do was hug my bag and stare wide-eyed out at the world, blinking back tears of emotion. I was happy to be home but sad knowing this amazing year was over, everything around me so familiar yet still so different. But the first American flag I saw, flying proud side by side with a Texan flag, filled my heart with joy and pride. No matter where I end up in the world, no matter where I go or what I do, this will always be my home. I will always be proud to call myself a Texan, an American.

Anyways, now that I’m back, I have lots of things that I need to do. Gotta call the travel agency about setting up tickets to fly to Washington D.C. (where Staging will be held prior to leaving for Ukraine), work out my packing list, buy anything I need, visit with friends and family, and eat everything I’ve been missing. My schedule is incredibly tight, but I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone and spending time with family and friends. Let the whirlwind adventure begin!

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Oh, That’s Right…

August 18, 2010

…I’m joining the Peace Corps! Well, will you look at that?

Okay, it’s not that bad, I haven’t completely forgotten about the fact that I’ll be living in a new country in a month (oh my God, I really am leaving  in a month, aren’t I?), but it sure hasn’t been the first thing on my mind these past few weeks either. I’ve been so focused on finishing my MA thesis that I’ve completely pushed the Peace Corps out of my mind. Anytime something reminded me that I will soon be going to Ukraine, be it a fellow groupmate posting the countdown of days until we leave or an e-mail from the Ukraine Country Desk, I had to push it away because I feared my head would explode if I started to think about it. My brain was just too full of medieval French romance and cross-dressing women. So while I have been asked multiple time by various people if I’m excited/scared/whatever, I have just answered honestly: I haven’t been able to think about it. I do feel like a bit of a slacker because I was sent homework by the Country Desk weeks ago, but when I say I couldn’t think about the Peace Corps, I mean I Could Not Think About The Peace Corps. I guess my mind can only handle one life changing thing at a time.

But today, I submitted my MA thesis and I am officially done with my degree. I now have a Masters in Medieval Studies, and you may address me as Master Lampton. Friends and family may call me Master Michelle. 🙂 Since I’m done, I feel like I can finally turn my attention to all things Peace Corps and begin to prepare myself for this incredible adventure.

So today I finally turned my mind to that homework I was sent. It’s this little ‘Learn How to be a TEFL Teacher from the Comfort of Your Own Home’ type thing that’s due by August 31st. But since I’m going to be in Scotland all next week (I can’t wait, I’m really looking forward to spending the time with Super Dad), I figure I should probably get it done before I leave Leeds this weekend (the entry about my emotional turmoil due to leaving Leeds will be saved for another time). It’s an interesting packet, talking about what will be expected of us by our communities and different teaching methodologies. There’s also a fun section with grammar rules that we need to know. Most of it is incredibly basic, like what a noun is, but other parts go into detail most people haven’t seen since middle school, such as what reflexive and demonstrative pronouns are. I’m just thankful I’ve taken Latin for so many years: I had to learn English inside and out in order to learn another language so most of this I already know.

I guess I should also start learning Ukrainian. My wonderful friend Lina has agreed to help me learn it, but I don’t think we will have time to work on it together before I leave. I’ll start working my way through the language booklet and handy-dandy set of audio files they sent me next week while traveling. I have plenty of time! Worse come to worse, I’ll just show up in country, say ‘Howdy!’, and hope for the best. Seriously, though, I’m not too terribly concerned. Living in a country is the easiest and fastest way to learn a language – I’m sure I’ll pick up loads once I arrive. I would love to have a good foundation before then, but I’m not going to stress myself out about it.

Now that I can actually think about the Peace Corps, I’m starting to get really excited. I’m really looking forward to heading off to a new country, meeting new people, making new friends. I’m even looking forward to going back to teaching, especially because I know it’ll be different from what I’ve experienced before. There are still a lot of things I have planned before I leave for Ukraine, but I really am getting very excited about this new chapter in my life.

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IMC 2010

July 22, 2010

Last week was the International Medieval Congress here in Leeds. It’s one of the largest gatherings of medievalists in the world, and is a nerdy medievalist’s heaven: four intense days of papers, lectures, discussions, workshops, and a dance. I went to so many sessions I felt like my brain was about to leak from my ears, but I truly enjoyed most of them. One of the sessions I went to was a round table discussion for a coming conference on gender, time, and memory (I keep finding myself being sucked into gender studies…). It was really interesting, and I was actually able to contribute to the discussion (a first!) and offer ideas for potential papers while advising others on their work. Afterwards, one of the speakers approached me and asked me if I would be submitting a paper to the conference because she really liked my ideas and wanted to hear more about them. I told her I couldn’t. She was persistent, asking me why. I explained to her that I would be in Ukraine next January, when the conference will be held, and there would be no way I could attend. She seemed disappointed (and surprised that I am only an MA student), telling me she hoped to see me soon at the very least.

