Hey, 2017… an overdue update! [Jan-Feb-March]

Low and behold, this 2017 new year and my third year with Peace Corps has been quickly surpassing my ability to keep up. Here it is already April and so much has happened over the past three months. In order not to ramble too much, I’ve compiled a list of 10 things that have happened since the beginning of the year…

10. I made it through another Eastern European winter. It was cold. There were a few “real feel” days that made me want to hibernate for the rest of the winter. I’m glad we’re on the other side and full swing into spring now.

9. The 4th edition of Technovation Moldova was officially launched in January.

8. I’ve been working with two Technovation teams, one junior team of girls and one senior team of girls outside of the city. Plus, one group of 10-year-old boys who have been coming to the library during one of the weekly meetings so that they can learn about Technovation too.

7. I had the great opportunity to take part in the first edition of the “What is an American?” series as a moderator with the local Fulbright crew and English Language Fellow. It was fun to hear from each of their perspectives and to see this series begin.

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6. I did a presentation/workshop for some local youth about mobile apps and using AppInventor. Unfortunately, due to technology issues and a few other factors, it didn’t go all that well. Lessons learned on my part.

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5. I traveled to Kiev, Ukraine to meet with the national Technovation organizing team there as they have been preparing for launching their first season this year. I was thankfully able to travel with some friends for part of it as they were there for some work related things as well.

4. In the middle of March, we celebrated the Grand Opening of Tekwill! This is one of the projects I have been working on in my third year of Peace Corps. I will be sharing more in depth about Tekwill in the near future (stay tuned).

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3. I try to make it to Balti about once a month. It’s been great being able to visit my host family from my first two years at site and to spend some time with them and get to hang out and laugh with this guy (included in the photo).  It’s hard to believe I’ve watched him grow from the time he was born.

 

 

2. At the end of March, the Moldova ICT Summit was held at Tekwill which included a full day of tech-related speakers about the ICT industry in Moldova and beyond.

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1. I’ve been getting to know lots of amazing people. It has been fabulous to get to know so many wonderful people over the past couple of months either through the startup & tech community or through different programs. It has been such a blessing to be able to spend quality time with so many of them in a variety of ways.

That about sums up the past three months in a nutshell. More to come… soon!

Home for the Holidays

I made a sneaky trip home to Pennsylvania to surprise my family and some friends during this holidays season. I decided back when I had been home in August that I would try to make it home for the holidays this year. Many thanks to my amazing brother, we were able to make it possible.

It’s been great to be able to catch up face-to-face with family and spend some quality time together. I’m thankful for the time to be able to come home and fully enjoy this season since it’s been a few years .

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I was also able to make a few surprise appearances for some friends too since very few people knew.

I even made a familiar megabus quick trip to Harrisburg to surprise my college roommate. I’m a fan of the megabus and think nothing now of a 2 hour trip with comfortable seating, a bathroom on board, and free wifi. I’ll take this public transport over the public transport in Moldova any day.

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Thanks to the ninja-planning skills of my friend’s sister, we were able to spend some short, but great quality time together pampering ourselves and catching up on life. Texting every couple of days on what’s going on is great, but being able to catch up in person is much, much better. I was also able to meet up with two friends I hadn’t seen since I had left in 2013. I feel so full of happiness since I’ve been able to visit with all of these friends although for a short time, but incredibly sweet.

It’s been a good, low-key time of being home and fully enjoying being able to spend it with loved ones. I’m thankful for last minute Starbucks dates, baking with mom, playing board games, and puppy snuggles.

Next up, bringing in the 2017 new year this weekend with friends before making my way back to Moldova.

Celebrating another year…

Another year older and hopefully another year wiser. I recently celebrated my 34th birthday in Moldova this month. This being my 3rd time to celebrate while living in Moldova. This year I kept it low-key and more to myself. However, it certainly exceeded my expectations.

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Lots of flowers from dear friends here in Moldova.

I had been hoping to get away the weekend before my birthday and had the opportunity to take an overnight trip to a nearby city in Romania right over the border. It worked out amazingly well to meet up with some friends who were already there. We got to see the holiday lights and Christmas market in the center along with the recently renovated Palace and of course the popular large shopping mall that is one of the better shopping malls I have been to.

On my actual birthday, I was celebrated well by my work colleagues and dear friends. I made cupcakes for my office, of course complete with sprinkles. Started the day with sprinkles and ended the day with bubbles (champagne toast for all).

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And ate a lot of cake! My office brought in 2 cakes and then later in the evening there was more cake too! It was most certainly a sweet day!

Since my birthday fell on a Tuesday, I had celebrated in the evening with a group of friends and people that I typically see on a weekly basis for English Conversation at a local friends’ restaurant/bar. It was fun to celebrate with such an international crew.

