September 29, 2007

Our Peace Corps Application Timeline

When we were in the application (AKA, hurry up and wait) process of becoming Peace Corps Volunteers, we found peoples' personal blogs and accounts of their experiences invaluable. We would check and double check to compare and see if our nomination, clearances and invitations were coming slowly or quickly. We wanted to know what to expect and when, particularly because as a couple the process seems to vary slightly from that of single applicants. So, in hopes to help other current applicants and future Peace Corps volunteers, here is our timeline:

Mar. 30, 2005: Attended recruiting event.

Apr. 15, 2006: Started on-line application.

May 1, 2006: Submitted on-line application.

May 7, 2006: Received reference kit in the mail.

May 14, 2006: Completed and sent in reference kit.

May 17, 2006: Contacted by recruiter to schedule interview.

May 18, 2006: Recruiter received completed reference kit materials.

May 22, 2006: Scheduled interview for July date.

Jul. 25, 2006: Interviewed with recruiter at regional headquarters.

Aug. 16, 2006: Contacted by recruiter to discuss possible nomination.

Aug. 18, 2006: Nominated- TEFL, Sept. 07, Eastern Europe.

Sep. 5, 2006: Received medical & dental kit.

Sep. 27, 2006: Submitted medical & dental kit.

Oct. 16, 2006: Dan- dental clearance; Jillian- legal clearance.

Oct. 27, 2006: Dan- legal clearance; Jillian- dental hold until braces removed.

Nov. 1, 2006: PC Requested additional medical information from Dan & Jillian.

Nov. 10, 2006: Submitted additional medical information.

Jan. 8, 2006: Called Headquarters to inquire about receipt of additional medical info.

Jan. 10, 2006: Resubmitted additional medical information.

Jan. 19, 2007: Dan & Jillian- medical clearance.

Mar. 19, 2007: Placement office requested fax of teaching certifications.

Mar. 20, 2007: Faxed teaching certifications.

May 6, 2007: Toolkit status changed to Invitee.

May 18, 2007: Invitation to serve in Macedonia!

May 22, 2007: Accepted Invitation.

May 28, 2007: Submitted updated resumes and aspiration statements.

Jun. 25, 2007: Submitted application for no fee passports.

Aug. 1, 2007: Jillian- braces removed, dental clearance.

Sep. 5, 2007: Received staging kit.

Sep. 20, 2007: Departed for Staging in Washington D.C.

Sep. 24, 2007: Departed for Macedonia.

September 28, 2007

Zdravo!

Hello!
Our first week of language, culture and technical training has been amazing to say the least. Although we are exhausted and fatigued from all the stimulation, we are still excited to be here. This post is just a recap of all we have been doing so far:
Language & Culture Training- PC uses an incredible method for teaching language. Our first introduction to the language consisted of basic greetings using a listen and repeat method. And by repeat, I mean repeat a billion times. The Language Facilitators are so patient and supportive that it doesn't even feel like a language class. Another benefit to this approach and environment is that everything you learn you are able to try out immediately with native speakers. We had our first successful conversation in Macedonian today. It went something like this.

Me: Good evening.
Macedonian Lady: Good Evening.
Me: How are you?
Lady: Good, and you?
Me: I am good.
Lady: (silence)
Me: Goodbye!
Lady: Goodbye.

Not bad, huh? Oh, and Dan successfully ordered a bottle of beer completely in Macedonian.
Technical Training- This week was an introduction to what we will be doing as Secondary and Primary English Language Resource Teachers. During our 3 month training period we will learn more about the duties of that position and the methodologies of teaching English as a Foreign Language. It sounds like every site is very unique and that the duties can vary greatly between sites. So, a definitive all encompassing description of the job may have to wait.

Currently, all the trainees are staying at a central "hub" site, but during the remainder of training we will be in smaller "satellite" sites. Tomorrow we will find out our satellite site and therefore will be meeting our host family as well. We are very excited about this and looking forward to a more permanent place to stay. We will try to keep everyone posted as to what we are doing, but it is uncertain if we will have regular internet access. One possible site is rural and has no internet, while the other is more urban and does have internet. We'll find out tomorrow. Until then, Dobra Noch!



