August 28, 2007

The Stage Is Set

On Saturday we received the last major, run-to-the-mailbox-and-see-if-it's-here package from the Peace Corps. It was the Staging Kit and our departure finally feels imminent. Our staging event will take place in Washington, D.C. (more specifically, in Georgetown, which is pretty sweet), beginning on September 21st. It lasts just a couple of days and judging from the itinerary and description included in our packet, it's a whirlwind preparation for overseas departure and our three months of pre-service training.

Having just completed teacher certification programs at URI, we admittedly groaned a bit when we saw a few of the session titles during staging: "Nuts and Bolts," "Change 5 Things," "Crossing Cultures." While the information will no doubt be important, it's hard to imagine the Peace Corps staff won't be employing the sorts of learning strategies that we were beat over the head with at URI. Make a list. Discuss with your group. Share with your partner. Report out.

The Staging Kit also included information about scheduling our flight down to D.C., which basically consisted of emailing the Peace Corps' travel agency with our information. This didn't stop us from going over to Expedia and looking at every possible flight we might be put on from Bangor. There are flights that morning that get us to D.C. at a very good hour, but there is always the possibility the government will check under a rock and find a flight that inexplicably has us taking a red-eye. Perhaps Bangor to Toronto to Dallas to Washington. Or maybe Bangor to Macedonia to Washington.

There's a booklet for family members that gives a nice overview of the Peace Corps, its mission, what sorts of challenges volunteers might face, etc. We get a booklet ("A Few Minor Adjustments"), too, and it has some excellent words of wisdom as we prepare to head off on this adventure. For instance: it's ok to not love everything about your country's culture. It's apparently not uncommon for volunteers to feel guilty after a few months in their host country because they have some real problems with the culture, whether it be the treatment of women or the dress code, etc. The Peace Corps expects its volunteers to adapt to the host country, not necessarily fall in love with it.

What began as a countdown of months has become a countdown of weeks and soon it will be days. Next up: packing! Each of us can bring two 50-pound bags (per airline regs), though we'd love to keep it lower than that for sheer mobility purposes--as if it won't be tough enough when we first arrive in the Skopje airport, we really don't want to lugging around four heavy-as-hell suitcases.

So we begin packing up most everything we'll need over the next two years into four suitcases. stay tuned for results...

August 05, 2007

Alphabet Soup

It's August, which means we can begin saying "next month" when people ask when we're leaving. It also serves us well as a reminder that we really need to get serious about our language lessons and the other Peace Corps material we've received. No more walking by the table in the den with the Macedonia Welcome Book or PC Training Manual and thinking, "Oh, I'll get to those pretty soon, say, tomorrow?"

No, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to buckle down, shake the rust off these overly vacationed bodies and start some learnin'. Here's a few of the items we picked up just today:

  1. Don't say FYROM. And what is FYROM, you ask? That's the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the official international name of the country. It had to adopt this cumbersome moniker following its independence because northern Greece claims to be the true Macedonia and apparently threw some sort of United Nations temper tantrum at the idea of a "Republic of Macedonia." So much of the world says FYROM, others (including the U.S.) simply say ROM, or, Macedonia. As you might guess, FYROM is a fairly offensive term within Macedonia's borders.

  2. A few greetings. For instance, Good Morning = добро утро. And, Hello = здраво. As Jillian's sister said, "What is this crazy moon language?" That, ummm, polished remark succinctly describes what you might be feeling looking at those greetings and the difficulty in learning...

  3. The Alphabet. The Macedonian language, like all Slavic languages, uses a modified Cyrillic alphabet. Forget the old Latin letters you're used to and try a combination of Greek, Slavic, and Latin characters with different corresponding sounds (e.g. The written letter "H" sounds like /N/ and "P" sounds like /R/).

Tomorrow we'll try learning some numbers and colors. Jillian is going to spell her name with a tower of red and blue Macedonian blocks.