Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hello Everyone!

I'm soooooooooo sorry it has taken me forever to update my blog. Today was the first day I could set up the wireless connection on my laptop and luckily the internet connection is much faster here than on the communal computers. I had planned on posting pictures today, but of course I forgot my aside from failing miserably as a blogger, nothing new has happened since I sent out my last email (which I hope everyone received). I am in Belmopan right now waiting for my Spanish class to start, but I'll try to write as much as possible before people start coming in.

So much has happened, I don't even know where to start. Overall, training is going well. It's been challenging at times, but I feel that I'm getting a lot out of it. We train Monday through Saturday, often from from 9am-5pm, with only an hour for lunch in the middle. It has been incredibly hot, which makes sitting in a small classroom not so fun. By far, the best part has been living with my host family. They have taught me so much about the language, food, culture, and customs of Belizean mestizos. I also found out that Armenia village is one of 12 villages that was allotted by the Belizean government as a refugee village for people fleeing the war in El Salvador and Guatemala. But aside from Spanish-speakers, our village is also comprised of people of Mayan decent, who speak Mopan, Yucatec, and Kekchi (all different dialects), and practically everybody here speaks Kriol. I could spend hours talking about how incredibly diverse Belize is, but I will save that for a later post.

Anyways, class is about to start and is super short, but I promise I'll have lots to talk about next time (and will post pictures!). I'd don't think I'll be able to write for awhile because from Friday to Monday all of the trainees are staying at homes of different PCVs around the country so we can get an idea of what life will be like once we are placed at our sites.

Thank you for all of your emails and letters, you have no idea how much it means to me :)



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hello All!

I can't believe this day has finally come! And even though I am all ready to go, it hasn't quite hit me that I won't be home for a long, long time. I might even be in denial up until the dreaded airport-goodbyes tomorrow morning. So I wanted to take this time to thank you ALL for your love and support, not just these past few months, but throughout all of my travels. Times like these make me realize how truly lucky I am to have such wonderful friends and family.

I wish I could have seen everyone before I left, but please keep emailing me...and now I can finally post my address in Belize so you can send me letters! I am bringing stationary with me, so I will definitely write you back :) If you want, you can send me care packages, but the Peace Corps recommends that everything fit inside of a padded envelope (not only will it be much cheaper, but it will be less likely to be opened).

Here are a few pictures from the last week or so. I love you all SO much!!!

My going-away party on Sunday night.
Gram and Gramps at my party.
Ashley, the bride-to-be, opening her presents at the shower.
My best friend, who I adore.

I shall try and post another entry as soon possible. The next time you hear from me I will be in BELIZE!!

Besos y abrazos.

1 week...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hello All!

7 So much to do, and so little time! Luckily, I got most of my packing out of the way yesterday, and surprisingly, my bags only weighed about 65 pounds collectively (I was pretty exited about that). I decided to put everything into two rolling duffel bags, and I'll carry my hiking backpack and computer on the plane with me..And in case you are interested, here's an abbreviated list of what I am bringing:

-5 polos and a few nice shirts to wear during training (think business casual).
-A lot of thick-strapped tank tops.
-5 knee-length skirts.
-3 dresses.
-3 pairs of Bermuda shorts and 1 pair of regular (short) shorts :)
-Lots of running shorts and exercise shirts.
-1 bikini and 1 training suit (I know it's wishful thinking, but I would LOVE to be able to swim laps while I'm gone).
-1 pair of sweatpants, 1 sweatshirt and 1 long-sleeved shirt.
-Chaco sandals, running shoes, 1 pair of dressy sandals, 2 pairs of close-toed shoes, and 2 pairs of flip-flops from Old Navy.
-A sleeping sack and a small fleece blanket.
-Some activities I can do with kids, whether they be at school or my host home: Uno, a deck of cards, coloring books, colored pencils, stickers, etc.
-English conversation cards and my Spanish dictionary.
-A journal (apparently its a must) and a small photo album with pictures from home.
-For both of my host families, I am bringing oven mitts and a small candle as gifts.

