Tag: Peace Corps

Officially a Peace Corps Volunteer {Month 3 – September 2017}

Officially a Peace Corps Volunteer {Month 3 – September 2017}

“Does Meli drink coffee?” my neighbor asked my previous volunteer. Tikön looks over at me and I nodded. 

“Good, because that’s all we have to give,”

Tikön and I sat on a bed that’s essentially wooden slabs thrown together like a table, but since there was no other place to sit the bed became our chair.

“Meli, nete,” my neighbor says as she hands me a tall cup of coffee. I take a sip, and it’s the taste I’m becoming all too accustomed to: a burnt corn “coffee” blend with heaps of sugar that I know my teeth won’t thank me for later. 

My eyes glanced over the cup of coffee and three kids were standing before me, visibly sick, staring at me with their giant eyes in curiosity and stomachs extremely bloated from malnutrition and hunger. 

My neighbor’s words rang in my head as I was thinking about poverty in the Comarca; contemplating the fact that all that they had was coffee, and they were generous enough to make me a cup to welcome me into the community while their children were starving. It was a new-found motivation to be able to bring water to the community and return the generosity that was so selflessly shown to me. 

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I was so excited to find out that I’ll be living in the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé in the mountains of Chiriqui for the next two years! Reality set in when a few days later and a guide from each of our community was going to come to Panama City to essentially pick us up and take us to our sites. Everything was happening so fast and it was really going to be the first time I would be alone with gente. I was excited and nervous all at the same time. Will I have a good guide? Will my community like me? Will I like the site?

First work junta clearing out the ojos de agua with the women in my community

It was a relief when I met my guide for the first time and he seemed tranquilo, but really quiet. It was his first time ever leaving the community further than the closest town, so I understood the city must have been overwhelming. I exhausted all my questions so I just let things be after that. After a day and a half of ice breakers at the office, we got the motion to head to our sites. The guides were in a mad rush to get out of there and I had no idea what was going on, but I was trying to stay calm.

Meeting my previous volunteer, Tikön, and his host sisters

We headed out on the six hour bus ride to the Comarca, and I tried sleeping but I was worried about the hike into my site. One of my friends who visited the previous volunteer for their site visit said that the hike was brutal. And I was probably carrying about 60 pounds of stuff to begin the moving process from the training community to site. By the time we arrived to the closest town to site, it was 7 PM and pitch black. There was no way we would be able to make a hike like that so we stayed at a hostel for the night.

In the cancha of our training community

I was freaking out on the inside when the morning came; my bag was heavy and I wasn’t confident that I could carry it up the monte and this was the last time I would see my friends and the first time I would be alone with gente. As soon as it was daybreak, we headed out. Sitting in the busito climbing up the winding road, I looked out the window to an incredible view of the lush monte and valleys below. I was incredibly excited I get to live in such a beautiful place, which reassured me that the Comarca was the right place for me.

Ready for our Despedida! Wearing traditional Ngöbe clothes

We arrived at the entrance of the community and I took a deep breath and braced myself for the hike ahead. There was a gringo that got off the busito as well and I was staring at him in awe, but also really confused what he was doing here. My brain had been constantly translating Spanish and Ngöbere so when he spoke English to me, my mind was blown and I forgot how to respond. “You must be the new volunteer in the area. I’m in the community down here working with Bridges to Prosperity but I hear your community is waaay up there.” Thanks for the reminder that I have a brutal hike.

Everyone going to Ngöbe sites

Normally I don’t sweat, but my heart was pumping and streams of sweat were dripping down my face and body. With my 60 pounds of baggage, the hike was just as awful as I imagined it would be. I thought to myself, my legs are going to be in amazing shape after these two years. Two hours later and sopping wet from crossing a river, we made it to the community. My guide immediately took me to my host family’s house so I could change and get ready for the meeting at the botiquim (communal meeting house). From far away I heard a salimando (a unique yell that people use to greet each other) followed by my name. Who knew my name and why are they so excited to see me? I realized it was my previous volunteer, Tikön, and I was just as excited to see him too.

