4 Things I’m Glad I Learned Before Joining the Peace Corps

It’s impossible to go through a life-changing event like Peace Corps service without learning a few lessons along the way. With that said, there are a few things I’m glad that I experienced before signing up for two years abroad.

I’m definitely not saying that every person who wants to be a Peace Corps volunteer needs to have an identical resume. You don’t need a passport filled with stamps from foreign places, a background in international development, or fluency in another language to be considered for service.

But you do need to have realistic expectations to be a happy and successful volunteer.

So without further ado, here are four things that I’m glad I learned before joining the Peace Corps that have helped me to manage my expectations, adjust to a new culture, and maintain my mental health during my first year of service.  Continue reading “4 Things I’m Glad I Learned Before Joining the Peace Corps”

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6 Months In: 6 Challenges and 6 Lessons Learned

In this reflection post, I review the 6 challenges and 6 lessons learned that I’ve learned in my first 6 months at site. I can hardly believe I’ve been in country for half a year. Time flies when you’re in the Peace Corps!

Each volunteer in the Peace Corps has a love-hate relationship (or maybe just hate-hate relationship) with the infamous VRF, which stands for Volunteer Reporting Form. The VRF is how all of our work is quantified, and we have to submit a new VRF every six months.

Qualitative experiences make up the bulk of our work, but how could a volunteer possibly record every positive interaction that eventually becomes a deep relationship over time?

There are lots of pros and cons of the online form. One of the main criticisms of the system is that it while it captures quantitative data (like how many students showed up to camp or how many government workers attended a training), it’s not so effective in expressing the qualitative experiences that make up the bulk of our work. For example, how could a volunteer possibly record every positive interaction with a local that eventually becomes a deep relationship over time?

Still even with all its faults, the VRF is a great way for volunteers to reflect on their experiences, share their success stories, and think about future activities.

After being in the country for six months, I completed my first VRF documenting my activities from April until the end of September. There’s a specific section that allows us to talk about the challenges we’ve faced and lessons we’ve learned, and I wanted to share those insights with everyone on my blog.

So without further ado, here are the 6 challenges and 6 lessons learned from my first 6 months in Albania:  Continue reading “6 Months In: 6 Challenges and 6 Lessons Learned”

3 Essential Tips for New Language Learners

Language learning isn’t easy, but all my hard work throughout PST was definitely worth it! I describe my tips for learning a new language and also share stories of some up and down moments from training.

Learning a new language from scratch isn’t easy, but with the support of great teachers, encouraging friends, and a patient host family, nothing is impossible.

Throughout Pre-Service Training (PST), I really dedicated myself to learning Albanian. I spent hours pouring over flashcards, speaking with my host family, and studying grammar. And by the end of PST my spoken Albanian was evaluated at an Intermediate High level.

I think my success is due to a combination of:

  • Having the language learning infrastructure in place (I know how I learn languages best after struggling with Chinese for so many years)
  • Having a good memory
  • And just practicing a lot

Also here in Albania, I’m very obviously a foreigner and no one expects me to know the local language.

When I was in China, I felt really self-conscious about making even the tiniest of mistakes with my Chinese because everyone took for granted that I’d speak their language.

But every Albanian that I meet is always pleasantly surprised when I can say even the most basic of greetings in Albanian. I get much more of a pass when I make mistakes in Albanian than I did when I studied abroad in Shanghai, and overall I’m able to speak the language with less fear! Continue reading “3 Essential Tips for New Language Learners”

What to Expect During Staging

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: Continue reading “What to Expect During Staging”

3 Do’s and Dont’s of Peace Corps Prep

Applying and preparing for Peace Corps service is a long process, and unfortunately everyone’s timeline is different.

Here is my Peace Corps application timeline in a nutshell:

May 23, 2016 Applied
June 3, 2016 Placed under consideration for Albania
June 17, 2016 Received an interview request
June 23, 2016 Interviewed
July 20, 2016 Invited to serve
August 11, 2016 Received legal clearance
October 28, 2016 Received medical clearance
March 4, 2017 Departed for Pre-Service Training
March 8, 2017 Arrived in Albania

For me the invitation was just the beginning of a long period of preparation filled with paperwork, medical appointments, and lots of difficult waiting.

After completing the entire process, I have a couple tips for new volunteers about the pre-service preparation process:

Continue reading “3 Do’s and Dont’s of Peace Corps Prep”