Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Woes of Preparation

Most people know that I love planning. If I could plan everything out a year in advance, I probably would. It’s really only been in the past year that I’ve calmed down on the planning front. I used to have to plan everything out because I was doing so much, but when I moved to Montana, I vowed to work less and consequently plan less. I didn’t need to have every second planned out because I didn’t have quite as many responsibilities. My responsibilities shifted from making sure that I arrived to my overbooked life, to making sure I got the twenty-five million hours of homework done. Homework can be done at one in the morning and a paper can be written the night before its due, but you generally can’t show up to a shift at three in the morning. I also knew when I got to Montana that my end goal was the Peace Corps and I was definitely going to have to give up planning, and expectations, and toilets, and hot water, and electricity, and heat, and many other things we take for granted in the U.S. That’s a whole other post though, so back to the point. I was and am doing better about being flexible, but my planning nature does scream out for acknowledgement still. Suffice it to say, I’ve been planning for Botswana since October, five months before I got my invitation, and it’s a good thing I have. There is a lot that goes into planning to be in a foreign country with who knows what kind of communication methods and living conditions. My packing list alone has been a five month process and honestly that’s been the biggest focus of the whole process. How do you know what to pack for 2 years in 2 50-pound bags and two small carry-on bags? I’m sure I will write another blog post about what I did decide to pack, but for now this one is simply about the process.

When I started to think about what my life is going to look like half way around the world, I realized that the way I live now is vastly different than what’s to come. I doubt that I will be coming home after a long day’s work to an insulated house with air conditioning and ice cream. No, I’ll probably be going home to a small uninsulated house with no freezer and maybe a little unreliable electricity, but I won’t know that until after I am in country. So how do you plan what to pack when you don’t even know if you’re going to have electricity or running water? Or when you expect that it’s going to be hot all the time (it’s Africa, right? Isn’t it always hot there?), only to learn that they actually have a very chilling winter six months of the year. Or at least I think they do, but I’m not positive because I’m not there yet, I’ve heard multiple different stories that contradict each other. So really I’m just making educated guesses. Another complication to this whole process is being a poor college student who has lived from paycheck to three days after getting my paycheck for over 3 years. How do I manage to scrounge up the over $1000 I need for everything I’m bringing to my service, not to mention the hundreds of dollars spent on medical clearances, and the $6000 in credit card debt that I’ve acquired from paying for over a thousand dollars in repairs for my car, $2000 on oral surgery, and $3000 on a tonsillectomy while being a poor college student living from paycheck to three days after my paycheck?

Luckily, I have an amazing family who fully support me and this adventure I am going on. I wouldn’t be able to do this without my mom and brothers. My mom and my brother Ivan figured out a way they could afford to pay off my credit card debt for me. I’m working for them for the summer in exchange for a debt free standing when I leave for the Peace Corps. Thankfully, my brother Ivan and his wife Amanda, did an amazing job on their flip and were able to sell their house and acquire a little extra money to help pay off my debts. Now getting the money to pay for everything else was the main focus. In order to get that money, I really needed another job, but working 8:30-5 every weekday and living an hour away from your work doesn’t leave a lot of time for a second job. I also didn’t want my whole summer to be about work. I’m about to move to Africa for two years, after all. But I needed something. So with the connections of my other brother and sister-in-law, Nick and Jenny, I was able to find a subbing position for a paper route. Now working a paper route is one of the worst jobs ever, especially when working from 8:30-5 as well. I would get up at midnight, drive in to pick up the papers, leave after doing the inserts and checking on route changes around 2:30 am, drive the route until about 6am, drive to mom’s work and arrive around 6:30, take a nap until 8:15, work from 8:30-5 and then get home around 6 to try to sleep until midnight. It was exhausting and frustrating, but it was a little extra money and I made some pretty cool friends.

Between trying to decide what exact items I needed and how cheap I could get them, it’s been a very time-consuming and stressful process. There have been countless e-mail and text streams between my awesome brother Nick and me. “Hey, I think this sleeping bag looks better. Oh wait, actually you should go with this one.” “Wait, Nick, what about this one?” I seriously would not be able to do this without my brothers. Luckily, I am almost done with the process. I have made all of my orders but one and have gotten some pretty neat discounts for being a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer). I’ve almost made my money stretch far enough as well. I only need about a hundred dollars or so to cover any social life I may want over the summer (so no heavy drinking nights, guys). Just a couple days of donating plasma (hopefully I’m not anemic this time) and I’ll have the money I need. Now I just have to figure out how to pack all of this stuff.

The Start of a New Adventure

Beginnings are always the hardest because you don’t really know what’s to come. I’ve been racking my brain for the first thing I want to say, but each time I am hit with this question: “How can I start writing my blog when I haven’t started my adventure yet?” But in all honesty, my adventure started years ago when I first started thinking about the Peace Corps. My journey began when I was seventeen and thinking about which four year college to transfer to. I was looking at my options, Evergreen being number one, and asking myself if I wanted to take a break from school, (because I was so unsure of where I was going to come up with the money), when I stumbled across Peace Corps. Most Peace Corps programs require a bachelor’s degree, but at the time, to work in the agriculture field, you just needed an associates and at least six months work experience in agriculture. Now, coming from a two acre hobby farm, being vice president of the Students for Environmental Action Club, and thinking that I was hot shit, I thought for sure that I would be able to find a summer job and learn agriculture skills to become an agricultural volunteer. Yeah, fat chance of that one. It wasn’t until a day working on a farm, with an angry farmer who didn’t want me there, and my allergies flaring up to where I could barely see, that I realized that was not the life for me. I was not going to make it as an agriculture volunteer, but I was determined to not give up on the Peace Corp.

