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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?”
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… I enjoyed foods I’ve missed…
…I got to hold little ones who were not around when I left 2 years ago…
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…I soaked in the beautiful nature as I walked through parks and around the Penn State campus…
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…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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A joy-filled July

This past month of July has been quite full of travels and transitions.

On the 4th of July I celebrated the holiday with my host family by making burgers. I had to get creative as it was too hot to use the oven, so I made them on the stovetop. I got the nod of approval, even with the improvisation.

The new Peace Corps trainees finished up their second month of training in July and I got to meet many of them during various trainings I implemented and panels I participated in.


I said more goodbyes to PCV friends as they rang the bell to finish their 2 years of service.


There was a send off party hosted by UN Women for the girls who attended the Technovation World Pitch Summit in San Francisco before they left.


Then there was the quick trip to San Francisco for the Technovation training for the new Master Educator program training during the World pitch summit.


When I returned to Moldova, I had 2 weeks to say more goodbyes to volunteers, do a few more trainings, and to pack up all my stuff from my host family’s home. But before all the “packing-up-my-life” chaos began I went to the village house with my host family to relax and take a break before things got too crazy.


It took me about 2-3 days to go through everything from the past 2 years and to prepare it for the move to the capital city. Plus I had to prepare my bag for going home as well. It’s amazing to see how easy it is to accumulate so much stuff in a short amount of time.


On my final evening in Balti with my host family we had a little celebration with some of my favorite foods and my host dad pulled out the accordion and sang a song about me leaving.


My heart is full as I am incredibly grateful for the past 2 years with my host family in Balti. We experienced a lot of ups and downs and life as it is…full of messiness and complicated situations. We’ve seen one another at our best and worst and I wouldn’t trade them. They’ve taught me a lot about life and have become some of my biggest encouragers and part of my support system here in Moldova. My Peace Corps service would not be the same without them.

I’ve left for special home leave where I’ll be gone for 30 days to spend time with family and friends in PA. You won’t be hearing from me much in August as I’ll be taking a needed break. I’ll be returning to Moldova in September where I will continue my Peace Corps service for a 3rd year but with a new primary organization and location. I’ll share more then, but until then enjoy the rest of your summer!

La revedere!

Exploring San Francisco through a different perspective

Part 2: This is the second part of a series about our recent journey to San Francisco for the Technovation World Pitch Summit. The previous and first part was shared earlier this week. Now we’ll get into details of exploring San Francisco through the perspective of the Moldovan girls during their free time before and after the Summit.

Since the girls had a little free time they got to meet some returned Peace Corps volunteers who had previously served in Moldova. They graciously took them around the city for a tour and had them try some different foods than they’re used to.

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Dinner with some returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) from Moldova. Which kind of pizza did the girls like better, NY Style pizza or Chicago Style Pizza?

A ride through San Francisco on the cable car was a must-do and fun highlight thanks to the wonderful RPCV guides…

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Photo from the cable car of another cable car and the Bay. Photo by Ana Efros

The girls visited the beach, which for some of them it was the very first time seeing the ocean (!)…

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Technovation Moldova goes to the beach along the Pacific ocean. Photo by Ana Efros

It was a beautiful day to explore the beautiful parks that San Francisco has to offer…

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The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Photo by Ana Efros

There was a lot of walking throughout the city as the fog rolled in at various points of the day and evening…

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The view from one of the hills in the city with the fog rolling in. Photo by Ana Efros

On our departure day we had some time before needing to go to the airport to start our return trip home to Moldova, so we visited the California Academy of Sciences. The girls were amazed as it was their first time seeing such a place. It included a planetarium, aquarium, rain forest, and interactive exhibits which they thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great way to end the journey as they explored the exhibits.

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Being awed by the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences.

They even had an opportunity to meet a Moldovan woman who lives near San Francisco who heard they were visiting and connected with them right before leaving for the airport.

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Connecting in San Francisco and being able to speak Romanian.

It was an amazingly incredible experience to see so many things through the girls’ perspectives – many firsts, thoughtful insights, and shifts in understanding. They saw new things, tasted new foods, experienced new ways of transport, and met new people.

This would not have been possible without the many partners, organizations, businesses, individuals, and RPCVs who made this happen especially Girls Go IT, Sun Communications, Tekwill and the Technovation organizing core team from Moldova. Also, of course thanks to the Technovation team for coordinating all the details and making the World Pitch Summit an amazing educational and inspirational event for all!

In the next post we will share more about the fascinating things and opportunities the girls had the chance to participate in and experience at the Technovation World Pitch Summit. It’s pretty interesting, so don’t miss it!

 

Impressions from my short visit to the US after 2 years

I have SO much to share from my latest journey to the US. I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco for about a week to participate in a new educator program with Technovation. I also had a number of young Moldovan girls traveling with me as well since they were there for similar events but for different trainings.

I will be sharing much more about these various aspects of the trip soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of my first impressions after not being in the US for 2 years. I’m currently back in Moldova now, but am writing this at a crazy hour since I’m not tired thanks to the 10 hour time change and jet-lag.

Here’s some of my impressions of changes and things that really stood out to me upon my short return to US soil (in no particular order):

 1. I heard English everywhere! I often found myself startled as I could understand pretty much all conversations around me EVERYWHERE. On the street, in public transport, and on the TV and radio. It was refreshing, but also a noticeable abrupt change for me.

