Celebrating with balloons, bubbles, and babies

During my 2 years of Peace Corps service in Balti, I lived with a host family during that whole time. I got to know them pretty well to the point that it feels as though I have become part of the family. Which sometimes is hard to wrap my head around because our common language is Romanian since they don’t speak English. I recently visited them for a weekend  to celebrate my host nephew’s 2nd birthday. I’ve had the privilege to see this little guy grow up before my eyes.


It was a full weekend of celebrating — I helped prepare some traditional foods for the occasion.


And then on Sunday, there was a big party at a local children’s restaurant complete with a play-area, bright colors, and a kid-friendly atmosphere (and screaming children). My host nephew was beyond himself happy with all the fun surrounding him.


Mickey and Minnie also showed up for the special occasion complete with games and activities for the kids.


My favorite part of the celebration was when Mickey pulled out the bubbles and the kids and even the adults were mesmerized by the human sized ones.


It certainly captured the attention of my host nephew…


The table was generously spread out full of food and drinks for all the guests.


Then since the little guy loves cars, the afternoon was wrapped up with a car-themed cake and some random life-sized characters.


Happy birthday, little guy!

Transitions into a third year of Peace Corps service

I’ve taken a bit of an unintended break from writing recently. I didn’t realize how much of an adjustment it would be to transition into a 3rd year, new site, new home, and new schedule.  I’m really glad that I extended for a 3rd year, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it.

When I returned from a month of home leave at the end of August I found things to be different. The cohort of volunteers I had arrived with in 2014 were no longer here and I could surely feel their absence. I was also in the midst of changing sites from Balti, the 2nd largest city, to Chisinau, the largest city and capital of Moldova. But, at the time, I still hadn’t found a place to live yet.

A great illustration of how I was feeling during these transitions — the sidewalks are currently being renovated and causing all kids of chaos along the streets.

Finding a place to live took about 2 weeks of living out of a bag I carried around with me from place to place. I stayed with various friends and my host family from training all while on the verge of tears. Thankfully, things eventually came together and I was able to look at a place that had previously been rented out by Peace Corps volunteers years ago. Within a few hours, an agreement was made and I was able to move in 2 days later.

When it came to moving into the new place, it took a bit of patience and determination to get everything moved so it would all be in one place. Most of my belongings were still located at my host family’s apartment in Balti, and then I still had a large piece of luggage at my training host family’s place located 30 minutes from Chisinau, and then a few bags at the Peace Corps office. I really don’t know how I have accumulated so much stuff in such a short amount of time. Thanks to my friend, she found someone who would drive me the 2 hour drive from Balti to Chisinau with all of my bags and even pick up the large piece of luggage along the way. The thing was that the driver only spoke Russian. We made it work though, about half of the trip we sat in silence until we figured out we could communicate in a piecemeal of Romanian, Russian, and English. Highly entertaining with lots of laughs involved. After I finally arrived to my new “home” in Chisinau, I had another hurdle as my landlady speaks Russian so our communication is typically limited to numbers, dates, and times. Thankfully a friend came over to help translate things as she explained how EVERYTHING worked in the apartment, including the old motorized clothes-washing apparatus (there will be more on this another time). After a quick walk back and forth from the Peace Corps office to pick up the last of the items to move, I was all settled in by midnight. I had moved all my stuff from one city to another (including 3 different locations), made dinner, and unpacked it all within 10 hours. Not too bad.

Most apartments come furnished here in Moldova, so thankfully I didn’t have to move furniture or need to scavenge for some. It’s still taking some time to get settled in and feeling like it’s ‘home’. Adventures have continued to unfold from trying to get internet installed to meeting my neighbor next door. All scenarios that have me laughing at myself from the randomness mostly due to misunderstandings. Sigh.

More to come soon!

What do 30 days of special leave look like? 

Earlier this summer I had shared about 30 things I wanted to do while at home during my special home leave with Peace Corps in August. I spent a good amount of my time going through that list while trying to connect with family and friends. I pretty much was able to get through most if not all of the things my list! I hadn’t been home at all during my 2 years of service with Peace Corps so this was a sweet time that I had anxiously been waiting for.


I had enjoyed it so much that I hadn’t taken as many photos as I possibly could have, and I’m ok with that. It means I was in the moment enjoying the food, surroundings, and people around me.