Hiking above our training city

September 25, 2007

We're Finally Here!

We’ve just only wrapped up our first full day in Macedonia and there’s so much to say. The lot of us arrived bleary eyed but pretty much exited out of our minds at the Skopje airport on Monday afternoon. We all piled into a bus and rode down to our training site. Jillian remarked the whole way, “It looks like southern California.” Completely true. The landscape was very dry with small brush, few trees, and small, rolling hills.

We arrived at the hotel in our training site, delighted to be at rest for at least the next week. Within the first hour or so, Jillian and I had managed to blow out our surge protector. Forgetting it didn’t convert the electricity, I plugged it into the wall and pressed, “reset.” There was a pop, the smell of burning hardware, and my arm tingled for roughly 30 minutes. The rest of the night was much more relaxing, featuring traditional Macedonian food and some local wine ($2 a bottle!), and we slept hard, awaking this morning to a full schedule that included a Macedonian dance troupe, our first language lesson (basic greetings, etc) and a scavenger hunt through the city.

The next few days will be more introductions to basic customs and conversation and on Saturday we finally meet (cue: dramatic music) our host families. We’re looking forward to trying out our new language skills on the local Macedonians, who seem to be very friendly and eager to help us as we slosh through basic phrases.


What else would they name the airport?

More pics to come, but the connection is bad...

September 24, 2007

En Route

It might feel like 3am to the forty of us, but the Vienna airport is all hustle and bustle this morning. This is easily one of the smallest terminals I have ever seen--there's basically two shops, one restaurant, and about ten gates. Oh yeah, we have a five hour layover. To make matters worse, there isn't an inch of rug in the whole terminal; it'd basically be like trying to take a nap at a museum. So we're sitting, enjoying free WiFi, watching movies on laptops with rapidly-depleting batteries (why did I pack my adapter??), and generally just shooting the shit and anticipating our arrival in Skopje. Here's my first attempt at using this laptop's Webcam:

video

The flight over from D.C. was pretty bearable, mostly due to the free wine and an ample supply of Tylenol PM. I was sitting next to an older woman I believe was from Slovakia. She didn't speak a word of English and was the archetype (or maybe just stereotype) of the hardened Soviet female. In short, what a traveling companion!

On the otherhand, the other 41 members of this Peace Corps caravan are a great bunch to be traveling with. Our couple of days in D.C. were quite succesful, both imformative and socially rewarding. Everything we've been evenly remotely anxious about (baggage weight, e.g.) instantly became much easier to deal with once we were standing in a crowd people feeling the same thing. Besides Jillian and I, there is another maried couple--same age as us and from Rhode Island. Most of group is recent college grads and some late 20-somethings.

Jillian, bless her good fortune, was able to sleep for about half the flight, but she did miss breakfast, so we're off for a crossaint and coffee.

Schuss!

September 19, 2007

Last Day in the States

I remember filling out that initial Peace Corps application like it was a year ago. Well, it was actually one-and-a-half years ago--you know what they say, time flies.


So it finally comes down to our last day. Jillian turned in an epic performance with the suitcases. If there's a PC Macedonia award for Best Packed Volunteer (Couples Category), we are clearly the early favorites. In a shrink-wrap tour de force, Jillian transformed an unsightly pile of wrinkled clothing into a highly compartmentalized package. It's as if she put a bomb back together after it had gone off:


I know what you're thinking:
Are Jillian and Dan taking the space shuttle to Macedonia?

Yesterday we sold our last remaining major possession--the Honda. The buyer was an 18-year old girl who didn't seem too impressed by the car's fine condition, low price, and cleanliness and nearly balked at the deal because the car doesn't have rear speakers. She informed me that she would be installing a sub-woofer in the trunk (which is really roomy!), and, like, what happened to those rear speakers. Like, did I blow them out or something?

