Officially an RPCV

After three years of Peace Corps service in Moldova, I’m overjoyed that I am now able to join many others in the returned Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV) community. The last month of my service was full of highs and lows and bittersweet feelings. I am sure that I will still be reflecting on the past three years for a long while, fondly remembering great memories and laughing at funny and awkward stories while continuing to learn more about myself.

July was a month full of saying farewells, see you laters, and anticipating what the future holds for so many people I have gotten to know over this short (or long depending who you ask) amount of time. I hope that I will have the opportunity to visit Moldova and my host families and friends in the near future, but we will see how things unfold and what life holds. So many of them are wanting to leave Moldova to work or study abroad for the chance at better opportunities for their future.

Before leaving, I had the chance to meet up with so many great people to say farewell/see you later…

 

On Friday, July 28 I finished my Peace Corps Service by “ringing the bell” which symbolically represents the close of one’s service. Or as we call it, COS (close of service) with all the fancy acronyms we use in Peace Corps.

 

It didn’t feel real as I was also trying to complete all the final tasks and paperwork needed that same day and I still had a few days left to move out of my apartment and say some more goodbyes/see you laters before leaving and officially finishing my service on Monday, July 31.

Later the same day I rang the bell, the organization I have been working with this past year, Tekwill hosted a sweet goodbye party at the office. We had a nice evening of connecting and enjoying some traditional food and local wine as we were able to squeeze in some photos to document the memories and friendships.

 

In the last blog update, I had stated that I wasn’t going to travel home for a long while since I would be studying in Sweden for a Master’s program beginning in August. However, I decided last minute to travel home for a whirlwind quick 2-week visit. It was a wonderful time to be home, gather hugs from family and friends, and to have a chance to take a much-needed breather before heading into the next adventure.

We’ll see if I’ll be able to keep up with the blog and share updates as I begin this new chapter.

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My Last 30 Days in Peace Corps

Yes, it’s true, I have 30 days left in my Peace Corps service in Moldova. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around winding things down. By the time I finish my Peace Corps service in Moldova I will have been in the country for a little over 3 years. That means a total of 39 months or break it down further to 1,154 days.

I am happy to share that I will officially finish my Peace Corps service on July 31st.

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As for what I will be doing after Peace Corps (a question that has come up a lot over this past year), I will once again pack up my life into a few suitcases and then make a slow move to Sweden.

photo source: http://www.operationworld.org/swed

I made the decision to continue my education at Blekinge Institute of Technology with a Master’s in Strategic Leadership toward Sustainability. I will be taking part in an intensive 10-month study program along with a number of individuals from around the world. Classes will start mid-August and I will finish in June 2018.

Given the quick turnaround time, once I finish my service I will not be able to make it home to the US anytime soon. However, I hope it will work out to make it home over the holidays.

As I reflect on these three years in Peace Corps, it feels like it went by so fast. Yet, I know that much has changed in and around me through the steady pace of time.  Some days felt like they were forever long and some passed by in a blink of an eye. I know it will take time to fully process these three years and I hope that these next 30 days will be full of much joy as I wrap things up.

Looking back… photos from the first month in Peace Corps three years ago…
 ….and now, recent photos from the past couple of months.

 

 

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.

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!

Celebrating with balloons, bubbles, and babies

During my 2 years of Peace Corps service in Balti, I lived with a host family during that whole time. I got to know them pretty well to the point that it feels as though I have become part of the family. Which sometimes is hard to wrap my head around because our common language is Romanian since they don’t speak English. I recently visited them for a weekend  to celebrate my host nephew’s 2nd birthday. I’ve had the privilege to see this little guy grow up before my eyes.

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It was a full weekend of celebrating — I helped prepare some traditional foods for the occasion.

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And then on Sunday, there was a big party at a local children’s restaurant complete with a play-area, bright colors, and a kid-friendly atmosphere (and screaming children). My host nephew was beyond himself happy with all the fun surrounding him.

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Mickey and Minnie also showed up for the special occasion complete with games and activities for the kids.

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My favorite part of the celebration was when Mickey pulled out the bubbles and the kids and even the adults were mesmerized by the human sized ones.

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It certainly captured the attention of my host nephew…

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The table was generously spread out full of food and drinks for all the guests.

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Then since the little guy loves cars, the afternoon was wrapped up with a car-themed cake and some random life-sized characters.

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Happy birthday, little guy!

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.

 

 

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!