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I liked the little specialized shops at the Ferry Building Marketplace.

2. The US flag was everywhere! I don’t know if this is something that was like this before or if it’s a recent change (or just me), but it seemed like the US flag was every where I turned. The times I just caught myself staring was when I would see a number of them clustered together in a parking lot of a business. It may have been a bit of shock of not actually realizing where I really was until I saw the flags waving in the wind. Who knows… but this one caught me by surprise.

3. Uber is amazing! When I had left for Moldova, Uber was something that was just starting to take off in big cities. I used it for the first time in San Francisco and found it to be my preferred way to travel when it was difficult to connect between the places I needed to get to and from. It was easy, didn’t take long for a car to show up and sometimes was cheaper and quicker to transport a group of us from location to another. Every time I used it I wanted to hug each driver (but I didn’t), they were so helpful and nice and plus I didn’t have to deal with cash. Thanks, Uber.

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I was able to save even more by taking an UberPool, which means you share the car with someone else who is going to the same area. This had to have been one of the cleanest and best smelling cars I have been in a long time, or ever.

4. Pokemon Go? The news seemed to hit about this new phenomenon the same week we were in San Francisco. I saw A LOT of people using it while walking along the sidewalks. I still don’t know what I think about it, but it was really strange for me to see so many people using their phones as guides along the streets of San Francisco. Pikachu, I see you?

5. The Peace Corps volunteer network is amazing! This was a constant theme through our whole trip. From a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) from Moldova taking the girls on a tour throughout the city on their free day; being able to stay and visit with former RPCV site mates from Moldova; to meeting up for dinner with a few other RPCVs from Moldova along with a RPCV friend I went to University with; to connecting with a Moldovan woman who had married an RPCV who heard the girls would be in town… and then running into currently serving volunteers from Moldova at the airport! It’s a small world after all. 🙂  [not all RPCVs are pictured below]

I’m grateful we made it back to Moldova with smooth travels and am glad to be back to wrap up a few things before heading home to Pennsylvania for home leave soon. I still have yet to find a place to live in my new site, in addition to doing a few more trainings with the new volunteers, and one last visit to my host family’s village house before summer ends. I’ll be back on a plane in less than two weeks experiencing jet-lag once again, but it will be worth it all.

More to come soon!

Top 30 Things To Do… In 30 Days!

Today marks 30 days until I will be home for special home leave for a month! I will get to spend quality time with friends and family before I return to complete a 3rd year with Peace Corps in Moldova. In honor of this occasion, I have made a list of the top 30 things I want to do while I am home for 30 days.

Naturally, the #1 thing I want to do while I am home is to spend time with loved ones. That goes without listing it in this list. However, if you’re not from the State College, PA area, a lot of these things may not make much sense to you.

So here goes, the top 30 things (in no particular order) that I want to do while I am back home in Central PA for a month… who wants to join me!?

  1. Attend a Calvary service (preferably more than once)
  2. Visit Harvest Fields during sunset or sunrise
  3. Make waffles and eat them with friends!
  4. Eat at all the local restaurants I miss (yes, there is a list)
  5. Visit the crew at the Central PA Visitors Center (where I used to work)
  6. Get my drivers license renewed
  7. Go to the Arboretum at Penn State and play in the new children’s garden
  8. Visit one of the many local farmer’s markets
  9. Eat ice cream from the PSU Creamery
  10. Walk around downtown State College and drink bubble tea
  11. Start running again
  12. Game night at a friends house
  13. Go for a hike at Mt. Nittany or Shingletown
  14. Get a haircut (Recommendations? My favorite hair stylist is booked already)
  15. Have a cookout/BBQ with friends and/or family
  16. Roadtrip!
  17. Share Moldovan wine with local cheese with friends and/or family
  18. Journal and do some writing while at a local coffee shop
  19. Listen to live music
  20. Sit around a campfire with friends and/or family
  21. Attend a local community event
  22. Do some shopping
  23. Read while enjoying the outdoors (even better if in a porch swing or in a hammock)
  24. Go on a picnic at the University duck pond
  25. Surprise someone (or multiple people)
  26. Eat ice cream from Meyer Dairy
  27. Take a lot of photos
  28. Run errands with a friend or two
  29. Play outside in the rain
  30. Prepare Moldovan food and share the culture with friends and family

I’m anxious to see how many of these things can be accomplished while visiting with family and friends. Until then, I have a bit of a whirlwind month of July ahead. More to come on that soon!

My Peace Corps Service in 1 Minute

Last week I had received an incredibly sweet “thank you” video from one of the students I’ve had the opportunity to work with in Technovation Challenge my first year. It’s worth sharing as the video captures a bit of an overall glimpse of my Peace Corps service from the perspective of a student here in Moldova all in one minute. I got a little emotional after watching it. Check it out!

I’ll be leaving my site, the place I have called home for 2 years in about a month. I’ve been saying farewells and see-you-later’s to a lot of the youth, organizations, and schools I’ve gotten to know over this time. I won’t be going too far in the year ahead since I’m extending for one more year and I hope to be able to visit a few times. However, I know one thing is for sure — I am definitely going to miss this place and the people who have made me feel welcome here.