It was about at this point that her parents stepped in and talked some sense into her and so last night she drove off with arguably our last connection to the adult world. No sooner had those tail lights faded than Jillian and I took stock of our surrounding possessions and announced, "We're kids again." Except most kids have more gadgets than us.

So that's it: our bags are packed, we have no car and there's little left to do but sit around and get overly sentimental about our country and the greater Bangor area. We heard an ad on the radio yesterday: "If you've never been to Barnaby's, you're missing out!" Barnaby's is a depressing spot out by the airport frequented by the sorts of people last seen in Billy Joel's "Piano Man." But for a split second, I actually thought, You know, I never did make it out to Barnaby's. And it made me a little sad. And then I slapped myself across the face.

In some ways I'm reminded of our final hour in Seattle: we had some extra time walking back from breakfast and so we detoured a bit through downtown. Seattle was a city we had truly loved living in and watching the traffic and people move about the wide avenues on what was a sunny, warm day, I was struck by the feelings of departure. The transition felt so vivid--unlike past and future moves that really just felt like a pain in the ass.

That vividness is now returning, except this time it's so shrouded in anticipation and nervousness that it's hard tell what we're feeling. Even though today is not technically our last day in the country (we do have staging in D.C. this weekend), when the plane lifts off tomorrow at 6:45am, all of this is going to seem about four thousand miles away.

I will say this, though: you just can't beat the peace of mind you get living in or around Bangor. We can only hope Macedonia has such strict laws:

September 15, 2007

Runnin' in the Rain

Today marked the last Official Event before our departure on Friday. This morning, in and around rain-drenched Bar Harbor, we ran the Mount Desert Island Half-Marathon. When I say drenched, I mean of the soggy-shirt, squishy-shoe variety. This past week was nothing but sunshine and perfect early-fall weather. Ditto for the long range forecast. Except for today, one of those headlights-and-wipers-on-all-day deal.


So, lucky us and the other 300-odd runners. The race--the only half marathon in the country that winds through a national park--moved along Acadia's carriage trails (which were built as just that, paths for the rich to take their horse-and-buggies out) and finished in Bar Harbor.


Jillian at mile 5, waving to her devoted fans


Right after I finished. Dad puts his arm around me to pose, only to discover
my shirt was a disgusting, swampy mess.



30 seconds after Jillian finished, 10 seconds before we dashed off for a hot shower.

For the record:
Dan -- 1:31:19 (third in my age group!)
Jillian -- 1:50:10 (just missed placing in her age group, came in fourth)

And more importantly: 120 hours until we're out of here. No more Official Events left, time to start packing.

September 14, 2007

What could be worse than losing your passport?

It's worth mentioning that Jillian recently ended her 27-month orthodonic odyssey. The braces, you see, are finally off. Release that smile from its captivity and let the pearly white celebration begin. Waiter, bring this woman some native Maine corn--on the cob!

This also means no more pictures like this:

[Editor/Husband's note: Doesn't Jillian look like Alex in this picture?]

But one thing Jillian could always say about her braces was that it was pretty much impossible for her to misplace, forget, or just plain lose them. Cemented to her teeth, they weren't going anywhere. The same cannot be said, alas, for her retainer, a.k.a. That Which Will Ensure Her Newly Straightened Teeth Remain So.

Losing one's retainer--which typically occurs, I'm told, when it's wrapped up in a napkin at dinner, so as not to offend the company, and then accidently tossed out with the uneaten broccoli--can be a nuisance. Back to the orthodonist for a new mold and a few hundred bucks from the pocket. Voila! New retainer.

But, Jillian's orthodonist doesn't have an office in Skopje, which makes a lost retainer more than just a nuisance. It makes a lost retainer a dental disaster, and vaults Jillian's retainer, and cases to store it, to the top of our packing list, right up there next to underwear and passports.

No, check that, it just might be more important than the passports. Lost passports mean mind-numbing bureaucratic procedures and hours spent filling out paperwork and catching deep sighs and disapproving glances at the U.S. embassy. A lost retainer? Shudder the thought.

