An Update from April & May

Summer has arrived! The change of seasons from spring to summer this year also brings a lot of life changes during my third and final year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova. A lot has happened over these past 2 months as time has been flying by rapidly. If I were to share the highlight reel from these past 2 months, this is what it would include:

Vacationing on an Island

In April, instead of staying in Moldova for the Easter holiday, a few friends and I went away for a week-long vacation to the island of Cyprus. It was an incredible time and an amazing place to explore. I would highly recommend traveling there and would love to return some day.

To note: while we were away, Moldova experienced a crazy unexpected spring snowstorm that dropped many inches of snow on the capital city. It crippled the city for 2 days and shut down public transportation. Over 3,000 trees were destroyed in this storm and when we returned from vacation we were greeted with a number of areas still trying to clean up the debris and downed power lines from the storm.

 

Team Building in the Mountains

Once I returned sun-kissed from vacation in Cyprus, the following weekend I found myself backpacking through the Carpathian mountains with my colleagues from Tekwill. We ventured through the rain, fog, and snow as we got to know one another better and learned what it takes when you take 20+ people together through the mountains with a variety of different hiking skill levels.

 

Technovation Moldova Finishes the 2017 Season

This was my third year to participate as a mentor and part of the organizing team with Technovation Challenge Moldova. Technovation is a global competition that encourages young girls to learn and develop entrepreneurial and technical skills by creating a business plan and mobile app that solves a problem in their community. At the beginning of May, we held the Official National Pitch Event where 9 teams from all over Moldova pitched their projects and one team was selected to go onto the semi-final virtual judging round. I started out mentoring 2 teams this year, one junior team and one senior team. The senior team successfully completed their project by the deadline and was able to compete at the pitch event. My host sister from pre-service training 2 years ago was a part of this team and it was a great honor to be able to mentor her team for this year as we all learned so much together.

 

Rails Girls launches 3rd edition

I was super excited to play a behind the scenes role in seeing the 3rd edition of Rails Girls Chisinau happen in Moldova. It was such a great honor and opportunity to see my friend Alisa as the new coordinator take on this role and see things come together so that more girls could learn basics of the Ruby on Rails framework.

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Nineteen girls successfully completed the 3rd edition of Rails Girls Chișinău! Many of these girls were introduced to the Ruby on Rails framework for the very first time and created websites by the end of the three weekends of workshops.

 

When a Friend Visits Moldova

 

My friend, Anne-Lise from France whom I had met about 7-8 years ago while she was studying/working at Penn State came to visit me for a week here in Moldova. Although I had to work on different projects during this time, we still were able to get in some fun during her stay. I am happy to report that she survived the public transportation, last minute adventures and changes in plans, and experienced the ins and outs of life as a PCV in Moldova.

 

I’ll be sharing more soon especially answering the “what is next?” question that has been coming up a lot over this past year. Details are still getting worked out — more to come soon!

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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

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!

Part 3: Let’s go to the Capital City in “Adventuring with friends in Moldova”

This is the third part of a short series from a recent trip to Moldova my friends made from PA. Since many friends and family from home would love the opportunity to do the same, I’m sharing our adventures with you so you can experience it as well. So pack your bags, your coming to Moldova (without leaving home)! Drum bun (have a good road)!


Next stop after a few days in Balti, we go to the capital city of Moldova, Chisinau. Remember when you first arrived to Moldova and your friend made you get on a rutiera for 2 hours to go somewhere else? Well, now you’re back in this city and can actually explore it instead of driving through it.

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Your friend takes you to an American BBQ restaurant where you meet one of the owners, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who shares the story of how he and another RPCV and a local friend opened up the restaurant about a year ago. You taste their BBQ and some local micro-brewed beer (or maybe you have a coke) and hear a bit about life as a local business owner in Moldova. You make note to check out Smokehouse’s site: smokehouse.md and to read more about the process they have gone through in opening a business in Moldova without paying bribes: opensource-entrepreneurship.org

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One day you meet two more friends of your friend and you all go on a underground tour of Milestii Mici, a Moldovan winery that holds the Guinness World Records as the biggest wine collection in the world.  You take lots of photos, explore the underground limestone tunnels lined with ginormous barrels of wine, and savor various flavors of their wine.

Some of the other days you explore the city and discover some fun parks…

Try some new foods, Czech beer, and fun coffee!

Another day you adventure outside of the city to a monastery, Orheiul Vechi. Your friend warns you that we may or may not make it there or back in the way we originally hoped or planned. Plus uncertain that it would be open since it was a holiday. You question your friends ability to be so calm at these moments and wonder how it actually will work out.

Thankfully, it’s open and the public transport to and from this incredibly beautiful place works out on this day. As you explore the beautiful scenery, you notice how serene and peaceful it is even with the drastic drop off reminding you not to get too close to the edge.

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There is so much to take in when exploring a new place. So many new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. You try to take it all in so you can share it all with curious friends and family from home.

After a few days of adventures and explorations in various parts of Moldova it is time to go home. You make your way to the airport and say farewells and see-you-laters in front of the the passport control line.

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As you wave goodbye to Moldova from the airplane, you think about all the memorable memories that were made in a brand new place. Now you have a better understanding of where your Peace Corps Volunteer friend calls “home” for now. Poftim!

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Photos by: Hannah Ingram
(which are so fun to see since they’re through a new set of eyes and a new perspective! Thanks Hannah!)