The ladies heading to Ngöbe sites!

I didn’t have service in site, so knowing that I’ll have Tikön as someone to talk to during my first few months in-site when I can’t talk to anyone else was extremely comforting and made being at site so much better. To read more about my experience my first time visiting my site, read here.

Women of WASH at swear-in

The last couple weeks we spent finishing up all our classes of PST and celebrated our leaving the training community with a despedida, where we performed various dances of the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé. Our final week we moved the rest of our things to the dorms in Panama City to take care of office things and officially swore-in as G81 Peace Corps Volunteers!

G81 Peace Corps Panama Volunteers!
Tech Week {PST Week 6}

Tech Week {PST Week 6}

“Edi! How do you like it here?”

I looked up from my bowl of rice, chicken feet, and boiled yuca, trying to make out the voice that was talking to me. It was the black of night, and there wasn’t a light to be found except from the glow of the embers beneath fogon. I was trying my best to figure out how to eat the skin off the chicken foot and was not focused on conversing with the Ngabe host family that was letting me stay at their penca casita. Half slurping the skin off a chicken foot that was hanging out of my mouth, I replied, “I really like the Comarca and hope I get to live in a site like this one.”

“We really like you and would love for you to stay here and live with us forever!”

The chicken foot dropped back in my bowl and I looked around the dark area in bewilderment. Did they really just say that? Considering everything I’ve heard about the Ngobe-Bugle people, they’re very reserved people so I was surprised they openly wanted to welcome me into their home like family so quickly. Later that night, they presented me with the most beautiful gift; a bright sky blue nagua with carefully crafted dientes of lime green, red, and black. I felt so at home during Tech Week that I started to imagine what life would be like for two years in the Comarca. 

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It was 3 AM and I was up, packed, and ready to head out. It was the first day traveling to Tech Week in the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle, and we had to catch the diablo rojo to ride an hour and a half into Panama City. From there we took a bus for 6 hours west to the entrada of Tole and then a chiva for another hour until we came up to the most beautiful view of all of the lush, green valley out to the ocean. It had been an extremely long day, so after making a very long, muddy hike, my roommate, Shelby, and I arrived at our host family’s bamboo hut.

Host family gathered around the fogon & eating area

Inside, the family had sectioned off a section for Shelby and I by hanging up blankets as a barrier. There were two beds that looked more like wooden tables, since they were just slabs of wood without any sort of mattress or blanket. The more comfortable option was to sleep in a hammock, so Shelby and I strung them up along with our mosquito nets. For dinner, our host family gave us a giant purple potato each, along with hot coffee. My mind immediately zoned in on the coffee; my first test. Everything I learned during PST so far about drinking the cafe or chicha was that the water is probably dirty so you need to cloro it, you’re probably going to get a parasite if you’re not careful with what you drink. What do I do about this coffee though? I sighed, accepted my fate that I will probably contract some sort of parasite at some point anyways, and drank it. This is my life now, I thought to myself.

Tech Week was filled with tons of projects that wore me out after each day; throwing the plancha for an aquaduct tank, constructing the frame for the tank, building latrines, and clearing out the ojos de agua. I think we made so much ferrocement that it is forever ingrained in me. And I also have a new-found appreciation for those spinning self-mixing concrete contraptions. When we weren’t involved in our main projects, we played soccer with the gente, learned how to make soap, hiked around the monte, and went to the school to present a charla to the kids. It was a full and exhausting week, but we learned so much about our future work in our communities.