I loved seeing so many friends and family I hadn’t seen in over 2 years! Being back home in the State College  area was comforting, refreshing, and rejuvenating.  I answered a variety of questions from “what is your favorite food in Moldova?” to “how is your heart?”
… I enjoyed foods I’ve missed…
…I got to hold little ones who were not around when I left 2 years ago…
…I soaked in the beautiful nature as I walked through parks and around the Penn State campus…
…I enjoyed learning how to play Pokemon Go thanks to some enthusiastic friends…
30 days of special leave looks like random adventures… reconnecting with people…
sharing stories… laughing… reminiscing… and embracing all the hugs as humanly possible! Now onward to year 3 with Peace Corps in Moldova! I’m looking forward to the year ahead!

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{Photo Friday}: My Valentine’s Day 2016

This past Valentine’s day I found myself on a random quick trip to visit some exotic animals. This is where I met these ostriches. This wins the most random Valentine’s day ever. Who knew there were ostriches in Moldova?! I learn something new… everyday. I love this place.

The ostriches of Moldova. 

My 3 favorite (& funny) phrases in Romanian

I’ve been in Moldova for around 21 months… and I still have so much to learn about speaking and reading Romanian. I can get by though,  as some days are better than others. These 3 phrases are my favorites, and often bring lots of laughter when I use them, especially with my host family.

“Castravete mort.”

Disclaimer: this is one that I accidentally created… It should have been “Castravete murat” which translates to “picked cucumber”… but I said “dead cucumber”. We now refer to pickles in my host family home as “dead cucumbers/castravete mort”.

It’s a baby cucumber! Photo was taken during a visit to a farm in the north of Moldova.

“Eu sunt plin.” 

Again, this is one that I had “created”, but this time it’s because we use this phrase in English. We really do have some interesting phrases that are confusing to non-native English speakers. But anyway, this phrase translates to “I am full”.  I use this phrase when my host mom offers me more food, “no thank you, I am full…” in which case she’ll bursts into laughter. Apparently it doesn’t quite translate well and doesn’t make any sense. I have now taught them how to say it in English and I still use it in Romanian… and it continues to bring lots of laughs each time.

The serving sizes I am given to eat are bigger than what I am used to… I can eat a lot now.

“Trage un poi de somn.”

This one translates to “having a chicken sleep” or “having a baby chicken nap”. I love using it with my host family, which as you can see from this theme, it brings lots of laughter. First time I used this phrase was early on in my service and they were shocked that I knew it — many thanks to pre-service language training! 😉

One of the many chickens from my host family’s friend’s home.



Traveling Adventures in Europe with Family

My mom and brother visited me in Moldova a few weeks ago. After an amazing time together in Moldova we embarked on an adventure that I don’t think we’ll ever forget. This was our first time traveling internationally together as a family (minus my father who was unable to make it).

I met my mom and brother at the airport — it had been about a year and a half since we last saw one another.

My mom made all the plans where we started out in Venice, Italy for a day and a half. We wandered the streets, got lost a few times, tried some new tasty Italian foods, toured the city by water bus, and visited some fun sites. I’m looking forward to going back and exploring this city a little more again soon.

The view of St. Marks Square at sunrise. How many sites can you name in this photo?

After our adventure in Venice, we boarded a cruise for some quality family time at sea. Sunrises and sunsets from the balcony, playing shuffleboard with new friends, reading and relaxing in the open sea air, and enjoying the random activities and entertainment provided. It was a fun time.  

Our first stop for a day-trip was on the island of Malta where we did a quick excursion of seeing the “best of” all things Malta. I had been there previously last winter, where I had fallen in love with the sea and was eager to visit again since I enjoyed it so much. I’m glad that my mom and brother at least got a chance to see and experience it since I raved so much about it last Christmas.

Our next stop took us to the island of Palma Mallorca for a quick tour around the center city and a few historic sites.

The next day we ended our cruise along the Mediterranean sea in Barcelona where we spent a day and a half and soaked up the last of our adventures in Europe together.

We checked out a few of the popular sites of Barcelona and on the last day we participated in a fun cooking class where we learned how to make an authentic 4-course Spanish meal. It was complete with a visit to the famous Boqueria market where we went with the chef to pick up fresh ingredients and sample some delicacies of the area. This last part was my most favorite part of the trip — quality time with my mom and brother in a fun, creative, and tasty atmosphere!

At the Boqueria Market with the chef before the cooking class…

Lots of laughs during the cooking class! Not sure if this is before or after all the tears from mom cutting up the onions…

After our time together I made my way back home to Moldova while my mom and brother made their way back home to PA. I realized on this return flight at how normal it felt for me to travel back to Moldova and didn’t think twice of referring to it as ‘home’.