I also presented my own paper at the IMC. It was on Icelandic literature and was an exploration of how Örvar-Odds saga is a critique of the fornaldarsögur (sounds impressive, huh?). It went incredibly well. I made people laugh (intentionally) and was told that my paper was very easy to follow and my argument was very clear. Afterwards, I was approached by multiple different people, PhD candidates, Professors, people who study Icelandic literature for a living, asking me if I would publish the paper, would I continue my study in Icelandic literature, and where I would be going for my PhD next year. I told all of them that, while I will try to publish my paper someday, I wasn’t going to be starting my PhD anytime soon. Each of them asked me why, and I found myself explaining over and over again that I was going into the Peace Corps and that I would be in Ukraine come this fall. It was intense.

It just really put my decision to join the Peace Corps instead of getting my PhD right away into perspective. I have been encouraged by a couple of my professors to get my PhD, but the response I received during the IMC was overwhelming. It just made me wonder, made me think about this choice I’m making and how…sad I am about how my formal study in medieval literature is coming to an end, even if it turns out to be temporary. There’s nothing wrong with taking a couple of years off between my MA and my PhD, in fact it’s something I would encourage since I am so thankful I took a year off between my BA and my MA, but it still made me think about my future and how sad I am leaving academia behind. I know I’m not ready to settle down to work on a PhD for 4-6 years just yet, I know I wouldn’t be happy doing that right now, I have too much of the wanderlust, too many things I want to do and see, but what about after the Peace Corps? Will I be ready then? Or will I never be able to completely settle down in the way needed to work in academia? Will I ever be able to return for my PhD, ever return to the field that I love so passionately but which still doesn’t completely satisfy me?

I think that’s ultimately the problem. I just don’t know what I want to do after the Peace Corps. I know, I know, I haven’t even left yet, I have plenty of time to figure it out, over 27 months in fact. But there are so many things I want in life, so many things I want to do, and I’m just not sure which path I should choose, if any of them would actually completely satisfy me. It saddens and, yes, frightens me to know that I may ultimately not continue in academia, may not get my PhD when it’s something I want so badly. To know that this might really be the end of my studies. The IMC really put that all into perspective, made me realise what exactly I’m giving up, what exactly I’m leaving behind as I prepare to leave for the Peace Corps. It’s going to be worth it, I know. The Peace Corps is going to be amazing, it’s going to be such an experience. But still…

No matter what ultimately happens, though, I plan on trying to get a couple of things published over the next few years while in Ukraine. I’m pretty sure I could get two or three articles out of my MA thesis plus that Icelandic paper, and if I could get something published, it would look really good on my resume if I do continue in academia and apply to get my PhD (which would offset my awful GRE Subject Test score…boo to the GRE Subject Test…). Maybe I won’t continue in academia, maybe this really is the end, but I’m not willing to shut that door just yet. I’m going to keep my options open, and maybe, hopefully, the next few years in the Peace Corps will help me decide what my next step will be.

And besides, even if I don’t end up in academia, it’s not like I can’t study medieval literature on my own. I love what I do, I love it so freaking much, and that will never go away, no matter what. What can I say, I’m a nerdy medievalist at heart.

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Passport Fun – International Style

July 7, 2010

You may recall in a past post how I was concerned about how the whole passport thing was going to work out since I’m currently living in England and won’t be returning to the States until late August. I didn’t know at the time that Peace Corps volunteers don’t use their personal passports to travel with (which makes me sad – I was really looking forward to a Ukraine visa to go along with my China and UK ones). Instead, we use a special government type passport. So all volunteers must apply for this special passport.

The e-mail I received after accepting my invitation basically said: You have three options – 1) If you have a passport, use this form; 2) If you don’t have a passport or are traveling, use a different form; 3) If you are applying overseas, call the travel agency. I called the travel agency, and explained my situation to them, which was actually really amusing and went something like this:

Me: ‘I need to apply for my passport and visa but I’m living in the UK and the e-mail I received said to call you.’
Them: ‘When are you leaving for service?’
Me: ‘September.’
Them: ‘And when do you return to the States from the UK?’
Me: ‘September.’
Them: ‘…’
Me: ‘…’
Them: ‘Really?’

The people I spoke to were really nice about it and told me what I needed to do: I had to go to the U.S. Embassy with my form and passport and they would make an official copy of my passport that I could send in lieu of my real passport, since I need it to get back into the country. I just started to laugh. Really? I had to go to the Embassy in London (about 2 1/2 hours away by train)? Sure, why not, sounds like fun, and I’m always down for a road trip. Plus there’s this pretty decent Mexican restaurant in that area of the city that I could go to. Hoping online, I went to the website for the U.S. Embassy in London and learned they have no available appointments until August 27th, the day I will be back in the States. Ahh…nothing is ever that easy, is it?

Calling the travel people back, I told them what was what (the person I spoke to said, and I quote: ‘Sounds like you’re up a creek without a paddle.’ It took all of my will power not to bust out laughing), but the woman who could help me was out for lunch so I would need to call back. In the meantime, I did a little research and found out that the consulate up in Edinburgh (about 3 hours away) does passport stuff as well, and they had lots of appointments available! I decided to just go ahead and book an appointment with them and just hope for the best. Besides, I’ve been meaning to head up to Edinburgh since I would rather spend the time Dad and I will be in Scottland visiting the parts of the country I can’t get to easily. I wish I could have stayed there overnight, but things didn’t quite work out since I had other appointments scheduled for this week.