Pouring concrete for the plancha for the aqueduct tank
Rodding the freshly poured concrete
Mixing concrete by hand
The finished plancha!
Pouring concrete for the latrine seat
Comarca vistas
Constructing the frame of the aqueduct tank
Futbol game with the gente
I just really liked the essence of this photo
Apparently I wasn’t muddy enough…
Post-futbol muddiness
Nagua from my host family
WASH women in the school
Teaching the kids about WASH in school
Charla about latrine usage
Another beautiful morning in the Comarca
Volunteer Site Visit {PST Week 4}

Volunteer Site Visit {PST Week 4}

As I was sitting with the indigenous Ngobe women making chakaras under a giant, majestic “grandmother” tree like in Pocahantas, I took a step back and thought to myself, what an incredible opportunity it is to be here, to learn from the gente, and to integrate into a seemingly disappearing culture. It was at that point I realized how “present” I was – how much less I thought about the past or the future, but how much I was enjoying life in the present moment. I realized at this point in my life, I am exactly where I need to be.

Making chakaras with the Ngobe women

During our 4th week of PST we have the opportunity to visit a current PCV at their site to get a taste of what everyday is life. After learning about the diverse groups of people in Panama I really hoped that I would get to visit an indigenous site, and I got exactly what I wished for.

I visited Sophia, also a surfer from California, at her site in the mountains of Chiriqui of the CNB. Having only been in the city around Panameno Latino culture, I had no idea what to expect. It was a 6-hour bus ride to the entrada, where I met Sophia wearing a nagua – I was in awe she wore her dress for everyday life, but it’s part of the integration. We went to the grocery store for food and she was really stoked when she saw vegetables, and quickly grabbed them. I realized how scarce food is in the Comarca, and as a PCV you scavenge anything you find.

It was my first time in a chiva, a pick-up truck with a roll cage over the bed that you sit in, and it was a bumpy ride up dirt roads through the mountains. The hike-in was 40 minutes straight up the mountain, and I realized that if I got a hiking site there was no way I’d be able to lug all my stuff up the mountain and I’d have to get rid of as much as I could.

HIking into site

Sophia showed the elements of the aqueduct, we met the water committee, sat with the women and learned how to make a chakara, pasear-ed with the gente, and played soccer with the girls. It was a packed set of days, and I was exhausted. The slow pace of life became more apparent too; Sophia hosted a bread-making charla that was supposed to start at 8 but no one showed up until about 10, and then it took another 4 hours after that.

When I first learned about all the different cultures of Panama, I thought it would be amazing to be immersed in the Darien (region of Panama bordering Colombia). After visiting the Comarca in Chiriqui, and being a good halfway point between Panama City and Bocas del Toro (a popular tourist beach region on the Caribbean side, close to Costa Rica) and only 15 minutes from the beach on the Pacific – I think the CNB is the ideal place for me.

Ngobe children
Top Things to do in Panama City on a Budget

Top Things to do in Panama City on a Budget

As PCV’s we’re always looking for the cheapest things to do and since we’ve lived relatively close to the city during PST we had many weekends of exploring. Here is a compiled list of top things to do in Panama City on a budget!

  1. Wander Casco Viejo: With Spanish Colonial buildings, Casco Viejo is filled with rich history everywhere. Be sure to grab a snowcone for $0.50 from one of the cart vendors! They fill a giant styrofoam cup with shaved ice, freshly squeezed passion fruit juice, and drizzle with icing.
  2. Grab a pint from La Rana Dorada: One of the best (and cheapest) places to grab a beer and pizza in the city during Happy Hour on Saturdays from 12 PM – 6 PM when all the house beers are half-off. The location in Casco Viejo is preferred over Via Argentina because it has a more open, inviting feel.
  3. Eat ceviche in Mercado de Mariscos: Nothing beats a meal of fresh ceviche for $3 and $1 beers to go with it! There are so many combinations, from shrimp to octopus to sea bass with a plethora of vegetables mixed in.
  4. Get a haircut on 5 de Mayo Street: Getting off the metro at 5 de Mayo, there are shipping containers blasting music, all lined up along the street and converted into spots where locals give haircuts. You can get the latest Panamanian styles for $5 and can even add-in designs.

What do you guys think? Have anything to add? Comment below!

