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!

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What am I doing here?

Since I have extended my Peace Corps service into a third year, I have found I often get the question “Why? What are you doing here?” and then followed up by the response “..you must really love Moldova…”

I know it may be hard to understand, but I do like it here and enjoy what I am doing. I think it makes a huge difference when you love what you are doing and find meaning and purpose in it. Has it been easy? Not at all. But what in life is?

To answer the recurring question “What are you doing?” I’ll share a little overview of what that looks like at this time.

Previously, I have written a lot about the global Technovation Challenge program. It has positively changed things for me working with various teams over the past 2 years. As I was nearing the end of my 2 years of service, it seemed to be an ideal time to make some changes within the Technovation program in Moldova to make it more sustainable. Opportunities continued to line up both locally and globally as my extension was being processed.

In addition to continuing in working with the Technovation program in Moldova, I am also working with an organization that is launching a major project located on the Technical University  of Moldova known as the Tekwill, ICT Center of Excellence.  The project is funded by USAID and the Swedish Embassy. The building is still being constructed and hopefully will be finished in the near future.

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Tekwill will focus on improving Moldova’s global competitiveness in the business and investment environment through developing technology, science, and innovation. The  Excellence Center will be an innovative space that will encourage growth, learning, and development. I’ve been helping at a consultant/advising level assisting with the development of launching their Tekwill Academy program among other activities and assisting with the marketing and branding aspects of the project.

It’s only been a little over a month so far, and I have really enjoyed working with the Tekwill team and watching the Technovation Moldova program gain strength at a local level.

 

 

Inspirational Experiences from the Technovation World Pitch Summit

Part 3: This is the third part of a series about our recent journey to San Francisco for the 2016 Technovation World Pitch Summit. The first and second parts of this series were shared earlier this week.

From Moldova we had 3 different programs going on during the Technovation World Pitch Summit. I was attending training for the new Master Educator program while another girl was attending a similar and new training but for Student Ambassadors. We met with others from around the globe and discussed how we can grow the programs in our respective countries and learn from one another. In addition, we had a group of girls from Moldova attending as a visiting team, they had won the regional pitch event and as the grand prize they advanced to the semi-final round and had the opportunity to attend the Technovation World Pitch event along with their mentor. All of this was possible thanks to local generous sponsors Girls Go IT, Sun Communications, Tekwill and the many individuals who supported the Indiegogo campaign. You can read more about their app idea here from a previous post. We’ll be sharing more in detail about all the “cool” things the girls from the visiting team had the opportunity to see and experience.

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All of us sporting the new Technovation Moldova t-shirts before departing for San Francisco.

The first part of the World Pitch Summit started with a tour of the city for the girls from the visiting team. They visited the Golden Gate Bridge, the De Young Museum, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Crookedest street. Time during which the girls had the chance to interact with all the other visiting teams and the Technovation staff.

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All of the girls and mentors between the visiting teams and finalist teams from all over the world.

The first day ended with a panel discussion at Twitter where 6 successful women from project managers to programmers and engineers shared their professional paths that got them to Twitter. Most importantly, they advised the girls on future steps to take in order to build stronger CVs.

The second day of the Conference was all about Silicon Valley and inspiration. The girls started with a trip to Intuitive Surgical, a company that designs and produces surgical robots. They got to try using a robot and to see how it is produced giving them more insights into operation processes.

The day continued with a programming workshop at Intel.

Next in line were a couple of workshops at Yahoo, where the girls got useful insights about their app’s design and accessibility.

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The girls are having their app tested and were given feedback on ways to improve it for useability

In the evening, the girls attended the World Pitch Conference where they met the finalists and had the chance to talk with them about their apps and business ideas they developed.

But the learning didn’t stop here. The following day, the girls attended 2 workshops of their own preference. They had a list of choices including a Women in Tech Panel; Enabling Voice Driven Smart Home Experiences with Amazon Alexa; How to Tell a Visual Story; Imagination in Virtual Reality; Technovation Alumni Panel; Data Science: Finding Hidden Treasures in Piles of Messy, Chaotic Data; Python and the Twitter API; and Meaningful User Journeys.