So I decided to continue pursuing psychology, after all, all the other Peace Corps programs required at least ten years’ experience or a bachelor’s degree. I chose The Evergreen State College (they were ranked number seven in schools to have alumni join the Peace Corps) and focused on school for a full year before thinking about the Peace Corps again. It wasn’t until I was done with my first year at Evergreen, my junior year of college, starting to think about grad school, and feeling completely burnt out that I started considering Peace Corps again. I was having an overnight with two of my best friends at the time, and we were all talking about life after Evergreen. Both of them were considering a year off and one of them in particular (*cough cough* Franny *cough cough*) kept telling me that I really should take a year off. Now I have never been one to take a substantial break in the middle of something. I just want to power through and get it done. But after that first year living on my own, working full-time, going to school full-time, losing both my grandparents in one day, trying to handle a tough living situation, and losing a credit in a class I didn’t think I deserved to lose; a year off sounded really good. Especially because the Master’s programs I was looking into were four or five year long programs. So I thought, “Well, I’ll apply both to grad school and to the Peace Corps, and then we’ll see which one I get into.” So I started to look into each of them individually.

I found over forty Graduate programs to look into, worked for months trying to whittle the list down, and then happened upon a little thing called Masters’ International. It was almost too good to be true. “I could get my Master’s degree while doing the Peace Corps?” I had never found such a happy medium in my life before. So I started looking into Psychology programs in the Masters’ International field. There were only two, one in Montana and the other in Michigan. For me, Michigan wasn’t even an option. It was too far away and I was going to be paying out the wazoo. Montana on the other hand, that was doable. I could become a part of the WGRP and get in-state tuition, it was only an 8 hour drive from home, and it wouldn’t be quite as shocking as moving to Michigan. It was like a little tiny baby step before I left everything I knew for the Peace Corps. Of course there wasn’t a guarantee that I’d get into either the Master’s Program or the Peace Corps, but as the all or nothing person I am, I decided “to hell with it” I’ll just throw all my eggs in one basket and only apply to the one program. If I don’t get in, it really is time for a break.

So I agonized over this one application for months. There was rewrite after rewrite that my amazing best friend was kind enough to give me feedback after feedback on. She and I made a goal that I would submit the application before my birthday, almost a month early, and I did. Then I agonized over my Skype interview, and then I agonized about how long I wasn’t hearing from them. This is why I will always remember the day I was sitting in the lunch room at my first grade teaching assistant job, eating my lunch, when I just happened to check my e-mail and see the news that would change my life completely: I was one of eight students selected for the Global Youth Development Master’s program at the University of Montana. This was the most exciting day of my life because I really had no idea it was coming. I, of course, had people saying that I was going to get in and that I should start planning my future, but I really had no concrete thoughts that I was going to get in. On top of that, I had a giant fear that I wasn’t ready. I was worried I was rushing myself and that I would get to Montana and fall on my ass. I was only 20, I had never lived more than a couple hours from my family, I had been surrounded by the same sorts of people my entire life, and always had a support system around me. How did I know that I could handle all of these challenges? This was the most excited I had ever been, but also the most scared I had ever been. I knew that if I wanted to succeed in the Peace Corps, I had to at least succeed in Montana where I at least still had reliable phone and internet contact with my mom.

So I finished my Peace Corps application, packed up, left the amazing friends and family I had in Washington, and moved to Montana where the first question I was asked is if I had a gun to register with the apartment. It was my first situation with an assigned roommate, my first Montana Summer, my first time trying to navigate a place I had only been once, the first time I knew absolutely no one within eight hour travel radius, and the first time I wasn’t either working, going to school, or doing both at the same time. I had a month to settle in which ended up translating to wallowing in self-pity and loneliness, doing endless online shopping, and watching every movie I had in my collection while avoiding my overly conservative, boy crazy roommate who was generally never alone. It was a rough transition and I really wasn’t prepared for it, but it was probably the best way for me to discover coping mechanisms, learn my needs, and prepare for two years of loneliness and self-pity in the Peace Corps (just kidding, I’ll only be lonely and self-pitying for the first year ;). Once school started, I was plagued with more insecurities of being so young, and not fitting in. I was worried that my lack of experience compared to everyone else would be a hindrance to my success. I was also worried that the two years of going to school with an ungraded system would have ruined me for traditional school. “Could I really do this? Or who was I kidding?” About half way through the first semester, I realized “Who was I kidding. Of course I could do this!” It wasn’t without its struggles though, especially as we played the Peace Corps waiting game.

The application is just the first part. You apply, go through an initial medical clearance, and then wait, and wait, and wait. Then you might hear that you are being considered for a country. I heard in September that I was being considered for Zambia for an English teaching position which I promptly turned down because I knew that every Peace Corps position came with teaching English and I didn’t want it to be my focus. So then I did some more waiting while they thought about my decision to turn down a position. “How entitled am I?” Then I heard I was being considered for Botswana! So there was a burst of excitement and then some more waiting and a bit more waiting. Then one of the moments that I was waiting for, I got a request for an interview! So then there was a bit more waiting. Then the day of the interview, at seven in the morning, a half hour before the interview, and after I had already gotten to the school and settled in, I got an e-mail saying that I my interviewer was sick and we’d have to reschedule. Meanwhile, all the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV’s) around me were saying how prepared I was and how I was for sure going to get in. It really didn’t feel like it after that interview was cancelled though. So I got the interview rescheduled, it ended up being with a different person, and as soon as the interview was done, I knew. I knew that I was going to Botswana with the Peace Corps. It only took three days to hear back that I had my invitation. Second best day of my life.