Playa Farallon

Playa Farallon

Pre-Service Training (PST) is an intense three months of integration into Panama and learning about everything Peace Corps. All of us were feeling a ton of pressure and felt the need to decompress, so we headed to the beach! The best beaches from Panama City are only 2 hours away, so we hopped on a diablo rojo and then took a chiva to reach Playa Farallon. Playa Santa Clara is right next door, and is deemed one of the best beaches in all of Panama, but we decided to go somewhere a little off-the-radar.

The beach was exactly what we all needed to relax, and us WASHers had a great time getting to know SAS as well. In the past groups, WASH and SAS spent a lot more time together in PST, but since our group was split from the get-go into our training communities, we hadn’t had much time to bond.

Playa Farallon is a bit on the dirtier side, with trash everywhere but if you go to Playa Santa Clara it’s a lot cleaner since there are resorts nearby, it’s more centered for tourism, and there are a lot of water sports if you’re looking for more activities. We found a tienda close-by to buy some snacks for lunch to keep things on the cheap side.

Towards the end of the day, a storm rolled in suddenly; one minute it was bright and sunny, the next it was downpour. We all scattered for shelter and were trying to catch a chiva back to the city but none would stop. We waited two hours until a busito finally gave us a lift. Pro tip: Always bring your jacket in buses because they keep the temperature a frosty 50 degrees, and since we were soaked from the rain it made the ride even worse.

On the other hand, it was a magical day for other unexpected reasons that will be revealed in time…

“I like to live my life like I’m in the ocean, surfing the waves how they come, or just being one with the sea. You just have to let it flow.” -Arturo Arzon, 30 July 2017

Oh, and we decided to start a WASH calendar as a fundraiser for our projects. What do you think of Mr. July?

A First Look at Panama {Month 1 – July 2017}

A First Look at Panama {Month 1 – July 2017}

So it’s been awhile since I’ve actually been on a computer so I’m a little late on the updates but from here on out, I hope to regularly post once every 2 weeks when I go to town to gather supplies. Let’s start with my first month in Panama!

It was 4 AM on July 10th and I arrived at the airport with my bags packed for staging in Miami. My heart was racing, so many thoughts were going through my head. I was ready for a new chapter in my life, but had no idea what was waiting for me on the other side.

I had a lot of great things going for me, or what you would call “living the American dream,” but I wasn’t happy; I felt that there was something waiting for me, like I had a greater purpose in this world and I hoped that Peace Corps would help me find that fulfillment by leaving it all behind.

Staging in Miami was a blur; I spent 3 days doing ice breakers and meeting 48 new Peace Corps Trainees that I was going to be spending these next two years with. Most of staging was an introduction to Peace Corps, its mission, and putting us into the mindset of living in Panama. We were given money for meals, and a lot of PCT’s spent all of it, but my advice is to save as much of it as you can because the dollar goes a long way in Panama.

Staging in Miami

Stepping off the plane in Panama City, everything was thrown at us all at once; we met the country director and our “greeters,” current PCV’s who are our guides for the week to help us get acquainted. We were immediately shuffled onto a Diablo Rojo called ‘Mama Chacha,’ which are old US school buses that are converted into colorful modes of transportation in Panama City. WASH (Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene) and SAS (Sustainable Agriculture Systems) were separated into different training communities, where we met our host families for the next three months. Night fell, and I was finally settled-in and on my bed in silence. I was in awe thinking, “This is it. I’m finally here and this is actually happening.”

Learning about the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé culture
Diablo Rojo, Mama Chacha

The first few weeks in Panama were spent in training sessions about Peace Corps policies, Spanish language and Panamanian cultural sessions, and technical classes about our future work in Panama. We had a lot going on with homework, projects, and learning Spanish with our host families, but we managed to have a few outings in our free time; two of my favorites were spending the day in the city and going to Playa Farallon.

Learning about Emberá-Wounaan culture in the Darien
Panama City

After so much time waiting, I am excited to begin my Peace Corps journey here in Panama and to see what stories will unfold. Read about my Top Things to do in Panama on a Budget, Playa Farallon, or Creepy Crawlies & The Comarca {Month 2 – August 2017}!