Flying home from Barcelona.

Girls Go IT in Moldova

What happens when you bring about 40 young girls ages 16-20 and put them in a room with a number of talented local IT professionals & trainers together for two weeks to learn about IT?


The last two weeks were full of a mix of multiple languages; Romanian, English, Russian, and coding. These girls learned how to build websites through different coding languages using Python, HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, Flask, in addition to other components like responsive design and social media marketing. This is the first year for the #GirlsGoIT summer camp with 2 goals; one being to introduce coding and critical thinking skills to young girls ages 16-20 and the other to integrate various social groups together in the same camp. The girls were divided up into 6 teams and worked together to build a website to solve a problem in their communities.  It had been a very intense schedule where the girls worked long days on their projects, sometimes 12-14 hours a day.

Each team came up with names for their groups before starting their projects… Meet team Astrum Nigrum.
The first couple of days of #GirlsGoIT camp were rainy and cold. Layers of clothing and lots of warm tea and coffee were necessary since the venue at Bahmut Club was a beautiful indoors-part-outdoors space.

I asked a few girls to share with me “What did you like most about the #GirlsGoIT summer camp?”

“Girls Go IT camp gave us the opportunity to meet awesome people, to learn about HTML, CSS, bootstrap, flask, and nevertheless, we created a site based on our new knowledge!”  – Carolina

Carolina & Madalina working on their group project.

“People! People are amazing here. And it was funny, sometimes hard, but nevertheless, I liked it here.” – Valeria

Valeria, in the middle with some of her new friends she met at Girls Go IT camp.
Valeria, in the middle with some of her new friends she met at Girls Go IT camp.
Veronica, who was usually all smiles when I saw her each day.

“These two weeks were the most beautiful weeks of this summer. Here I met the most wonderful, beautiful and amazing people ever.” – Veronica

The trainers kept the sessions interesting with humor and jokes. Sergiu with the camp mascot watching over his shoulder.
Code that the girls were working on to build their sites for their group projects.
Hard at work coding away at various points throughout the week.
The girls were hard at work on their projects and coding away all throughout the week.
The girls and trainers working hard during one of the sessions.
One of the days during the 2-week camp we all split up into smaller groups for some field trips to visit IT-related companies. I went with a group to visit Moldcell where the girls got a little tour of the facility and got to meet the marketing and IT departments. I think they really enjoyed seeing real-life experiences and seeing people in their working environment.
A Moldovan holiday, Independence day (24 years)  ended up on one of the days while we were at the camp. To celebrate, we planned a surprise scavenger hunt for everyone in the evening. They were given riddles/puzzles to find their next location to find their next clue — can you figure out what this one was? (hint: remember we were at an IT camp)
During the scavenger hunt there were various “detours” given to the teams to take photos or do random things. Vlad was ambushed by a group hug from another team. Lots of laughter was heard throughout the camp that evening as teams dashed around trying to find the hidden clues.
Team “Electrons” (the trainers and camp staff) tried to fit the whole team into the outdoor BBQ grill during one of the photo detours trying to take a group #selfie in a small space.
On the last full day of the camp the girls presented their websites. Shortly after this, they deployed their sites online. Lots of cheering ensued.
On the last full day of the camp the girls presented their websites. Shortly after this, they deployed their sites online. Lots of cheering ensued.

On the last night of the Girls Go IT summer camp, our lovely hosts at the Bahmut  Club made a delicious meal and pulled out some fun surprises. We celebrated the end of the camp and their deployment of their sites with cake, paper lanterns, and a huge bonfire.

Small groups of 2-3 lit paper lanterns all at once celebrating the end of the camp.


The biggest bonfire I have seen was lit and we all gathered to reflect upon the past 2 weeks of summer camp.

A little cake-face-smashing happened somehow in the evening as well.

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Celebrind lansarea site-ului! #GirlsGoIT

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And these ladies… words cannot explain how grateful I am to have served and worked alongside each of them these past two weeks and the “new” memories and experiences we shared during this time. As fellow Peace Corps Volunteers from the same year and program (yay M29 COD!) I am so glad we are here together in Moldova.


So to answer the question posed at the beginning of this post… “What happens when you bring about 40 young girls ages 16-20 and put them in a room with a number of talented local IT professionals & trainers together for two weeks to learn about IT?”

It becomes a room full of inspiration, hard work, determination, tears, learning, laughter and best of all… new friendships.

So thankful to meet all these inspiring ladies, trainers, mentors, and camp organizers at the first #GirlsGoIT summer camp.