A Whirlwind Visit to San Francisco with Moldovan Girls

I recently returned from a week-long trip in San Francisco along with 4 Moldovan girls and their amazing mentor. This is will be the first part of a series about our recent journey to San Francisco from Moldova. There is so much to share and it would have been a really long blog post, so I’ll be sharing it in a few parts along with some follow-up interviews with some of the girls later.

For some of them this was their first time flying on an airplane, as well as their first time being in the US. So I had the opportunity to see so many things through their eyes for the first time.

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First time flying on an airplane…

Although we were all there for Technovation, it was a bit different schedule for all of us throughout the week.

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All of us at the final pitch event at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.

Moldova had a visiting team attending the Technovation World Pitch Summit they got to connect with the competition finalist teams as well as 5 other visiting teams from around the globe. The finalist teams were from USA, Canada, Mexico, Kenya, India, Kazakhstan, and Cameroon while the visiting teams included Uganda, Australia, Tunisia, and of course Moldova. The girls made new friends and learned a lot of new things about the cultural differences and similarities between them.

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Diana with some of the girls from Tunisia. (photo from Diana Marusic)

There was also an 18 year old student ambassador representing Moldova who was able to connect with 14 other student ambassadors from around the world. Their goal is to continue to develop and promote the Technovation program in their communities and gather more girls interest.

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First time flying on an airplane…

As for me, I was attending as part of the new Technovation Master Educator program along with 30 other educators from around the world. We went through a great collaborative training that helped set us up for the next 2 years of expanding Technovation within our communities. I enjoyed getting to know the other educators representing various parts of the world including Uganda, Bolivia, Mexico, Palestine, Turkey, Peru, Canada, Tunisia, Cameroon, Australia, Nigeria, Spain, India, South Africa, Rwanda, UK, Vanuatu, Cambodia, Morocco, Rep. of Georgia, Moldova and USA. I wish we would have had more time to spend together in person as it was a valuable resource to discuss similarities and differences of working with teams in our communities.

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All of the Master Educators (promoting Morocco’s eSTEM program) [photo from Ayoub Rahmouni]
It was an incredible experience. Visiting San Francisco and even California was a first for me and I LOVED it. It was an amazing opportunity as it opened the girls’ minds even further into the field of technology. They got to meet women working in Silicon Valley who shared their stories about their journey within the tech industry. They had the chance to attend hands-on workshops and to discuss their app idea with other teams and professionals in the industry.

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The girls at Yahoo discussing their app with other girls. (photo from Ana Efros)

These impressions will last a lifetime and I can see first-hand the impact it has had on them and how they will be able to take this and share it with so many other girls and their peers to inspire them in their futures as well.

I will be sharing more details over the next couple of days/weeks about this experience and the insights shared by the girls about their experience. Stay tuned, more to come soon!

A huge THANK YOU to the Technovation and Iridescent staff and all the sponsors who made this all possible in addition to the local partners Girls Go IT, Tekwill, and Sun Communications along with all the Indiegogo campaign funders who made it possible for the girls from Moldova to attend! 

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What kind of fun happened in August & September?

As I try to keep a monthly recap from my time in Moldova as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I looked back at August & September and realized what a blur it was. A full two months of fun adventures, new experiences, lots of laughter, but not without tears.

In August I shared about my friend’s visit to Moldova but as I look back now and reminisce, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have had a friend visit me here. There’s something about being able to share the tastes, smells, sounds, friendships, and daily life with someone from home — a little glimpse of understanding of the life I’ve come to know and embrace over the past year. It was a sweet gift and I am so thankful for the opportunity to share daily-life adventures and laughter together during her visit.

Then for the last two weeks of August, I traveled to a nearby village to help with a summer IT camp for girls along with 5 other Peace Corps volunteers, and a number of trainers and organizers. It was both an incredibly challenging and rewarding two weeks — where I met some amazing talented young ladies and also bonded with fellow PCVs over trying to understand our role as volunteers at this new camp.