Quote of the Month:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Playa Farallon

Peace Corps Panama Packing List

Peace Corps Panama Packing List

As it is very popular for Peace Corps bloggers to post a list of what they packed for service, I plan on doing the same! After a few months in, I plan on adding an updated list of what I should have brought as well. Some of the items I added a link to and the quantities are in the parenthesis next to the item where applicable.

CLOTHES:

  • Formal outfit for swear-in (1)
  • Blouses for office days (2)
  • Jeans for office days (2)
  • Tank tops (3)
  • Long sleeve Columbia shirt (1) **
  • Short sleeve Columbia shirt (1) **
  • Cropped running tights (1)
  • Gym shorts (1)
  • Jean shorts (1)
  • T-Shirts for work days (3)
  • Prahna field pants (2) **
  • Long sleeve mid-weight thermal (1)
  • Patagonia rain poncho (1) **
  • Patagonia light puffy jacket (1) **
  • Casual dress (1)
  • Underwear (14)
  • Bras – Regular (3) Sport (2)
  • Socks – Short (5) Boot (2)
  • Bathing suit (2)
  • Wide brimmed hat (1)
  • Buff (1)

ACCESSORIES:

ELECTRONICS:

*Items qualify for Peace Corps discount

**Only qualifies for discount if you find it on Backcountry.com

My Peace Corps Application Timeline

My Peace Corps Application Timeline

From what I’ve observed through other bloggers in the Peace Corps and on the Reddit thread page, it seems like Peace Corps application timelines are really popular. Everyone who goes through this long process (sometimes taking up to a year!) is curious about when they’ll hear back, or when they should expect to reach the next stage. I’ve divided mine into a general timeline of main events along with a detailed sub-timeline with my medical and legal clearances, so, here goes! 

General Application Timeline

For those who want the general main sequence of events:

October 9, 2016: Submitted Peace Corps application

October 27, 2016: Under Consideration for Panama leaving July 2017

November 4, 2016: Interview request with placement for Environmental Engineer & Water Resources Coordinator position

November 10, 2016: Skype interview with placement officer at 9 AM EST for 1 hour

February 8, 2017: Received official invitation to serve and accepted! 

May 10, 2017: Received medical clearance

May 15, 2017: Received legal clearance

July 10, 2017: Depart for staging in Miami

July 12, 2017: Depart for Peace Corps service in PANAMA!

Detailed Application Timeline

For those that want all the nitty gritty details because you browse the Reddit thread everyday on the hour, hoping you’ll hear back soon:
 
October 9, 2016: Under the new application that takes a fourth of the time to fill out from the previous system, I was able to complete all the supplements that were sent shortly after submitting the main application.
  • Submitted Peace Corps application
  • Received and completed Health History Form
  • Received and completed Peace Corps Service Preferences
  • Received and completed Soft Skills Questionnaire

October 27, 2016: Received Peace Corps Application Update email saying they reviewed my application and placed me Under Consideration for Panama leaving July 2017.

November 4, 2016:

  • Received Peace Corps Interview Request email with placement for the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Extensionist position in Panama leaving July 2017. I compared this with the Environmental Engineer & Water Resources Coordinator position and they were the exact same description, except the latter required engineering. I emailed my Placement Officer to ask about the differences and if I could be placed in the Environmental Engineer & Water Resources Coordinator position. My Placement Officer emailed back explaining the positions and moved me based on my request.
  • Scheduled Skype interview for November 10, 2016 at 9 AM EST
  • Received Peace Corps Interview Confirmation email with policy attachments and an outline of what will be discussed in the interview

November 10, 2016: Skype interview with Placement Officer at 9 AM EST for 1 hour. Great interview, told me since I was the first round of interviews I wouldn’t hear back until after December. For a detailed account of the questions they asked, check out this Reddit page and there’s also a Wiki Links page with questions. Since they had sent an outline in the email beforehand, I had prepared answers for each question, so make sure you do your homework and it’ll go smoothly! My Placement Officer said she hadn’t received my second reference letter yet and to send it in soon. I followed up with my second reference, my professor from college, and she submitted it that day (talk about a quick reply!)