Anyways, yesterday I headed up to Edinburgh with all of my paperwork. My appointment was at 12:30 and I arrived at 12:00 (I have a habit of being perpetually early), but people were sitting on the steps of the building, which really confused me. Turns out it was a queue. A queue that went out the door. Brilliant. It wasn’t bad, though, just a little cold as I sat on the steps with everybody else reading the book I had brought until I was allowed to head inside at around 1:30 and wait in there. I was finally called up at about 2:00, and it took a total of 3 minutes to give them all my paperwork, explain what I needed, and to be told it would take at least an hour for everything to be processed. Gotta love it.

When I was finally called back up, turns out the guy who watched me sign my application was a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) who had served in Tonga in the 90’s, and we chatted about what it’s like to volunteer and what it’s like to work in the Foreign Service, a career I’ve been entertaining pursuing someday (he said it’s simliar to serving in the Peace Corps except you get paid – love it!). He also explained why things had taken so long that day – apparently a lot of the usual staff was still on vacation for the 4th. I happily walked out of the consulate at 3:00 with my forms.

At 3:15 I was back, knocking on their door asking to be let back in because, after reading the instructions provided by the Peace Corps, I was afraid things had been messed up. He was really nice, read over the instructions and called his supervisor in London. The thing I was worried about I was told not to worry about (the instructions said they would seal the application in an envelope, which they didn’t do and they assure me they don’t need to do), but it’s a good thing I did go back, because he was supposed to include a seal on the application showing that I had gone to the consulate to have it done. Application freshly sealed, I walked out of the consulate at 3:30, after 3 1/2 hours, still a little worried about the fact my stuff wasn’t sealed in an envelope, but deciding everything would work out.

I spent the rest of the day walking around Edinburgh and went on a freaky ghost tour of a part of the underground city called ‘City of the Dead’. Very very cool, I definitely recommend it. Then I hopped back on the train and came back home. It was a very long but enjoyable day. Today I’m going to head to UPS and mail the forms off and hope for the best! Then I’m pretty much done with Peace Corps stuff for a few weeks until it’s time to start thinking about arranging my travel and purchasing the things I’m going to need for my time in Ukraine. I’m so excited!

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Balancing Act

June 30, 2010

It’s been a fun week! Lots of stuff due very quickly all at the same time. I’m juggling all the Peace Corps stuff with my academic things, and I have to be careful to strike a delicate balance so I can get everything done without stressing myself out (seriously, it’s summer, the first summer I haven’t worked since I was 16 – I’m taking it pretty easy right now despite all the things I need to do).

My to do list:

  • Peace Corps: Aspiration Statement (finish by Friday)
  • Peace Corps: Update my resume (finish by Friday)
  • Peace Corps: Apply for passport and visa (as soon as possible)
  • Academic: Thesis rough draft – 1,000-2,000 words (finish by Sunday)
  • Academic: Conference paper – 20 minute paper (finish by next week)

Peace Corps wise, the statement and resume are almost done. I’m irritated I don’t have my teacher training information here with me to put on my resume, but all that stuff is in storage back home so I’m just going to have to let it go. And the statement! The questions are so vague I don’t even know where to begin. I spent all day yesterday poking at it and, well, I’m not too terribly impressed with what I’ve written. I’ll look over it again a few more times before I send it out in a couple of days. I have an appointment next week to hopefully get the passport and visa stuff taken care of, and I’ll tell y’all all about the fun adventure that’s sure to turn into (ROAD TRIP!).

In between all this Peace Corps stuff I’ve continued working on my thesis. My supervisor wants me to send her a good chunk of the middle because we’ve been having trouble structuring my paper and she wants me to see if what we came up with is going to work. I’ve been finishing up my research and will hopefully start writing tomorrow, which will give me a couple of days to bang it out. Since I pretty much know what I want to write in my head, it should be really easy after I finish the last of my reading.

Now, that conference paper…that’s going to be interesting. I was asked very last minute to present a paper at this huge conference here in Leeds by a friend because someone dropped out. This conference is one of the largest Medievalist conferences in the world (right up there with Kalamazoo) and, well, depending on the day I go from being pretty calm to freaking out. I’ve never presented a paper before and don’t know how comfortable I feel (as a Masters student) presenting my ideas to people who’ve been doing this for years, especially over a topic I have only studied for a semester. Argh. I wrote the paper last term but haven’t touched it to make it presentation worthy yet. I’ll have a week to work on it after all these other deadlines are met, which will be plenty of time (I hope). Because, hey, at least I have a paper. Some people who are also presenting papers don’t even have outlines for their papers yet. It’ll be a good experience at the very least and will look great on my resume if I continue in academia after the Peace Corps.

It’s all about balance, making sure I get everything done in time. I enjoy these kinds of balancing acts, though. Keeps life interesting. And after the conference, it’s going to be smooth sailing until I’m back home.