Here's a picture from our fiesta last week on the last day of Spanish class. I will miss those kids!

I will try and write one more entry before I leave on Wednesday, so until then...

Besos y abrazos.

2 weeks...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

¡Buenos dias!

Once again, nothing new to report. I am starting, however, to freak out a little about how quickly my departure date is coming up. For the past nine months I've waited on pins and needles for this day to arrive, and now that its almost here, I don't feel ready! There's so much to do and so many people to see...

Last Friday, Mom and Dad flew me out to Rhode Island to spend a few days with my grandpa. Grandpa was convinced that I wouldn't be eating anything but rice and beans for the next 27 months, so he made it his mission to feed me as much as possible (this included home-cooked quiche and berry pancakes, and endless sushi at a Japanese buffet). Luckily, we also went out on lots of walks. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we spent the time talking about family history, plant life, medicine, and traveling.
Saturday, while he was taking a botany class at a nearby college, I got the opportunity spend the morning with my great-aunt and -uncle in Matunuck. My Aunt Barbara is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, so I was given wonderful advice and heard some hilarious stories from her time in the Philippines. So, all in all, I went back to Denver about 20 pounds heavier, but with some incredible memories that I know I will treasure for a long, long time.

Grandpa and I on one of our walks.
Humphrey and Sophie adore Grandpa and won't leave his side.
Showing me his beehive in the backyard.
Walking along the beach with Aunt Barb.

3 weeks...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hello All!

Ok, so I'll admit it...I've started to enjoy blogging (gasp!) and have had fun allotting Wednesday mornings as my weekly "blog time". It might be that I haven't really forced myself to write since college and I'm enjoying the challenge, but probably it has more to do with loving the feeling of going through the Peace Corps process with all of my closest friends and family. ¡Los quiero mucho!

Anyways, this week has been relatively peaceful in terms of needing to get things done before I leave. No new news from the Peace Corps, so I've really started putting all my effort into deciding what to bring with me to Belize. Packing has become the bane of my existence (or at least, my departure) at this point. The Peace Corps has a very strict baggage policy: checked baggage cannot go over 80 lbs. or a have a linear dimension exceeding 107 inches. (length+width+height). So it seems a daunting task when trying to figure out how to pack 2 years worth of my life into 2 suitcases.

Since I found out that I was leaving in October, I've been bugging current volunteers for advice on what to pack. It seems the general consensus is to bring lots of clothes. Apparently, the humidity, heat, harsh detergents, line drying, and general wear and tear take their toll on the clothes down there. And even though Belize is insanely hot and tropical, and as much as I will want to walk around in tank tops, itty-bitty shorts, and flip-flops, I can't. I have to keep in mind that it is a conservative country, and unlike in the United States, people aren't accustomed to women dressing in that manner unless they are, well, prostitutes. It was the same in Guadalajara, where we had to suffer through 100 degree weather in jeans and fun, let me tell you. And while I'm sure it varies from region to region, I have still been told to avoid spaghetti straps and short shorts, at least when I go out in public. Also, I have to consider that I will be working in schools, and need to dress accordingly. This means knee-length skirts, nice blouses, and close-toed shoes. So what I've really come away with from talking with everyone is that there's no real cut-and-dry list on what to pack for Belize- it all depends on where you will be living, which of course we won't know until 2 months after we get there. But part of the Peace Corps is being flexible- so flexible I shall be!

Aside from packing, I've been making the most of the time I have left with friends and family. I have kept in close contact with one of my high school Spanish teachers, Lisa Thorton, who has been a great friend and mentor to me over the years. We met for coffee last week, caught up on our recent travels, classroom adventures, and plans for the future. And as always, she was a wonderful person to talk to and made me feel a little better about the huge challenge I'm about to embark on. I also got to go up to the cabin over the weekend with my best friend, Ashley, to spend some quality "girl time" together before I leave. This entailed getting stuck on the way up the driveway, hiking through 1 1/2 feet of snow carrying all of our stuff, eating lots of chocolate, reading trashy magazines, playing card games, and chatting by the stove.