I will be honest in sharing that once September rolled around, I found myself exhausted, burned out, and in the middle of what Peace Corps calls the “mid-service crisis”. Peace Corps tells you about this during training. The mid-service crisis is known to come around right in the middle of one’s service where you may find yourself at a low-point and questioning your decisions asking things like…

“Can I do this again for one more year?… How is this the halfway point already?! … What am I doing?… What work have I done?… What will I do this second year?… There’s not enough time left!… What am I going to do after Peace Corps?…”

I am grateful that I was not alone in this and felt supported, understood, and encouraged by some amazing friends during that dreadful “mid-service crisis”. One thing is for sure, it was a great reminder to me that you can’t have the happy “this-is-amazing” moments without the low “what-am-I-doing” points in life.  After a busy summer full of helping with trainings, implementing new ideas and projects, saying goodbyes to the departing PCV group and hello’s to the incoming trainee group, I am grateful that season has passed. But that means we’re a little more closer to our end of service next summer. (Ack!!)

In other news, in September there was a big celebration for my host nephew in honor of his baptism. As part of tradition in the Orthodox church, a baby is baptized on a date decided between the family and the priest, not during a church service. This ceremony is called a botez and it involves deep traditions and rich cultural ceremonial practices within the Orthodox religion. After the botez (baptism), there is a big celebration involving copious amounts of food and drink, too many photos taken, lots of gifts given, and endless dancing the hora (dancing in circles). This momentous event for the baptism of the child is called a cumatrie, which would best be translated to “big celebratory party”.  The cutest and best dressed little one we celebrated that day enjoyed all the attention and dancing into the wee hours of the evening. I’m pretty sure he outlasted me!

Also, in September I helped my host family at their village house with the fall harvest. From beating the seeds out of the sunflowers to collecting corn in the fields I learned a lot about how much work it takes to keep things going in the village. For example, we collected the corn from the field by hand for the pigs to have food for the winter… but sadly, with the little amount of rain we had this year the corn was about waist-high and there wasn’t much corn to collect. My host dad told me that last year they collected 3 wagon loads of corn and this year we didn’t even fill the bottom of the wagon.

Also, the month of September was spent trying to catch up and meet up with some amazing youth I have had the privilege of getting to know either recently or over the past year. These girls inspire me and I am so encouraged by their passion for learning and willingness to try new experiences.

Then lastly, I spent two days in the capital, Chisinau for a conference that brought two of our programs together for some collaboration and sharing — perfect for the Small Enterprise Development (SED) and Community & Organization Development (COD) volunteers. Even though this conference was held on the first two days of October, I’m throwing it in as part of the fun from September. I got to spend some much-needed quality time with some lovely friends during this conference… so much-needed that we didn’t get a single photo together — hooray for living in the moment. 🙂

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These are just some of the COD & SED volunteers that were left by the end of the conference to take a group photo. And of course you can’t forget our new mascot, Mihai the hedgehog in the front. #MihaiInMoldova Photo by: Mark Gilchrist

As October has already shown that it’s rapidly speeding its way toward the end of the year, I am looking forward to all that is ahead within the next couple of weeks. Coming up soon: a visit from my mom and brother, beginning a communications club at a local school, introducing more code workshops during Europe Code Week, and kicking off Technovation Challenge Moldova for 2016. Here’s to a great toamna (fall) ahead!

{Photo Friday}: Dancing in Circles

My host family recently had a celebration in honor of the baptism of my host nephew. After the baptism (botez) at the church the family gets together for the cumatria, which is the celebration party in honor of this momentous occasion. There was a lot of food, toasting, and dancing. I will be sharing more later, until then…

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There was a lot of dancing during the cumatria celebration. I’m not sure if this would be considered the hora or a different traditional dance. I learned a little bit that evening… but mostly I learned that I am not a very good hora dancer.

Photo Friday: Serious Beauty

This post continues the Photo Friday series each week as I share an image from my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova.

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I captured this photo when I went to the annual wine festival last fall. This beautiful woman was part of the kiosk/display for one of the wine businesses. I love the colors in her clothing and the serious, but relaxed look on her face.

