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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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!

 

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

A Journey through June

June was full of a lot of events and was just the beginning of many goodbyes. A season of change but not without making memorable memories.

This month  was the beginning of fresh fruits and the ever popular delicious cherry season!

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These cherries were from my host family’s village house.

I got to attend my first wedding where my local friend and work partner along with a returned Peace Corps Volunteer celebrated their marriage in Moldova. It was a beautiful celebration, full of traditions and great people! They looked wonderful in their traditional Moldovan clothing and the setting was absolutely beautiful!

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There was even a special RPCV (returned Peace Corps volunteer) guest that came back to visit Moldova especially for the wedding! It was great getting to spend some quality time with her and to catch up on life.

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Not long after that, a few friends and I found ourselves in fields of lavender.

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One afternoon between running errands, we stumbled upon some new, creative art in the capital city. I’ll need to keep my eyes peeled for more. Chisinau is getting creative!

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I also got the final answer on being able to extend for a third year and was finally able to share the news with family and friends!

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My host family added a new addition to our apartment. Meet my new-found crazy cat friend who goes from attacking me to loving me in a matter of 2 seconds. I’ve personally somehow come to the conclusion that his name is Mr. Whiskey.

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The farewells began in June as I along with 2 other site mates began to say “see you later” to Balti and the youth we’ve gotten to know during our 2 years. We celebrated in the park on a hot day with some ice cream and fun photos.

One evening I found myself hanging out with 2 other volunteers playing Settlers of Catan. We had a blast and I realized it has been waaaay too long since I’ve played this game.

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Our M29 Community & Organizational Development (COD) program sector had a nice evening where we all got together and took out our program manager and assistant manager for a nice dinner and time together.

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The farewells continued through the end of the month and into July as colleagues rang the bell to complete their Peace Corps service.

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Miki was the first to ring the bell from our program group!

Next… I’ll share more about the bell ringing tradition that come when volunteers successfully complete their Peace Corps service, or as we call COS (close of service).

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.

Hanging out in Fields of Lavender

The hot summer days of Moldova have defiantly arrived. This past weekend was no exception as I adventured to a lavender festival in a small village surrounded by fields of lavender. I was grateful for the opportunity to get some quality time with some friends as this was one of our last few adventures together before they all leave Moldova over the next couple of weeks and finish their Peace Corps service.

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However, the journey was not without adventure. Since our local friend offered to drive us from my site directly to the festival I was happy to join them on the journey. Unfortunately, the GPS map led us to a field road where we discovered too late that it was not ideal for cars.

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We ended up finding another car ahead of us who was on a similar adventure. By the time we reached them, my friend’s car was smoking and fluid was pouring out from the front. Thankfully the couple in the other car stopped and were kind enough to help us out. After involving various people along with some others from the village, we were eventually able to make it to the festival thanks to the nice couple who took us the rest of the way. Unfortunately, my friend’s car did not make it to the festival.

The lavender fields were breathtakingly beautiful. The dress code for the festival was to wear white, which made it fun to be able to take photos with friends in the fields.

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Even with the unfortunate car-adventure in getting there and amidst the scorching heat, we had a lovely time. I will certainly miss these ladies SO very much!

As I researched about lavender grown in Moldova, I learned that Moldova used to be one of the biggest producers of raw medicinal plants and essential oils in the Soviet Union. It’s rich fertile soil was the reason it used to be such a large producer of essential oils. Since the collapse of the USSR, Moldova is no longer such a large producer of this product. Fields of lavender are still grown today in various parts of the country, but apparently not in comparison to the amount it used to produce.

The vast lavender fields of Moldova are beautiful and calming. I can see why they host an annual festival to celebrate such beauty.