Thursday, March 26, 2009

"I'm sick of the forms! I'm sick of being misread!"

Just kiddin'. I'm not sick of the forms... yet. I'm sure I will be. In these past two days I've received my staging information and it turns out I'll be in D.C. for a day of orientation. I'm curious about how transit will work because I'm supposed to call and arrange a flight with this travel company but I don't think there are any puddle jumpers from BWI to Reagan International. I assume I can take a train and get reimbursed later? We shall see. It's no sweat to get there so I'm glad.

So, in a nutshell, we collect in D.C. and go over some of the BASIC basics then we all ship off to Panama City on the 22nd and get into the heavier stuff. The 1st day is form day. Then we get all kinds of shots, safety lessons, language lessons, and cultural lessons. There is a field trip. It's been so long since I was on a field trip! I'm pumped. Also, I just ordered the biggest duffel bag known to man.

I got a questionnaire in my e-mail which I wanted to share:
1. What compelled you to join Peace Corps (PC)?
As someone from a developed country, I want to try and share some of the opportunities I have been given while taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from a culture different from my own. I want to challenge myself while providing lasting benefits to my community of service.

2. What attracted you to Panama and made you accept the invitation?
I have been fortunate enough to travel in Central America before and I enjoyed it. Having had that little bit of prior experience is comforting— like I have a little head start in adjusting to the culture. The more I learn about Panama specifically, the more pleased I am that I accepted the invitation. The variety of cultures and landscapes are exciting. I am excited about being selected for this project because I am interested in how tourism can used to create opportunities without destroying cultural identity.

3. How does PC service fit into your personal and/or professional goals? What does post-PC life have in store for you?
I am interested in continuing my work with nonprofits so the experience I gain will be invaluable as far as managing resources and organizing people are concerned. I am also considering some of the grad school programs for RPCVs. Lastly, I have studied Spanish academically for a very long time and am excited for the opportunity to actually become fluent.

4. What is the greatest expectation that you have about your service as a volunteer?
That I will be able to help create an autonomous project that benefits the community
on their own terms.

5. What is the greatest worry or concern that you have about your service as a volunteer?
That I will not accomplish anything lasting.

6. What do you think will be the greatest challenge you will face as a volunteer?
I think the greatest challenge will be to learn enough about the culture to properly
motivate the community and help them meet their goals.

Is there any specific information/background that might be useful to assist us in site placement? (Include even if also listed on your resume and aspiration statement)
• Technical Schooling/Training:

• International Experience: I have traveled for about 10 days each with my high school in: China, Cuba, and the Scandinavian countries. I have spent a little over a week at a home stay with an au pair friend in the Netherlands. I spent two weeks in Costa Rica with a volunteer group and one month in Ireland on a study abroad internship.

• Language: I have a minor in Spanish

• Work Experience: I am currently a Fair Housing Specialist with Baltimore Neighborhoods.

• Other: Part of my Costa Rica trip involved trying to encourage ecotourism. We helped maintain trails into the forest and built a bus stop as a way to encourage tours.

7. What do you consider are the most important/personal/professional strengths that you bring to your work as a Volunteer?
Personally, I can be very determined and so I would hope that my enthusiasm for potential projects would encourage the community. I am respectful of cultural differences which, with any luck, would give me some credibility as a community organizer. Professionally, I have very strong organizational and general office skills. I have had some informal experience teaching and in Costa Rica I helped teach English to children and teenagers.

8. What do you feel are your weaknesses?
My biggest weakness may be a lack of confidence in my projects. Sometimes, I have a hard time asking for help or clarification of instructions.

10. What might cause you to consider an early termination of your service in PC?
Illness and perhaps thinking that the community does not need a volunteer.

11. Describe your working style: are you a self-starter? Independent? Need structure? Etc.
I like structure while I am learning my work but then I prefer independence once I have it down.

12. How do you feel about being in a community with:
Alcohol use- It is not my ideal situation but I would be able to deal with it.

Volunteers reasonably close by- I would prefer this.

Strong religious groups- I don’t have a preference although I am not very religious myself so there would be culture shock.

Only dug-out canoe access- I am ok with this.

Only hiking access- I am ok with this.

Indigenous- I have no preference of Latino or Indigenous communities although since I have experience with Latino communities, I may be more effective there.

Only airplane access- I think I may feel too isolated if there were only airplane access.

Tons of kids- Kids are great.

No electricity- I would prefer electricity but I understand that it is not always available at PC sites.

No privacy- I like my privacy but I understand that PC service requires you to be willing to part with some of that.

Harsh conditions (Extreme heat, dust, lack of running water)- I would prefer running water but I understand that it is not always available at PC sites. As for heat and dust, I think I could adapt.

River crossings- I am ok with them


To avoid mass e-mail, I've decided to keep a blog of my Peace Corps experience. JFK asked me what I can do for my country and so, next month, I'm headed off to Panama to ultimately become a "tourism and English consultant". I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I'm excited. It looks like I'll be able to update this bad boy about once a month. That seems to be the average for the other Peace Corps blogs I've been reading. I'll kick this off with some fun things I've learned about Panama!

  • Everything in el bosque will kill you, sting you, poison you, or lay its eggs in you. (just kidding but it's starting to seem that way).
  • Speaking of... they have coral snakes! I want to see one because they are the prettiest snake but I don't want to see one because (SURPRISE!) they can kill you.
  • There are several indigenous groups in Panama and they have the some of the most political autonomy of any native people in the Americas.
  • Panama is on the US dollar... I had no idea.
  • Cashews grow wild but are really poisonous before you roast them and even then the smoke during cooking is toxic.
  • Some people have a poison-ivy-like reaction to mango leaves.
  • The Peace Corps makes you take a swim test in which you turn your pants into a flotation device... I'm very curious to see how I will hold up.
  • Hot dogs are a favorite. Really big. The breakfast of champions.
  • Pasta goes with rice. They do that in Costa Rica too though. :-P
  • A lot of pc volunteers adopt pets. I really want a dog! I don't want to feel like I'm cheating on Hobbes though. Maybe I'll stuff him in my bag...
  • It is considered weird to live alone en el campo. I kind of already knew this but I had no idea of the extent of it.
  • There is one active volcano in Panama. If you visit me, we're going there. I don't care how many times I see it.
  • I'm going to need to buy high heels for la ciudad.
  • Mother's Day is a massive blowout. Maybe not as huge as hotdogs but almost...
  • Bob Villa is a Peace Corps Panama alumnus.
So there it is. Keep an eye on this page for contact info as it comes up and changes. Please leave plenty of comments so we can keep in touch! Also, start making plans to come visit because I'm already homesick.