November 18, 2016: Met with my local recruiter to talk about the Panama WASH (Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene) program, ask questions about Peace Corps, and had her look over my resume to see if there was anything I could do to become a more competitive candidate. 

November 28, 2016: Received legal packet in the mail. Was supposed to receive it within 3 weeks, but there was a problem sending it out. Made an appointment for fingerprinting at the local police station.

December 9, 2016: Followed up with my Placement Officer to let her know I had uploaded an updated version of my resume to account for some volunteer work I did with the Nepalese Humanitarian Help Organisation to provide support for their water resources sector. I also added some advanced Spanish classes I was taking at the local community center and provided the syllabus. 

December 16, 2016: Fingerprinted at the local police station. Was told to keep the documents aside until I receive my invitation to serve.

February 8, 2017:

  • Received and accepted official invitation to serve in Panama July 2017 as an Environmental Engineer & Water Resources Coordinator!
  • Medical tasks were populated in the portal and started organizing and making appointments. What helped me was printing out each document and labeling each one with “to-do tasks” (yes, for every single document) to help me stay organized. That helped me to figure out what I already had done in the past and which tasks I needed to complete and appointments to make, and made my medical clearance an incredibly smooth process. Make your appointments ASAP since it can take a few weeks to see your doctors!
  • Learning Spaces tasks were populated in the portal, such as “Orientation to Safety and Security” and “Peace Corps Core Expectations.” I completed these in between waiting periods of medical tasks.
  • New Volunteer Portal tasks were populated in the portal (there are so many portals!), which have to do with press releases, banking information, and other legal/ monetary details
  • Sent in my legal packet

February 14, 2017: Met with the passport acceptance agent at the local library, since you could do walk-up appointments. Once completed, sent in all my passport documents to Sato Travel, the agency that handles all our passport and staging documents via FedEx. Since I knew that I would be traveling before departing for the Peace Corps, I had to jump a few hoops and fill out the DS-11 form so I didn’t have to submit my current passport. I brought in the following documents to the passport acceptance agent:

  • DS-11 form (NOT signed)
  • 2 passport photographs
  • Colored copy bio page of current passport
  • Birth certificate (I didn’t have mine so I had to order one online from VitalChek and rush ship it a few days earlier) + a black & white copy
  • 2 completed copies of the Passport Block Letter

February 15, 2017: A few days earlier I had called my pediatrician to request my vaccination records so they faxed me the results. From what I received, the following medical tasks were submitted:

  • Vaccination records: I sent everything that my pediatrician had faxed me under this file
  • Varicella: Since I had both strains done under my pediatrician vaccination records, I basically made a copy of what I sent for the vaccination records, highlighted the varicella boxes, and sent in the file
  • MMR: I did the same thing as I did for varicella since it was already done in my pediatrician vaccination records except highlighted the MMR boxes
  • Polio: Again, same thing as the previous two except highlighted the polio boxes
  • Medical Care Compliance form

February 16, 2017: Received email that my legal packet was received and my background investigation had begun

February 27, 2017: Met with my primary care doctor for my physical exam. I filled out and completed (some of) the following tasks:

  • Medical Examination Form: My doctor filled out most of this form, but could not sign it off until I completed the attached blood tests so he could analyze the results
  • Reported Medication Verification Form: Since I was not taking any medication, I just had him write “Not Applicable” and sign & date the form.
  • HHF (Health History Form) Positive Response Form: My doctor just looked through this since we had filled this out when we submitted the application and then signed it off to verify all responses were true
  • Physical Examination Lab Work Form: My doctor gave me a form to take to a lab next door (which I did right after the physical) for all the blood tests. He couldn’t sign it off until we got the results back
  • G6PD Lab Form: The doctor also included this blood test in the form to take to the lab.
  • Yellow Fever: The doctor wrote me a referral to get this shot
  • TD Immunization: The doctor wrote me a referral to get this shot
  • Polio Booster: The doctor wrote me a referral to get this shot