And with that....the beautiful new smile:




September 09, 2007

Red Sox Nation East....Way East



If there's a downside to leaving the states for a soccer-loving country like Macedonia in late September, it's missing the baseball pennant race. This wouldn't be a problem, of course, if we were from Pittsburgh or Oakland (or if we were Dodgers fans....sorry Pa Kearney and Grandpa Kimes), but we live in New England, in the epicenter of baseball fanaticism, where people are more likely to know more about the leadoff hitter than their neighbor. I'm talking of course about Red Sox Nation and our team has the best record in baseball. Without the benefit of our beloved NESN on which to watch the Sox, we'll be reduced to watching choppy highlights on ESPN.com, narrated by some smarmy, smug anchor. Boo-yah!

But before I write this off, before I give up hope of ever seeing a Sox hat or Manny t-shirt for the next 27 months, maybe there's an opportunity here. Who better to bring baseball to the Macedonians than the newly minted "America's Team?" I mean, have the former Yugoslavians ever seen Big Papi swing the bat? And let's face it, J.D. Drew sucks in any language.

Ok, so maybe it's too much, too soon, to expect our host family to understand the intricacies of the suicide squeeze in time for this October. By next April, I need only to translate and explain the following five rules to understanding baseball in Red Sox Nation:

  1. Kevin Youkilis isn't Greek, he's Jewish.
  2. Don't even ask about "Sox Appeal."
  3. A-Rod usually refers to Macedonia as the Former Yugoslav Republic of.
  4. That "Tito" you keep hearing about is the manager, Terry Francona.
  5. If you didn't install a satellite dish to watch Manny's batting helmet fly off as he rounds first, then why did you?

Now find us a bar in Skopje that serves Sam Adams....

September 05, 2007

The Countdown Continues...

Two weeks until we leave and we're making a list, checking it twice: Last minute things we need (a surge protector for our electrical gadgets) and those things we just want (peanut butter...according to the welcome packet we recently received, this is tough to get in Macedonia). The inevitable final, breath-holding moment will come when we actually load all our stuff into the suitcases and weigh them. That's when we'll start remarking, "Well, maybe we can just get a bottle opener over there" or "Time to pick my favorite two t-shirts." Of course, we are responsible for moving these suitcases around multiple airports and stuffing them into our host family's car, no doubt a Yugo or some close relative, so it might be in everyone's best interest if they didn't each weigh exactly 50 pounds. Ok, so the bottle opener stays.

On the subject of the host family, we've recently been scouting potential gifts for ours, based on suggestions from other PC volunteers. Thus far we've compiled the following items:

-Some postcards, among them one of JFK, which I think will go over pretty well. On a side note, the notion of bringing along this JFK-on-his-yacht b&w receives a 7.5 on the Cheesedealistic Scale (a scale I invented just now that indicates the degree to which something is idealistic in a really cheesy way. For example, joining the PC receives a 1. On the other hand, showing up for staging wearing a t-shirt that says "Deployed for Peace"--these shirts exist, by the way--creeps mightily close towards 10 land.)

-A deck of Rhode Island playing cards. Though the map on the frontside of these cards gives off the impression that Johnston is every bit as entertaining as Newport, I'm sure our host family will appreciate the sheer obscurity of it all once we've pointed out RI on our USA map.

-A small jug of real New Hampshire maple syrup. We eventually hope to make our host family pancakes and, pending their approval, translate the recipe into Macedonian.

Now we're in New York visiting with Jillian's sister and her fiance and the city streets are swarming with gift possibilites, so long as we're patient. It's going to take some sifting through "Dolca Gabanna" bags, "Tony Hilfiger" silk ties, and a really surprising number of poorly drawn illustrations celebrating black womanhood, but with a little effort there's much to be found. NYC picture books, stickers, and postcards are some of the under-$2 fare available.

I did see a t-shirt today (ironically enough, being sold by what appeared to be a group of African immigrants) that would pull about a 9.5 on the Hilariously and Uncomfortably Inappropriate Gift Scale: "Welcome to America. Now Learn English."