"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch. - Garrison Keillor

So, tomorrow is the big day. In the morning, I leave for the biggest adventure of my life. I’m feeling a lot of things right now: excited but intimidated, impatient but peaceful, vulnerable and blessed.

I have been wrapped up in trying to imagine what it’s going to be like, or prepare my self on what to expect, that it seems like I’ve almost been lacking emotion. Or maybe it’s just been hard to express the complexity of the emotions. I think the other volunteers probably know what this feels like, and they’ll be with me all throughout training, allowing the bond of friendships to grow stronger as the months pass.

But before I can move on to this new and exciting chapter of my life, I feel I must tell you, my friends and family, my support system and biggest fans, how much I have, and do, appreciate your endless love, support, guidance and prayers, and how much I will miss your smiles, jokes, and dear friendships.

I’m sorry that I’m not able to say goodbye easily to your faces, or over the phone. In many ways, my reluctance is coming from the fact that saying goodbye seems abrupt and final. It really does solidify the fact that I am leaving, the distance and time I will be away from what is safe, and what I know.

Those of you who have known me longer know how emotional my goodbyes can be sometimes. For this experience, I have been more interested in the casual goodbye to the serious and complicated process of explaining to someone their worth and how the distance will be felt keenly.

So this post is instead of all those individual, special, yet complicated goodbyes. Please know I will not be gone forever, not will I be lacking all communication. I will have access to Internet (although limited) and WILL write letters back. This is a promise I must keep for my own sanity, and for ensuring that we remain friends when I get back.

Please be on the lookout for information regarding contacting me via post, both during training and once I move to site. Any communication, whether it be an email, a post card or a package, will be sincerely appreciated.

So, please, if you feel so inclined, stay in touch. I could not be where I am today without all of you. And thank you again for joining me on my journey.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Crunch time.

4 days. Whoa.

I just wrapped up a whirlwind of a weekend in CA, spending time with friends and enjoying one last taste of TO. It was such a great trip, I got to surprise some people, and some people even surprised me. I know I didn't get to see everybody, and knowing that was always in the back of my mind, but the time I had was great and I was again reminded of how blessed I am with such amazing, supportive, and FUN friends.

Now it's time to crack down on packing. I have turned the guest bedroom into my own personal packing haven. Everything is organized (and all over the place) just not packed. Between all of the suggestions and lists I've acquired from the Peace Corps and current volunteers, I think I have pretty much everything on one list or another. (Side note: I love lists.) My Mom jokes that I'll over-pack for my funeral. This is most definitely the truth. So in the morning I'll assess the situation, and figure out if I really need that extra pair of pants...or at least try to convince my Mom why I'll need them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trusting the Process. Embracing the Unknown.

So I've been getting a lot of the same general questions, most of which I have come to terms with not knowing. Two things that I think are imperative to this whole this experience will be trusting the process and embracing the unknown. But it is always to good to have some clue as to what I am getting myself into. The Peace Corps has yet to disappoint, and sent me some material the other day. Most of it would be pretty boring, but some of it will help you to understand just exactly what my time will be like.

Pre-Service Training (PST) 
When I first arrive, I'll have a two-day orientation, called the Arrival Retreat. It's designed to provide an overview of Peace Corps Ukraine and the Training Program. I'll be also be assigned to a language program (Ukrainian or Russian). I'll have a chance to get to know my cluster-mates (the other Trainees who will live in the same training community (cluster) and learn in the same language group with me). I will also meet my Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator who will be our teacher in the cluster as well as other people who will teach guide training during the pre-service training period.
On September 28th I'll go to my training communities (small towns and villages in the Kyiv Region) with my cluster. There I will meet my your host families in whose homes I will stay for the next 10 to 11 weeks!!!

I'll live with my host family for approximately 10 and a half weeks. Four to five other Trainees will also live in the same cluster with different families. Peace Corps Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitators and Technical and Cross-Cultural Facilitators will be living in the training communities and helping me learn the language and get adjusted to the local culture and working environment. I'll be visiting local schools or higher educational institutions, youth centers, orphanages, NGOs, local government administrations to participate in on-going internship activities similar to what I will do at my sites.

I'll have daily language classes (3-5 hours per day Monday through Friday), which will include small group classes, individual tutoring, field trips, self-directed learning activities and technical language. My technical training will include training sessions, workshops, internship activities, practical assignments and community activities.

During PST I'll have regular opportunities to meet with another cluster of my track and share experiences. However, most of my time will be spent in my training community, which gives us a possibility to benefit from the community-based training and enhance community integration skills.