March 3, 2017: Met with my optometrist for my eye exam and submitted the Prescription Eyeglasses Form

March 6, 2017: Met with my OBGYN doctor and my dentist the same day to submit the following tasks:

  • Pap Screening Form: Called a couple days after the exam to have them fax me the results
  • Dental Exam Form: I go to the dentist every 6 months so this was a pretty routine check-up for me
  • Dental X-Ray Form: I had the bitewing x-rays done during this appointment but I also needed to include a Panorex. Fortunately when I had my wisdom teeth removed they took a Panorex, and since it was less than 2 years old I could use that. I called my oral surgeon and they emailed me a copy and I submitted it with the bitewing x-rays.

March 8, 2017: Went to Safeway to get my shots. Even though I had a referral from my primary care doctor, they said I needed to go through their doctor for the referral, so it cost extra. Luckily my insurance covered the cost of all the shots. 

  • Polio Booster: Even though I had all my polio shots done when I was a kid, they require 1 booster shot over 18. When submitting this task I just uploaded a copy of my receipt that said I got the shot
  • TD: I had all my TD shots done when I was a kid, but they require 1 booster within the past 5 years. When submitting this task I just uploaded a copy of my receipt that said I got the shot
  • Yellow Fever: Make sure you submit this task with the bright yellow World Health Organization card

March 13, 2017: Follow up appointment with my primary care doctor to discuss lab work results and sign off the rest of my documents. Submitted the last of the following medical tasks:

  • Medical Examination Form: Everything else was filled out from the previous appointment so the doctor just had to fill out the blood test section
  • Physical Examination Lab Work Form: I attached the lab results and had the doctor sign each page
  • G6PD Lab Form: Since this test was done in accordance with the other lab work, I made a copy and highlighted the G6PD section and uploaded it.

April 3, 2017: Received an email the previous week from our Country Desk Officer for a conference call on the Peace Corps Panama program and to welcome our cohort! It was a general informational meeting about what service is like in Panama.

April 26, 2017: Received an email about my medical clearance tasks. My assigned nurse said that clearances were backed up and they were currently working on those with staging dates in early June and would get to mine soon.

May 1, 2017: Received another email from our Country Desk Officer to join the Peace Corps Panama Duolingo Classroom so they can keep track of our Spanish progress and get an idea of where we stand when we have our upcoming Spanish interview for placement when we arrive in Panama.

May 10, 2017: Received an email from my Peace Corps nurse asking if I could verify the date of the 3 shots I got and to confirm I’m not taking any medication. I replied as soon as I got the email, and then within minutes I received my Medical Clearance! She said my organization was “stellar” and made the process really easy 🙂 I’ve heard so many horror stories about medical clearances and how tough it is, but mine was a really smooth process.

May 15, 2017: Received my official email for Legal Clearance!

May 25, 2017:

  • Had another conference call with the Country Desk Officer specifically about the Panama WASH program and what we should expect our training to be like.
  • Received an email to schedule our Spanish interview.
  • Also attended the Peace Corps Send-Off Party in Sacramento! It was great networking with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and getting great tips for service, and meeting a few other soon-to-be volunteers.

June 12, 2017: Spanish interview

July 10, 2017: Depart for staging in Miami

July 12, 2017: Depart for Pre-Service Training in PANAMA!

 
 
Why I Joined the Peace Corps

Why I Joined the Peace Corps

Yes, it’s true! I decided to join the Peace Corps departing to Panama for 27 months in July 2017, and I’m ecstatic I landed the ‘Environmental Engineer & Water Resources Coordinator’ position. To some of  you it may be a surprise, and to others who are just curious, this is the story leading up to why I joined the Peace Corps.

In September 2016 I had a great job in the tech industry – amazing pay and benefits, an awesome team that I loved, able to take vacation pretty much when I wanted – but I wasn’t happy. 