One of the girls, Sanda shared with us about one of the workshops she attended; the panel of Women in Tech. During this panel she met some amazing women whose careers were connected to technology or entrepreneurship and they gave advice and shared their stories. Some of the things she had learned and taken from this unique panel of women included “Life is a journey and every moment in life is teachable.” Also that “Failure is a part of success.”

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The conference ended with leading to the evening of the World Pitch Event that was open to the public. The girls from the visiting teams along with the finalists teams had the chance to showcase their app ideas during a table-top exhibit. The girls did an amazing job with their table-top presentation and interacting with all the people that came by to learn more about their idea.

The World Pitch Summit ended with an extraordinary breakfast at Autodesk, where besides saying goodbye to all the participants the girls had the opportunity to discover more technologies and innovations in different industries, sports, medicine, constructions, cars, physics and many more.

On the last day before leaving for Moldova the girls were able to make a quick visit to the California Academy of Sciences. The girls saw a planetarium and an aquarium for the first time. They found the experience to be very enlightening.

The girls are grateful for the opportunity to have been able to meet others in the tech industry and see places and experience things they dreamed of. They are eager to continue to learn and further develop the Technovation community in Moldova. We look forward to the year ahead as they inspire others to continue to learn and grow and look at things in a new way.

Coming up over the next couple of weeks – interviews from the girls and their mentor!

Special thanks to Ana Efros, the girls’ mentor for helping to write this post.

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!

 

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! 

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!

My bags are packed & I’m ready to go…

Where to now?
My bags are packed, and I’m ready to go!  I’m heading to the US for the first time in 2 years! But… I won’t be going home to Pennsylvania just yet…
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I have the amazing opportunity to travel to San Francisco for about a week for training for the inaugural Master Educator program with Technovation. It just so happens that the training will be happening at the 2016 World Pitch Summit. That means I’ll be in San Francisco at the same time as the girls who are participating as a visiting team to attend this global event. I’m thrilled to be able to experience this along with them!

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Also, in addition to the visiting team, a girl from Moldova was selected to participate in the first-ever student ambassador program and will be attending a similar training in San Francisco at the same time. We’ll be traveling together and she’ll be experiencing her first plane ride and probably by the end of the week she’ll be tired of my jokes.

I’m so excited for this opportunity especially for all the girls and their mentor. For most of the girls this is their first time flying on an airplane and traveling to the US. Plus, they’ll get to connect with many new people from all over the world in addition to learning all sorts of new things relating to technology.

What will the girls be doing at this event?
The girls will be participating as a visiting team, which is possible thanks to the amazing local partner sponsors: Girls Go IT, Sun Communications, and Tekwill. Also possible thanks to the many individuals near and far that made it a reality through the fundraising campaign that was launched a few months ago. As a visiting team, they get to attend the World Pitch Summit just like the 10 finalists teams except they won’t be pitching their app idea. They’ll be one of 7 visiting teams from around the world who will get to meet other inspiring girls who are interested in tech and have the opportunity to build connections with other teams and learn from one another. The girls will also get to tour tech companies in Silicon Valley and also will share their app idea during the showcase event (like a tabletop expo). In addition to this, we hope to be able to connect them with some women in the tech industry who are from Moldova as well, but those details have still yet to be worked out.

What will I be doing?
As for me, I’ll be attending a training for the new Master Educator program where I’ll get to meet other Master Educators from all over the world to connect and collaborate on ideas and ways to encourage and engage girls in the Technovation program. I’m looking forward to meeting them all and learning from them! I’ll also get to attend the World Pitch event and see the top 10 finalists teams pitch their app ideas. The results will be announced the following day, in addition to hearing from keynote speaker, Debbie Sterling, Founder and CEO of Goldieblox (if you hadn’t heard of her and this product yet, you should check it out!)

What’s for the future?
So then, what? All of this is great, super exciting and full of all sorts of connecting and learning for all of us. The girls from the visiting team will take away ideas on how to improve their app idea and will be part of the 2017 edition of Technovation in Moldova. Then, both the student ambassador and I will take from the training’s an action plan for the year ahead for Moldova along with lots of ideas from others on what has worked or not worked for them in their communities. We’ll work on implementing them starting in the fall. I’ll share more about the work I’ll be doing in the next year ahead another time, but as you can see from this, Technovation Challenge will still be a part it. 🙂

I’ll share more once we return from San Francisco!