I was also very excited when my PADI card came in the mail! For those of you that didn't know, I went to Cozumel at the beginning of February to get scuba certified with one of my good friends, Alex. And even though I was only gone for a few days, it was truly one of the best trips of my life. Alex has his own boat and dive pool at his house, so we we were under no scheduling or time constraints. On one of my dives, I got to dive into a little cave and touch a nurse shark. We also saw lots of barracudas, 4 sea turtles, and an ENORMOUS crab and lobster. Sadly, I forgot to bring my camera with me to capture these incredible moments, but here are a few fun pictures we took afterwards:

Me in my scuba gear.
Alex (middle) and his crew on the Ocean 4
Imitating how I touched the shark on the tail (the real one wasn't as big and sparkly).

Ok, that's all for now! I hope you've all enjoyed my increasingly "sophisticated" entries (haha). Until next time...


P.S.- I forgot that this week is Peace Corps Week! On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. Here's a short excerpt from one of the news releases:

As Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, its service legacy continues to promote peace and friendship around the world with 7,671 volunteers serving in 76 host countries. Historically, nearly 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps to promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of 139 host countries.

4 weeks...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

¡Hola a todos!

With now just a month until departure, Peace Corps has been bombarding us with new information. Here are some of the new developments from the past week:

  • We are staging in Dallas, Texas. I called Sato Travel and booked my flight. I leave on March 24th at 8:30 AM and get into DFW at 11:30 AM.
  • Once at our hotel, we start registration and immunizations at 12:30 PM. The rest of the day is pretty much informing us about "what to expect".
  • We leave on March 25th for Belize: Departing 1:05 PM from Dallas and arriving at 2:55 PM in Belize City!
  • Upon arrival in Belize, we will go through a series of vaccinations: Hepatitis A & B, Rabies (woohoo!), and typhoid.
  • Pre-service training is 9 weeks long and will be carried out in 3 phases:
  1. Phase 1 (1 week)- This phase will take place at the Peace Corps office. During this stage, we will stay at the Garden City Hotel in Belmopan and attend orientation and training sessions at the Peace Corps Office in Belmopan. At the end of this phase, we will receive a community based training site that matches our language and project concentrations.
  2. Phase 2 (5 1/2 weeks)- This is the Community-Based training phase. We will live in one of eight training communities through out the country and will participate in a technical training program specifically designed for our project. We will also begin detailed training in one of the following languages: Kriol, Garifuna, Mopan Maya, or Spanish. We will also live with a host family during this time.
  3. Phase 3 (2 1/2 weeks)- At the completion of Phase 2, we will learn about our future site, meet our counterpart, and move to our future site for 1 1/2 additional weeks of field training. After this, we will return to Belmopan for 1 week to complete Bridge to Service training to prepare us to be sworn-in as a Volunteer.
  • We will be constantly assessed and be given feedback by training staff throughout this entire process and will be sworn-in on May 28th at the Governor General's "Belize House" in Belmopan!!
So it's been a pretty exciting week in terms of figuring out what to expect when we get to Belize...And yesterday, I even got to meet two of the volunteers that are going with me! Ok, until next time.


5 weeks to go!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hello All,

With exactly 5 weeks to go until I leave for Belize, I thought I'd use this opportunity to make my first entry updating you on my Peace Corps progress. Where do I begin? It's been such a long and lengthy process, it's hard to know how to summarize it all into a few short paragraphs, but here I go!

I got back from my 10 months of teaching in Mexico sometime in late May 2009. I had been thinking about applying for the Peace Corps for quite awhile, and decided to just go for it. I went on the website and filled out the (very) long application, wrote 2 essays, and asked 3 people if they could be my references. A week or so after submitting everything, I was asked to come in for an interview. I then went to the Peace Corps office, located at CU-Boulder, and talked for about an hour with a former Peace Corps volunteer, who was now in charge of interviewing all prospective volunteers. It lasted about an hour and was really interesting and informative. He basically told me I was a shoe-in for the Peace Corps, given all of my traveling, volunteering and teaching experience, and thus recommended me. So as of June 1st, I was nominated and got a cool "invitee toolkit" on the Peace Corps website. My nomination was for Latin America as a teacher trainer, leaving in February 2010.

