Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Let's try this again

My second invitation arrived this week:

TEFL Teacher Trainer (TEFL = Teaching English as a Foreign Language)
U.S. Orientation: May 5-6
Training (in Nicaragua): May 7-July 18
Service: July 18, 2008 - July 16, 2010

I accepted it this morning.

I feel extremely lucky to still be going to Latin America on the exact same date as I was preparing for, but I can't pretend that I'm not disappointed to have gotten an invitation to the program I'd been hoping for for 6 months, only to have it taken away. It makes it hard to get really excited again. But I think my new assignment is great, and if I had decided not to do the Peace Corps, my plan was to teach English in Latin America anyway so here we are!

Now, what I'll be doing:
I think my title makes more sense as TEFL Teacher/Trainer, because I will be primarily teaching in a high school with a local English teacher (aka my Counterpart in Peace Corps terms) and only a small part of my time will be doing what I think of as teacher training, which is me talking to a bunch of school teachers. My job will be to help my counterpart improve their own English speaking ability and also to plan lessons together using more participatory activities rather than rote repetition or other methods that may not be as effective. This will involve me co-teaching classes of high school students that could be as large as 50 students! In my spare time I will most likely teach a class for adults in the community and do other projects according to my time and interest.

I'm nervous mostly about the size of the classes. That's a lot of kids! Last fall I co-taught a class of about 30 adult immigrants who were highly motivated and it was still a challenge to make sure everyone understood what was going on. I think it will be a big challenge, but I know I'll learn a lot from it and if I'm successful, then hopefully the kids I teach will have better futures ahead of them.

For anyone who's not quite sure where Nicaragua is, it's in Central America right in between Costa Rica and Honduras. I'll write more about my future home soon. I hope that maybe I'll get more visitors with my new location. Tourism is quickly becoming the biggest sector in Nicaragua's economy :)

Friday, March 14, 2008


Haha, good joke, Peace Corps, good joke! Sending me that invitation to serve in Bolivia? Classic! Calling me yesterday to let me know that you would no longer be sending a training group to Bolivia in May? Priceless! Hoo, boy, you sure do know how to pull a fast one on a girl.

I tell ya, I wish it was that funny. The official reason I was given is that there is a vote on May 4th on the new Constitution in Bolivia (which, according to my research, was actually postponed) but there are also a couple provinces that are fighting for autonomy, so their overarching concern about civil unrest is entirely possible and I was actually a little prepared for things to be canceled on me. I'm definitely not happy about it and am disappointed to not be going to Bolivia and maybe even more disappointed that I won't be doing water and sanitation work (it's unlikely, I believe). I was very excited about this assignment.

I should have more information by next Wednesday about a new invitation. I wasn't given much information on the where, when, or what front, but I have a couple clues. They'll look first for something in Latin America with the latest departure date in September, and she asked a few questions about my English teaching experience. There aren't many teaching posts in Latin America, but there are a few. I don't think another water/sanitation program is leaving in the next few months so I'm pretty sure that's completely out.

I do consider myself lucky because I spoke to my boss this morning & in the event that I have a later departure date and want to keep my job, they're happy to keep me on. And I had just posted the sublet ad for my room yesterday when I got the call so that got deleted, so I have a place to live and a job if I have to stick around for a little while longer. I already bought a flight home to Minnesota, & so did my brother, so we'll have to deal with that. Logistically, I think I'll be ok, but that's not really any consolation to having my prize ripped out of my hands. Like I said, I'm disappointed, but I'm staying positive and hoping for something that's even better than sanitation in Bolivia, even if I'm not sure what that would be right now.

More information as I get it....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Email Subscription

I just added a feature to get my updates via email (on that right sidebar over there) so I'm testing to make sure it works!

Update: It works! If you want to subscribe to the blog, enter your email in the box on the right sidebar. You don't have to register with anyone and you can unsubscribe at any time by following the links at the bottom of the emails (but why would you!?). You'll then receive a "daily digest" of whatever I post that day and when I don't post, you won't get an email. Happy Trails!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Peace Corps: Bolivia

Last Monday I finally received my invitation to the Peace Corps as a Basic Sanitation volunteer in Bolivia leaving May 5th. I had actually predicted that this would be my invitation so I spent my evening thinking and talking to family and friends and on Tuesday I accepted the invitation.

What's this Peace Corps thing? The Peace Corps was started in 1961 by John F. Kennedy with the purpose of:
  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Volunteers work in several areas including education, health, business development, youth/community development, agriculture, environment, and information technology. They serve for 27 months total, which includes 3 months of training in-country and 2 years of service in a particular community. In-country training consists of language classes, cross-cultural studies, and technical training with other volunteers. During pre-service training, each volunteer is assigned a host community based on their skills and the needs of the communities

So what will I be doing? According to my little welcome booklet, my duties may include:
  • Providing technical assistance in water and sanitation project design and implementation
  • Working with elected officials and other formal and informal community leaders to improve community awareness and responsible management of water systems and sanitation facilities and processes
  • Overseeing water and sanitation project construction and developing maintenance plans with a strong emphasis on sustainability
  • Organizing and facilitating training for water committees
  • Identifying sources of funding/materials for water projects
  • and the list goes on.....
While Basic Sanitation is my project area, I can also do secondary projects based on my interests and the needs of the community. I hope to perhaps teach English or even dance - I'm not sure if anyone will be interested in learning ballet, but it could be fun! I think getting involved in teaching would provide me with at least one consistent activity since sanitation work may be intermittent.