I was sitting on the train during my 3 hour commute home and an older Indian man sits down across from me and we started talking. He asked what I do, and I replied, “I’m a mechanical engineer in the semiconductor industry in San Jose but I live in Sacramento.” His eyes widened, and I told him how I get up at 3:30 AM every morning to catch the 4:30 AM train, get to work at 7:30 AM, work a full 8 hour day without taking a lunch break, then catch the 3:30 PM train to get home at 6:30 in the evening.
 
He asked me, “Do you like what you do?” I shrugged, “Yeah, it’s a great job.” 
“But do you love your job?”
I was silent.
“Do you love where you live?”
I liked Sacramento, but I couldn’t see myself there forever.
He continued, “I have found that if you love what you do and you love where you live, you will be very successful. Don’t worry about the money – if you love what you do and where you live – the money will come.”
 
I had a tendency to go to bed pretty early because of my work schedule, but one night I woke up at 11 PM from a dream I had about a clean drinking water system and it sparked an idea. I grabbed one of my old environmental engineering textbooks and ran across the street to the coffee shop and started drawing and researching. And I realized, this is it. This is what I want to do with my life, but I had no idea how to go about it. 
 
The idea to engineer water resources in developing countries started back when I was 15 years old. My sister and I went to the Philippines with my mother to visit family when she abandoned us. The village my sister and I lived in didn’t have electricity or clean drinking water and the locals had to walk 2 miles with an arrowhead jug to fill up at a well. What stuck with me was how we take having clean drinking water for granted, a basic necessity of life. That was an experience that totally changed me and my outlook on life.
 
When I was in college I took an engineering class on computer aided design and we had to engineer a clean drinking water system for a village in a developing country. Using my past experiences, I decided to design a system based on the village I was in back in the Philippines. I hoped that maybe one day I could implement my designs in places that need it all around the world. 
 
After that night in the coffee shop scribbling down my ideas, I spent hours researching volunteer organizations that would allow me to design and implement water resources in developing countries with little luck. And then I came across the Peace Corps.
 
I looked into doing Peace Corps while I was still in college a few years earlier, but they never had engineering positions available so I gave up on the idea back then. This time around, however, they had the exact position I was looking for: Environmental Engineer & Water Resources Coordinator. I knew this was the experience I needed in order to eventually start my own business but I was a little uneasy about being away from home for almost 2 1/2 years. I applied anyways. 
 
It was a long process going through the application and interviews, but I knew this was a calling I had to pursue. I was so excited when I received my invitation to serve, but then came the next step: I had to quit my job. In my head I went back and forth of when to quit since I hadn’t received medical or legal clearance yet, so it was still up in the air whether or not I would be serving. Ultimately I made the decision to quit because I didn’t want to commute anymore; I was exhausted and it was taking a toll on my health. I then figured out how much I needed to save to be able to live on my own for 3 months unemployed along with extra money for emergencies and travel during my service. 
 
People were very quick to judge when they found out I had quit my job, saying things like, “that’s what’s wrong with kids of this generation” or “eventually you’ll come back and have to face the real world and get a real job,” but they didn’t understand my plan or what I wanted out of life. There are so many people out there who hate their job but don’t do anything about it because they’re afraid of change, don’t want to venture outside their comfort zones, or feel that right now isn’t a good time to pursue something else. But I believe that the best things in life happen to us unexpectedly, and following the unfamiliar leads us to the ultimate success. Because if you think about it, If you stick with the familiar and what you already know, you would already be successful, or at least know you’re on the path to success. And for me, I knew that I wasn’t utilizing my talents in the ways that they were meant to be used.
 
Through my service in the Peace Corps, I hope to gain the experience I need to work at an international level and to one day start my own NGO (a type of non-profit organization) to engineer and implement clean drinking water systems in developing communities around the world. I’m incredibly excited for my future ahead and I’m counting down the days (50 to be exact!) until I leave for Panama in July 2017!