The next hurdle before I could get placed was getting medically and dentally cleared- and let me tell you, it was not easy. The medical packet is easily 10 pages long and asks the doctor to detail every ailment, no matter how small and insignificant it might have been. But after 2 or 3 trips to Kaiser in Wheatridge and much hair-pulling, I successfully submitted it. Now came the hard part: THE WAITING. As I've discovered, the Peace Corps is all about waiting. Anyways, I sent in the medical packets in late June, and I thought I'd be hearing back sometime that summer...nope! June turned into July, and July turned into August, and I started having my doubts about the Peace Corps (I'm not always the most patient person, I'll admit). But luckily, sometime late- August, I got a letter in the mail informing me that I had been medically and dentally cleared! With the hard part out of the way, I only needed to be placed (which I was told could be awhile because they were busy working with everyone who had an earlier nomination than I did).

During the following months, I really, really tried to be patient and to just keep myself occupied- thinking about Peace Corps as little as possibly, and busying myself with teaching and traveling. I went to Costa Rica for a week at the very end of October, and of course, that's when my placement was sent out. I begged Mom to open it for me and to give me every detail possible. I WAS GOING TO BELIZE! My departure date was set for March 24th, and now, when I open my toolkit, this is the page I'm greeted with:

My Assignment

Congratulations on your choice to become a Volunteer in Belize. Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer is an experience like no other. Soon you will learn a new language, exchange ideas, and take part in a community as a partner and a friend. Each day in the Peace Corps will bring something new. Your life will be enriched by the friendships you make, the challenges you undertake, and the experience of seeing the world and yourself from a truly new perspective.

In the enormous packet of information I received with my placement, I also learned about my primary duties as a teacher trainer:

"The Ministry of Education is in need of Trained Teachers who will assist in the training of over one hundred Administrators and Teachers in primary schools in Belize. They will be assigned to the individual schools and will provide support to these administrators and teachers in the areas of:
School and classroom management:
-Support in language professional development
-Content and methodology in the teaching of reading and ESL
-Support in the day-to-day management of the reading program
-Support and methodology in the management of, and teaching strategies in early childhood education
-Support in professional development in the area of Inclusion Education"

Here's a little information about the country I will be serving in:
-Peace Corps arrived in Belize in 1962, and since than 1,700 volunteers have served there.
-Belize became the colony of British Honduras in 1840.
-British Honduras was renamed Belize in 1972, and on September 21, 1981, Great Britain granted Belize full independence.
-Belize is still a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
-The population is only around 300,000, making it the least populated country in Central America.
-Belize is characterized by an incredibly diverse society: Mestizos (people of mixed European and indigenous ancestry) constitute about 53 percent of the population, Creoles 25 percent, Mayas 10 percent, Garifuna 7 percent, and others, 4 percent, including Chinese, Taiwanese, East Indian, and Mennonite populations.
-English remains the official language. Spanish is becoming more widely spoken as the Mestizo population increases. The Garifuna and several Maya communities speak their own languages and Mennonite settlements in Cayo and Orange Walk speak Low German. Creole is fast becoming the language common to all.
-And a little about the environment: Ninety three percent of Belize's land is under forest cover. It has the largest coral reef in the western hemisphere, the largest cave system in Central America, over 500 species of birds, thousands of Maya archaeological temples, and the only jaguar reserve in the world.

Alright, there you have it. This is just a very, very short synopsis of my application process and what I should expect as a teacher trainer in Belize. I promise I will try to do a better job of updating my blog when I'm gone (my Mexico blog had only about 3 entries...oops). Let me know if you have any questions- you know where to find me until March 24th :)

And now, I leave you until next time with one of my favorite quotes from Into the Wild:

"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."
-Alexander Supertramp