So now that you’ve gotten your invitation, been medically and legally cleared to serve, and packed all your bags – what’s next?

Staging.

Staging is an an event that serves as an orientation to the Peace Corps and the general demands of being a healthy, safe, and effective Volunteer. While only a brief one or two days, staging is filled with an intense amount of activities and training. Also staging takes place in the U.S., which allows all the volunteers from the same cohort to gather and fly to their country of service together.

Here are some general things that incoming Peace Corps volunteers should expect from their staging experience:

EXPECT to dress to impress

The dress code for staging is “business casual,” and the facilitators at my staging event were very strict about everyone’s appearance during the two days of staging. The rationale behind the dress code is that new volunteers should dress more conservatively when they first arrive in country and then slowly adjust to the local ways of dressing.

In Peace Corps, business casual is definitely more business than casual, which means absolutely no jeans, no sneakers, no pants with excessive pockets, and a dozen other small things.

During our staging activities, the facilitators would call people aside and point out things about their dress that should be changed later (or in some cases immediately). I myself got called out for wearing white jeans. So even if you don’t plan on wearing business casual clothing every day for your two years of service, definitely bring enough business-wear for staging.

EXPECT lots of ice breakers

My cohort included about 40 volunteers, and what better way to meet each other than through icebreakers? If you’re the type of person that enjoys get-to-know-you activities, you’ll probably get a kick out of a lot of the staging sessions. But if you’re less than enthusiastic about icebreakers . . . there’s really no other choice but to grin and bear it.

There are also lots of opportunities to meet new people throughout the day apart from icebreaker activities. The facilitators encouraged us to shuffle out seating arrangements and move to different tables, and lunch and dinner were also good times to find new volunteers to talk to. For me, staging felt a little bit like college orientation – everyone was open, and friendly, and just looking to make new connections with the people around them.

EXPECT to probably feel a little overwhelmed

Like I mentioned earlier, staging is intense. All at once, I was hit with the realization that I’m leaving my home and my family for two years, and on top of those emotions I was also trying to be friendly and outgoing when I was hanging out with the other volunteers and focused and attentive when I was in sessions. It was a lot to process over the course of two days.

Staging is overwhelming, and it’s totally okay to not feel 100 percent comfortable right away. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re not immediately clicking with the other volunteers or if you need to take some time for yourself. The days spent in staging are long, and there’s no reason to go out every night if you need to rest. You’ll have plenty of time to get to know all the other volunteers during Pre-Service Training in country.

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My Staging Experience

Saturday, March 4, 2017, 10:50pm

ARRIVAL IN MIAMI

I was incredibly nervous going into staging. So nervous, in fact, that I ended up throwing up on the plane ride to Miami (when I get anxious on flights, I make myself literally sick). At that low point, I started to doubt everything about my trip.

Can I really make it on my own for two years when I can barely hold my nerves at bay? Am I really cut out for this? 

But then I asked myself, “If I gave up on my China trip on the way to my scholarship event in Washington, D.C., where would I be today?”

When I arrived in the hotel, I could immediately spot the other Peace Corps volunteers by the amounts of luggage that they carried. We spent our first half day signing in as official Peace Corps Trainees (shedding our title as Invitees) and attending a session on ATM cards, safety, and our orientation schedules.

Throughout the night, I still couldn’t quite believe that all my documents were in order and that I was actually going to Albania.

Overall the day was a whirlwind of new faces, new names, and new experiences. I miss the comforts of home already, but I’m hopeful that the people in the Peace Corps will begin to feel more like a family in time.

Sunday, March 5, 2017, 11:15pm

DAY ONE

The first official day of staging was a long eight hours filled with sessions, ice breakers, and some awkward laughter. But at the end of the day I enjoyed most of the activities and (in a weird way) really appreciated the structured nature of the orientation.

We began our day with a trivia activity followed by skits on cultural integration, presentations on “single stories” and diversity mapping, and information on logistics. By the time they dismissed us for dinner, I was completely drained.

After a short rest, my roommate and I walked around the neighborhood and grabbed Chinese food, and it was a lot of fun to get to know her over Americanized Lo Mein. Lots of the Peace Corps volunteers I’ve met have traveled to many different places, and it’s fascinating to listen to their stories.

In a big group like our training cohort cliques naturally develop, but so far people seem to be open to spending time getting to know everyone. On my end, I’m trying my best to be friendly and an active listener, and I’m trying to tell myself not to sweat the small stuff. The key is to take things one step at a time and to do my best at the things I can control: my attitude and my actions!

Monday, March 6, 2017, 10:47pm

DAY TWO

In the blink of an eye, staging has wrapped up! I’ve enjoyed this time in Florida, but I’m ready for the real deal. Albania, here we come!

This morning went by pretty slowly. We mainly talked about gender identity and gender lenses, and after lunch our sessions were more of the same. We discussed cultural continuums, watched more volunteer-created skits, and then wrapped up the day with a group game.

I was able to meet a few new people and say hello to some familiar faces, and once the day wrapped up I grabbed dinner at a sushi restaurant with some fellow trainees. (Gotta get all the Asian food in while I can!)

I’m excited to finally be in Albania – but also terrified and very anxious at the same time. I’m nervous about the language, the people, the food, and everything in between. But I know that my optimism, flexibility, and willingness to go with the flow will help me to overcome any fears that I might have.

Here’s hoping that travel goes smoothly, and best case scenario or worst case scenario, I’ll be in Albania either way!


Header Image: Flickr.com

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