Meet Zina and Maria – My Host-Sisters from Pre-Service Training

When I first moved to Moldova over a year ago I had the privilege of living with an amazing host family and was immediately taken in by 2 younger host sisters. They were incredibly kind and patient with me and for that I am so grateful. We bonded over animated movies like my favorites “Despicable Me” and I got to know about many others that I had never heard before. (For example, if you haven’t watched “Big Hero 6” yet, you should.)  This past year has gone too fast and I haven’t not gotten to visit them enough as I would like. Meet Zina and Maria, two incredibly smart and beautiful young girls from Moldova.

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Zina is 20 and is studying at Medical University in the Faculty of Dentistry in Chisinau. Meanwhile, Maria remains at home while she attends school in her village. Zina spends her free time studying so she can be a good doctor (I can definitely say this is true – she is a good student and studies A LOT). Maria likes to learn, when she’s not watching films (documentaries and animated movies) she is reading or studying. She is interested in science, medicine, and history and has hopes to be a surgeon or doctor some day.

What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

Maria: I read a lot, I like to embroider, and I have a lot of hobbies that include handmade things.

Zina: Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of free time, but when I am on vacation, I like playing with my sister, helping my mom in the garden, and going to the movies or theatre.

Tell us about the first time you met a Peace Corps volunteer…

Maria: The first time I met a Peace Corp volunteer was the summer of 2014, when we had a Peace Corp volunteer staying with us at home.

Zina: The first time I met a Peace Corps volunteer was a year ago. It was a great pleasure for me to meet an American citizen and to discover that she is a nice, good girl. It was a nice summer, because I improved my English skills, and, in the same time I was happy to discover a new, interesting person.

Has your perspective on Volunteering changed?

Maria: Yes, it changed a lot. Now I know what volunteers do, and now I have an open mind and soul for people  who work without money.

Zina: My perspective on volunteering is good, I think they do a good work in our country and we should help them, even with a place to stay and sleep.

Has your perspective about Americans changed?

Maria: No, I always thought that Americans are good people and I still think this.

Zina: Their perspectives are very good, too, because they have great ideas that can help in development of our country.

How have Peace Corps volunteers impacted your life?

Maria: Peace Corps volunteers changed my life, now I want to be involved in more of American projects, and Peace Corps volunteers helped me in  school and developed my English.

Zina: Peace Corps Volunteers impacted me in a good way my life, because it was a new and interesting experience in my life, which I want to repeat.

If you could say one thing to all Peace Corps volunteers what would it be?

Maria: Good Luck!

Zina: Good Luck, guys!!!

If you could say one thing to all Moldovans about volunteering what would it be?

Maria: Americans help develop Moldova, and they make good things here.

Zina: Don’t be afraid, let’s help them!

What are some of your hopes for Moldova’s future?

Maria: I hope that in Moldova we had the same schools and teachers like in America.

Zina: I want to live in a developed country, where I can develop my personality. I want to work there, and my work to be remembered.

The continuation of Easter celebrations in Moldova

The celebrations continued for me the next two days after we celebrated Easter on April 12th here in Moldova. The Monday after Easter was a holiday and most businesses were closed for the day so people could continue to celebrate the holiday with their families.

It was an amazingly beautiful day here on Monday and my host family decided to take the whole family out to their village house, which they call “the villa”. We packed up some food and I grabbed my camera and we all piled into the car for our adventure together at the villa.

The video below is a short clip from the drive out to the village… you’ll notice flat fields and a bumpy road. We were certainly not in Balti anymore.

First we had to make a stop along the way at their friend’s house, where she looks after their rabbits and pigs. So I got to see where some of the meat I have been eating comes from. We said hello to both the pigs and the rabbits (of all sizes)…

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…and then we were invited inside where she had prepared a masa for us.  She wasn’t all that pleased with the pace in which I ate my food, as she kept yelling “Sara, mânca! Sara, mânca!” (Sara. eat! Sara, eat!) Of course she poured me a bottomless cups of house wine which she also did not approve in the way I took my time in drinking it. Upon leaving, she packed me a small bag of candies and hard boiled eggs… because I apparently hadn’t eaten enough.