How am I qualified for this? Because I built fences with dad and learned how to make tiny theater sets in college. Kinda. My basic construction experiences are apparently what qualified me, and that includes doing random projects around the house with dad, industrial tech in Middle School, Tech Theater in college, and participating in house builds in and around DC. My pre-service training will (hopefully) provide me with the nitty gritty skills I need to do my job.

Why Peace Corps? Ummm, why not Peace Corps? I have always wanted to live abroad and I felt that I could spend that time doing something beyond teaching English or paying a bundle to volunteer through a private organization. Through the Peace Corps, I will get the language training I desire (yes, I will ideally be fluent in Spanish upon returning, and may also be learning an indigenous language) and also develop skills that will be useful when I come back to the U.S. It is a big commitment and it will be very difficult at times, but the time will fly and I hope to have some amazing experiences to offset the bad ones.

I have long since given up my notion that I will be drastically changing the lives of the people I will be working with. Peace Corps is hard work and while the volunteer is largely responsible for the amount of work they accomplish, there are major obstacles and difficulties along the way that can prevent projects from getting off the ground. I hope to provide a good example of what Americans are really like and to learn about Bolivia and pass on that knowledge when I come back home. Obviously I hope that I can have a successful project, but I am also preparing myself for the fact that it just may not happen.

Monday, March 3, 2008

When Jonathan & I went to see the Golden Gate Bridge, I remember being surprised at the low railings. This article in the Post (I hope it's accessible to everyone, I have an account so I can never tell) talks about the current argument over whether or not to install a barrier in addition to an important discussion of suicide. It's basically saying that a main argument against a barrier (aside from aesthetics) is that a suicidal person will find a way to do it regardless so the barrier really isn't saving any lives. Except that there's research that says otherwise, that given an easy way out, people are more likely to take it, and if prevented, they may not kill themselves at all.

This is one of the opening quotes from a man who jumped & lived to tell about it: "And my hands were the last thing to leave, and once they left, I thought: 'This is the worst decision I've ever made in my life.' "

So give someone a smile and show a little love, you never know what even these small actions might do for someone. The article says that 98% of Golden Gate jumpers were successful in killing themselvs, and 94% of those who were stopped by passersby or patrols were determined to still be living or have died of natural causes.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

If you're going to San Francisco....

So I went to the San Francisco Bay Area a couple weeks ago to visit my brother and celebrate both of our birthdays. We were blessed with perfect weather for the entire time and I totally loved the city and the entire area. I saw lots of San Rafael, where he lives, and other parts of Marin County including Mount Tamalpais, also Berkeley, Point Richmond, and we spent 2 days in San Fran itself. One of the interesting features of the trip is that it was entirely by public transit since Jonathan is sans car and because he lives in San Rafael, this involved taking buses almost everywhere and walking a whole lot. I don't really want to write a book about the trip, but here are some of my favorite pictures. Hopefully you'll recognize the one above :)

I flew in on Valentines Day in the afternoon. Jonathan met me in the city, we walked around, ate some dinner, and then went to a pillow fight!!! It was pretty sweet, there were tons of people there and feathers were flying, quite literally! I actually found a little bitty one in one of my contacts when I took them out that night.

This is the view from China Beach, which we happened upon in our unguided journey from the Golden Gate to the Sutro Baths.

These houses may look a little familiar. This is in Alamo Square, where the opening to Full House was shot. We wandered around trying to find the real Full House house but found out later that it's a few blocks north.

We toured around several neighborhoods including the Castro, the Mission, Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury, Seacliffe, and this is in North Beach. We stopped here, here being Washington Square I believe, to enjoy some gelato from one of the many many places selling gelato around the neighborhood.

The view of downtown San Fran from the top of Telegraph Hill.

We stood in line for forever and took the trolley. It was totally worth it!!

On Jonathan's birthday we climbed to the top of Mount Tamalpais, the highest point in Marin County. Waaaaaaay off in the distance just under the cloud cover is San Francisco.

And here we are, San Francisco-exploring, mountain-climbing, both-one-year-older siblings, chilling out on Mt. Tam.

There are many more photos than that, but you get the idea! I don't have a photo for possibly the most memorable thing we did, which was Jonathan's birthday present for me: a life reading! We went to see a guy who channeled my life spirit and did a tarot card reading. I admit that I was a little skeptical at first, but he just shut his eyes & started talking with amazing accuracy about the challenges and opportunities I have in my life right now. Most of what he talked about are things that are rolling around in my head at the present and it solidified the path that I'm choosing to take, which mostly is that there isn't a path at the moment, but me choosing to go out & do some crazy stuff I've always wanted to do. If anyone wants to hear more about the trip or the reading, I'm more than happy to talk about both! It was a fantastic trip and absolutely the best way I possibly could have spent my birthday.