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It was a great day and I felt well celebrated leading up to and even afterward by so many near and far. I also took some time to reflect a bit in order to answer the annual “birthday questions”

  1. What are some of your highlights from this past year? 
  2. What are you looking forward to this year? 

In honor of turning 34, I picked 4 highlights from this past year:

  1. Going home for home leave in August
  2. Traveling to San Francisco for the Technovation Master Educator program training
  3. Extending my Peace Corps service for a 3rd year
  4. Traveling to Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Nice, Rome, Prague, and Istanbul with various friends

As for what I am looking forward to in the year ahead:

  1. Traveling more!
  2. Determining next steps that answer the ever so popular question: “what are you doing after Peace Corps?”
  3. Seeing the projects I’m working on in Moldova continue to develop and hopefully flourish
  4. Continue to develop deep friendships with new and old friends near and far

Cheers to another year ahead! I’m hopeful for new adventures, much laughter, an abundance of love, and to see more bright colorful sunrises & sunsets. xoxo

New Thanksgiving traditions served with a side of deep fried turkey

This has been my third Thanksgiving away from my Central Pennsylvania family and friends at home. This year especially has felt a little different. It’s made me realize how much I appreciate such a random mix of a community that surrounds me here in this moment at this time in my life. 

On thanksgiving day, since most of us had to work as it was a normal business day, a few of us got together and quite possibly started a new tradition in celebrating this holiday from abroad. We gathered together for wine and cheese and great conversation. That time with these ladies was exactly what I needed at the time as we were all missing family and friends from home and could laugh and share stories as our paths intersected here in Moldova.

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Then on Saturday, I spent most of the day prepping food items that I had agreed to make. I spent most of the day in the kitchen as I multi-tasked making two types of sweet potatoes, deviled eggs, and a chocolate peanut butter meltaway cake. 

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I tried making this cake in two layers, which I do not recommend. The chocolate melted right off and down the sides. Hence, why it’s probably called a ‘meltaway’ cake. (no photos of the other foods though)

After prepping the foods, I managed to organize them complexly in a way to transport (walk) them to my friends’ place that is about 10 or so minutes away. I felt like it was a moment worthy of celebration since I successfully was able to get them there without dropping or breaking anything. I wish I had a photo to share, but no such luck. It was no small feat. How else does one walk a two-layer melting cake along with other food items through the city? I think I should have been an engineer… 

The guys were busy preparing the turkey in thefryer when I arrived. They had quite the setup arranged. Not to be taken lightly as we spent the night before watching videos on “how NOT to fry a turkey”. This one is worthy of a share as we watched it multiple times and the song was still in my head the next day (and even now since I’m thinking about it).

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There were between 15-20 people that were present for this thanksgiving feast. Quite the mix of expats and Moldovans. It was a great group to celebrate with and the food was delicious and there was plenty of it left over by the end of the evening.

Although I thought I would be home by this time celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, I am so grateful that this is how I was able to celebrate this year.  Being surrounded by this new community of old and new friends as Moldova intersects us together in a common thread.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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 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! 

Ringing of the Bell & Farewells

One of the traditions that Peace Corps holds is when a volunteer successfully completes his/her service they get to ring “the bell”.

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COS stands for Close of Service. The bell we have in Moldova is displayed all year round  at the front door of the Peace Corps office and serves as a reminder as we enter and exit the office.

Ironically, in Moldova it is tradition for the school year to start and end with a ringing of the bell. The ceremonies are even translate to “First Bell” which starts the school year and “Last Bell” which finishes the school year. I like that this tradition seems to parallel with our Peace Corps tradition as we ring the “last bell” which symbolizes the completion of our time as volunteers in Moldova.

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From a “First Bell” ceremony at one of the local schools in Moldova, a young girl in the first grade rings the bell while being carried on the shoulders of a senior boy.

I’ve had the honor to see a few of my colleagues and friends ring the bell recently. It was a nice tradition to be part of especially after knowing some of the challenges and hardships that some of them had been through.

Usually a few words are said by staff and friends, and then the volunteer shares a bit with those who are gathered to celebrate this momentous occasion.

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Many gathered when Ellen and Olivia rang the bell and some shared stories, thanks, and encouragement at this time

My friend, Miki was the first one of our program group to leave and ring the bell in completion of her service. Although, I’m sad to see her leave I’m thrilled for all that is ahead of her as she returns to the US.

Next within our program group, Olivia and Ellen rang the bell and departed Moldova soon after to head home to the US. I will surely miss working with them as I’ve had the privilege to work with both of them on separate projects. It’s going to be strange not having them around and in the same timezone. I’m going to miss them terribly.

The latest and largest bell ringing I had the opportunity to attend was with all of these newly appointed RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).

One of my site mates, Jeff even dressed in a traditional Moldovan shirt for the occasion.

Each day as my friends and colleagues “ring the bell” and depart Moldova it reminds me of the transition we all are currently facing and how short the time frame of 2 years is.

Only 400+ some days left until I too get to ring the bell to COS! Here’s to all that is ahead as we embrace “now” and beyond! xoxo