The celebration continues with more food and another masa! :)
The celebration continues with more food and another masa! 🙂

We drove a little bit longer to their village house which was the next village over… and as we drove through the main street to their home I fell in love with the beautiful scenery and peacefulness of it all. I can’t believe it took me so long to make a visit!

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We were greeted by this guy before entering the house – my host dad made him to keep strangers away.
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They have many flowering trees at the villa house all over the property.

I got a grand tour of their village home and the property. My host dad showed me all the fields that were theirs and what he plans to plant there. He showed me the fruit trees, walnut trees, bee hives, and where things will be planted for the year ahead.

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It takes many bees to make all that delicious honey we enjoy all year long!
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All the beehives of bees around the flowering fruit trees in one of the gardens.

I taught them how to play UNO, we sat and talked, and we prepared for our next meal together while trying to entertain my 4 month-old host-nephew.

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My host nephew enjoying being outside and giving us all a good laugh with his little laughs and sounds he makes when he smiles.
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We ate our next meal together outside since it was such a beautiful day.

I loved it. It reminded me very much of being at home since I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. It is peaceful and absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to go back again.

Then the next day I went to the office where we continued the celebrations. My coworkers had their young kids join us after lunch where I introduced an Easter egg hunt to them and we hid both plastic eggs and chocolate eggs around the office. The kids loved it and we all had a good laugh over the whole idea of it all.

The eggs the kids collected around the office (even the ones we made out of paper).
The eggs the kids collected around the office (even the ones we made out of paper).

After the egg hunt we did some team building and ate BBQ together that had been prepared behind the office outside in the yard. We talked about the differences between how Easter is celebrated in America compared to Moldova. It was a nice celebration and I understood maybe about half of what was going on in the conversation most of the time.

Our office Easter meal... I know, I know... lots of photos of food and no people. Next time, next time...
Our office Easter meal… I know, I know… lots of photos of food and no people. Next time, next time…

More celebrations to possibly come next week… it’s not over just yet. Paste blajinilor (Memorial Easter) is next weekend when people go to the cemetery with food and wine to visit with family and friends and remember those who have passed.

Classroom Notes: About Stories and Icebergs

This is part of a series, “Classroom Notes” that I will be sharing as I connect with a classroom in the U.S. through the World Wise Schools program. You can read the previous posts about this series here at CLASSROOM NOTES.

A few weeks ago I met with the 6th grade class to share and discuss the topic of cultural differences. We had an activity that I used during Peace Corps training that uses the analogy of an iceberg. When it comes to seeing and understanding cultural differences it can be quite challenging — just like an iceberg. There are things that you can see above the surface (tip of the iceberg) like facial expressions, food, and art and then there are things that you cannot see below the surface like rules of social etiquette or the concept of beauty that are found much deeper under the surface of the iceberg.

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Some of the students here in the lower left part of the screen during our Skype call.

Previously, I had found a neat online tool to illustrate this. You can find the online activity HERE.  It really helped with understanding how there are some things that are much more noticeable like how someone dresses as part of their culture, however one may not understand WHY just by looking at them, but the reason why they may dress a certain way has to do with a deeper level of understanding within their culture which is hidden below the surface of understanding.

Another fun part of our call was a video that I found within the depths of Peace Corps resources explaining different cultural gaffes from around the world. This certainly gave them a different perspective and something to think about if they ever travel abroad.

Cultural differences are just that… different! There is no right or wrong way of doing something — part of experiencing a new culture is learning about the differences and seeing things from a new perspective. There are MANY things that I just don’t understand here in Moldova but I just have to remember that those things are part of Moldova’s culture and history and I may never understand them. And they may not understand me/Americans — but that’s the unique part of being a Peace Corps volunteer; we get to share those experiences and differences with one another.