The Peace Corps Country Director, Programming and Training Officer, TEFL Lead Specialists, Training Manager, Medical Officers, and Safety/ Security Coordinator will be traveling to your clusters at different times throughout the pre-service training to meet with me, assess how the program is going and address any specific needs or issues.

At the end of PST, I will get my permanent site assignment and will be sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. The US Ambassador to Ukraine will lead the swearing-in, and Ukrainian Government officials will welcome us as colleagues and community change agents. For that day and several days thereafter pictures of me and the other new Volunteers may appear in the national news media. My counterpart from my permanent site will be present at the ceremony and officially welcomed into the Peace Corps family as well. Following the ceremony, I will go with my Counterpart and take the road to the village or town where for the next 2 years I will live and work!!!

Communication (with the States) will be somewhat hard, but that goes with staying flexible and embracing the limited interaction I do have. But in the case of communication, the old adage “no news is good news” most definitely applies. There is no Internet access available at the PST venue, and I may not be able to make international calls. Preparing for  limited communication and preparing  family for the fact that I probably won’t be able to call or email them for the first few days in Ukraine was something I was told. But once I get settled into my training community, I'll have access to public phones. It’s possible to make collect calls to the US from local pay phones (MCI, Sprint, AT&T). Internet access is available in most communities.

Family and friends are not be able to mail packages to your attention for the duration of PST. Peace Corps/Ukraine cannot be responsible for property mailed to Trainees; delivery of boxes and packages sent will be declined! In the event of an emergency, they will accept letters mailed to my attention. After PST, once settled in my permanent work site, I will send out the mailing address where I'll will be able to receive regular mail and packages and communicate this to family and loved ones.

After the initial introductions, I'll have a briefing by our Administrative staff during which I'll receive my first installment of “walk-around” allowance. This is a small amount of cash in the local currency called “Hryvnya” (1 US$ = approximately 8.00 UAH), which will cover incidentals and personal hygiene items during the pre-service training period. After my bank account is open during the initial weeks of PST, I'll get a bank card and will be able to withdraw your “walk around” as well as “host family” allowances using ATM's.

So that may have been a little too much information, but at least you kind of get the idea of what life will be like until the middle of December. Can you tell I'm excited though?! Now, it's time to really focus on packing!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


"It is amazingly empowering to have the support of a strong, motivated, and inspirational group of people."

Over the past couple of months, and after deciding to embark on this journey, it's the support of others that has allowed me to be so excited and remain so calm. I have always felt that this was my time for an independent experience, but I'd be foolish to think I could do this alone. Embracing the support, and realizing what a incredible blessing it is to have allows me to have such confident outlook on the unknown.

This summer, as I said in a previous post, was one of discernment, growth, and most definitely support. I had the support of my amazing host parents, Robbie & Charlie, allowing me to reflect on my work and always being available to listen. I could share with them anything, and they would also provide me with such insightful advice, coming from their own life experiences. They gave me a true gift, one that I will be trying to pay forward to others. I also relied on my Mentor Group, a fantastic collection of individuals who walked along side of me on my journey at Messiah. On a bi-monthly basis, I was able to open my experience to them, sharing my struggles and fears, but also my accomplishments and revelations. They built me up, made me confident in my role as an intern, and pushed me to think, openly and honestly. That group will probably never know the impact they had on my journey, process of discernment, and summer at Messiah, but I will be forever grateful and appreciative of their support. 

This last weekend, my parents threw a Labor Day Weekend Open House. The occasion, of course, was that I was leaving, but it also was so much more. Looking around the party, I saw family and friends all there to wish me well, and send me off. Wes and Steph flew out to be there, and to come hear me preach the next day. Kirst took time away from Grad School to spend the weekend with my family, fitting in with everybody perfectly. Jake took vacation and flew himself out to spend the week here, allowing us to have sibling time that is always fun, and also to have some time as a complete family. I had family from the other side of the mountain, spending their long weekend to show their support for me. And of course my parents, making sure everything was perfect, and not letting me worry about any of the details. They have been so helpful throughout this whole process, even if it was just to vent about the Application Process. They have shown excitement and confidence in me, like never before and there is no way I could be doing this without their guidance and support. 

It was just incredible how everyone pitched in to make the party perfect, including enough potato salad for 50, Christmas cookies in September as I probably won't be having any this December, homemade lefse, cards, notes. I will remember this weekend for such a long time, empowered by the amount of love showed to me. 

I know I have so many people rooting for me, and I cannot help to feel overwhelmingly blessed. How special to know that anytime I need a helping hand, even if I am in a foreign country, people will be praying for me, thinking of me, always wanting the best for me. It will keep me going during the tough times, and always keep me motivated to do my best.