Thursday, June 28, 2007

Part 3

One-third of being a Peace Corps Volunteer - actually the one-third that lasts for the rest of my life - is sharing your overseas experience with Americans back home. To that end, since returning to America I spoke at my old high school, Kittatinny, gave an interview to my local newspaper, and scheduled a presentation at the Rotary Club in my hometown. I hope that through these activities, and informal conversations with people I meet each day, I can share a little of what I've learned in the Peace Corps.

A note about the article: unfortunately the internet version doesn't show the 6 pictures that were published, one of which was spread across the entire front page, but it still has a couple of typos. Overall, I really liked it.

I also had a blast at my old high school. Despite the fact that there were only a couple of school days left, and the seniors I spoke to certainly had other things on their minds (graduation, summer, FREEDOM!), I think some of them really enjoyed it. And giving out candy for asking or answering a question probably didn't hurt.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Going Away Photos

Forgot to post these photos, taken at various good-byes within the last few days in my village.

Going away party with teachers at School #2.

Last picture taken in Copceac. All my co-workers on the steps of the mayor's office.

My amazing host-family: Katya, Mitya, and our dog, Linda.

Me and Luda.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


It's the morning after my first night in my own bed at my parent's house in New Jersey. It was probably the most restful night of sleep I've had in a long time - didn't wake up once.

Even though I actually ended my Peace Corps service on May 9, and left Moldova at 4am that day, I didn't return home to NJ until the May 19. I flew from Chisinau, Moldova to Frankfurt, Germany to Atlanta, Georgia to Tulsa, Oklahoma over a total of 23 hours.

Along the way, I met several Moldova college students who were headed to America for summer jobs through a program called Work and Travel Since I speak Russian and English, I was able to help them fill in their travel documents and direct them toward their connecting flights in Atlanta. I hope they have good, and profitable, experiences in America. I know the fees to get into these kinds of programs are quite high, and many of these students will only earn minimum wage. I've never met anyone who finished such a program, so if anyone can comment here about a past experience, we'd all like to read about it.

Once in Tulsa, I had a few days to readjust my internal clock before hopping in a car to help Krista drive to Rochester, NY where she'll start an accelerated nursing program. In Rochester, I learned how my parents must have felt when they took me to college - so many things to buy and do in order to settle in!

Then I flew to NYC, met my cousin at the airport, and sped away to King of Shish-Kabob, a Dakake family hang-out. I had wanted to surprise my parents, so I never told them that I was in America. They thought I was still in Moldova and would be returning on May 21st. My whole family was in on the scheme, so I hid in the bathroom when my parents came in. I waited for them to sit down, and then came out saying, "There's no toilet paper in there - do you guys have any napkins?" My Mom's chin hit the floor she was so surprised.

So now I've got lots of unpacking to do, housing to find in Philadelphia before school starts at Wharton, a couple weddings to attend, houses to paint, and a million other things.

It's good to be back, but I do miss my friends in Moldova and look forward to going back to visit in a few years.

I haven't decided what to do with this blog. I'll probably leave it up for others to read and learn about Moldova and Uzbekistan and Peace Corps, but I doubt I'll be making further additions. If I start a new one about the "adventures" of a business school student, I'll post a link here.

ps - A few days ago, I received word my village won a grant (that I wrote) from the US Embassy in Moldova. We had already received funds for redoing the local TV station, but needed additional moneys for a new transmitter. Now Copceac will have its own independent local media source.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The End is Nigh

In Peace Corps, approximately three months before the end of a volunteer's service, we attend a COS Conference. COS stands for Close of Service, but at the beginning of our three days in the capital, we learned that it also could be thought of as Continuation of Service. Why? Because one-third of a PCV's job is to share with the American people their experiences abroad. [The other thirds are to share America with our host country and to actually do some work.]

I'm looking forward to beginning, or continuing if you consider this blog an early attempt at that last third of my job, this important part of my service. I've got lots of photos and video that I hope to edit into a short film and/or powerpoint presentation. At this point, my honorarium is very reasonable – turkey sandwich on a toasted bagel. Let the speaking tour begin!

I suppose this was technically my fourth COS Conference - once in Uzbekistan, and twice before in Moldova as a presenter. Another (now departed) PCV and I created a financial planning presentation to help RPCVs (returned) make wise financial decisions as they re-enter the workforce and start earning a salary. This was my first time making the presentation solo, and I think it went very well. Actually, one of the other attendees just told me that she was inspired to take the government bonds that her grandparents have been giving her since forever ago and move them into something with a higher interest rate. Made my day.

Ps – Quote of the conference: “Peace Corps is like wearing a chicken suit in New York City and telling people in broken English how to do things better.”


A German Rotary Club recently sent three of its members – Joachim, Reinhard, and Juergen – to Copceac in order to lay the groundwork for two projects they will be funding. I've been emailing with them over the last couple months to help set things up, and it was nice to finally meet them. The first project will replace many of the old, drafty wood-frame windows in one of the schools with modern, double-pane, plastic-frame ones. The other is a water project, which will connect a well with three water towers that are 2km away. This will greatly increase the water available to the village. At least until I leave for America, I’m to be their eyes and ears on the ground as these projects move forward.

During their visit, I was occasionally surprised by their surprise that someone from America (me) would be living and working in Moldova as a PCV. Over the course of their visit, we talked about a lot of things including the current administration in America. Other than Moldovans, this was the first time I've really discussed America's reputation with Europeans. Although this probably isn't news to the readers of this blog, it was a bit of a shock to me to see first-hand how far America's standing has fallen since the outpouring of sympathy that came following 9/11.

One Rotarian mentioned that he always liked America because following WWII, he remembered receiving packages from the States with good food and nice, warm clothes. Isn't it amazing how those gifts so many years ago helped shape an opinion that has lasted so long? I wonder how long the aid given by the American people to the world will continue to mold opinions in light of current events?

So what does this mean for me and the Peace Corps? I think it makes our work to attain world peace and friendship much more difficult, and perhaps more important, to say nothing of the threat of terrorism. Though there are only a few people in Copceac who think that I am a spy, some of them are good and intelligent people (who unfortunately have the completely wrong idea about my mission). Can you blame them? If I lived in a country that used to view America as its enemy, and at least partly blamed America for the fall of the USSR, and now saw an America that waged unpopular (if not simply unjustified) wars, what would I think if an American showed up in my village with some vague humanitarian goals?


Shouldn't let my 28th birthday go by without notice here. So, I'm 28. Since last year's birthday was a bit of a let-down, I didn't organize any big party in my village. I did, however, wake up to a cake that my host-mother baked for me (pictured here).

The following weekend, however, my fellow-Gagauzian PCVs – who oddly also had April birthdays – held a three-way birthday Toga Olympiad. The toga part didn't really come off; virtually no one brought sheets and it was a little cold. There weren't may games to speak of either; they consisted of one half-field soccer game that some of us played against some foul-mouthed local kids. But, we really nailed the food portion of the weekend – club sandwiches, bean soup, gyros, muffins, and omelets. It was a great weekend.