Saturday, June 20, 2009

Aspiration Statements

I’ve put off writing my “aspiration statements” for a few days but now that I’ve actually sat down to write, I completely understand why this is required work. Originally, I was worried that I didn’t have the right answers, because, frankly, I didn’t have any answered. “How are you going to adapt?” …. As well as I can? “How will this help you aspirations after your service?” … I have no idea what I’ll be doing then so how will I know what this will help?

The planning for the essays seemed to just cause more questions but once I finally sat down and sucked it up, I was actually able to come up with answers that I’m happy with. No, my answers aren’t perfect, and maybe they were written a little hurriedly, but I’m not trying to win a Pulitzer, I’m just trying to be as truthful as I can so my country director gets to know me a little better.

Even more than helping the staff in Senegal, this is really helping me. The pointed questions about what skills I’m bringing, what I hope to learn, how this fits within my personal aspirations, etc., are helping me express what I’ve been trying to say each time I’m asked “so why are you doing it?”. Even with this exercise in articulation I can’t completely say why I’m doing this but, man, am I happy I am.

Every moment I seem to get a new feeling about leaving and they range across the board from nervous to completely ecstatic. Tonight, however, as I looked at the June, July, and August calendars on my wall, I realized that I’m actually going. I’m actually joining the Peace Corps. I know it seems ridiculous that I’m having this realization now, 2 months before I leave, but I’m joining an organization that’s been portrayed in movies… I’m one of those characters who goes off and joins the Peace Corps. This realization probably isn’t as brilliant to you as it was to me, but this is an organization established by JFK to achieve 3 simple goals (paraphrased): to help people internationally, to explain what being an American is like, and to explain other cultures to those still in the U.S. Whether or not I’m right, which I’m sure I’ll find out when I’m actually there, I have to believe those 3 goals are still being attempted at everyday by Americans around the world and I’m so excited to join that group.

Why am I doing this? I don’t know and I’m not sure I’ll ever have a perfect answer to that question but I’m doing it whole heartedly and I can’t wait.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Passport And Visa Day!

Today, I finally finished my travel documents and submitted them. Like most things in the application process, however, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Knowing it was going to be a rainy day in Chicago and that the post office passport desk closes at 3pm, I headed over around noon. I had been planning this important trip and was completely prepared. Because I can’t forfeit my current passport before August (family trip in July), I had to fill out the longer form and get it certified by the passport people. I went with my FedEx envelope, my DS-11 form, 2 passport pictures of that form, my 2 visas, 2 pictures for those forms, an expired passport, my current passport, my driver’s license, and $25 for the processing.

Turns out, if you’re filling out a DS-11 (the brown form if anyone’s doing this) a passport that was issued before you were 16 doesn’t count as proof of citizenship. So after making friends with the passport lady, I headed home to grab a certified copy of my birth certificate (thankfully my mom had a copy... thanks mom!). Well, it also turns out, something I should have realized before (and need to start paying WAY more attention to as I go to a country that 95% Muslim) you can’t have your shoulders showing in your passport photos. I ran to the local Walgreens to get new photos. By this time it had started raining but I had an umbrella and was determined to get it done. I might look like a little of a hot mess in my new pictures but I think it adds character!

After returning with all of the correct documents (30 minutes before the office was going to close), I took my oath, signed the form, and was ready to drop it in the envelope provided by the Peace Corps… turns out the Post Office can’t turn over the passport papers after they’ve been certified and they also can’t add anything else into the envelope they’re sending (aka my visa applications). After verifying the Post Office package was going to the address I had been provided, I parted ways with the passport lady (who I had become quite good friends with). Just to make sure everything was going to be alright, I called the travel agency and worked out how it would be okay for the packages to arrive separately and FedEx’ed my visa applications!

Finally, around 2:45, I was done with my travel papers and only a little wet from the rain. To reward myself for making it through another day of bureaucracy first hand, this process is full of those days, I sat down at Portillo’s and had a killer chili-cheese dog with a coke. As I started thinking about how I would have a million days like this in the upcoming months and how those days will be so much harder because I’ll be trying to understand in Wolof or French, I walked by a Chase bank employee trying to catch a butterfly that had flown into the ATM room. It was the ridiculousness of the situation that made me remember that when I’m in Senegal and I can’t have a chili-cheese dog, something else will come along to make things better.

Tonight I’m outlining my aspiration statements and I’m looking to send off my resume and aspiration statements to the country office! À bientôt!

Friday, June 12, 2009

I'm on my way! (Part 1)

Well, I'm on my way to Senegal... in August, that is. I'll start with a brief timeline to orient you with where it all began:

August 2008: I realized I could graduate a year early from NYU and started to look into what to do with the "extra year" I would gain.

September 2008: I sent in my application after many reviews and revisions (thanks to all of my friends, mostly SBT, who helped) and started to wait.

November 2008: Due to some complications with my recommendations, my application was slow being processed.

December 2, 2008: My interview was scheduled and, thanks again to my wonderful friends and ML's hairbrush, I was put together and ready to go. After the two hour interview I was told I would hear back within the next few days.

December 4, 2008: I was just about to sit down in my Gender and Choices class when I received the email saying I was nominated for: Sub-Saharan Africa, French Speaking, Economic Development, leaving in August. I promptly told my family and called to accept... then the medical process started.

January and February 2009: I proceeded with medical and dental clearance.

Early June 2009: I got my placement clearance, don’t be confused though, this doesn’t mean your invitation is on the way.

June 4, 2009: 6 months, to the day, from my nomination I checked mytoolkit and it said that my invitation was in the mail!

June 10, 2009: I was in New York visiting everyone when I got a call from my mother saying the fedex package had come and, over the phone, I learned that I was going to Senegal! The plan, as of now is training August 10th and going to Senegal August 1th. If nothing changes, I’ll be doing small enterprise development from October 2009 – October 2011.

Now that I’ve officially accepted the invitation, the adventure begins with visas, forms, and my aspiration statement! I’ll try to update this as things progress.