I recently returned from a fairly short trip back to Moldova to visit my host family. I spent about a week in my village. I arrived just over a year after I left Moldova at the end of my 2-year Peace Corps service there. I was blessed with cooler-than-normal summer temperatures (so thankful! a few weeks before I went, it was hovering around 100 degrees), and my host family made sure I ate lots of ice cream.
My three oldest host nieces joined me in the village so we could spend time together. The week was mostly spent at “home”- reading, drawing, playing, and talking. We also walked around my village and visited the public library, the park/playground, and school. It’s summer vacation in Moldova, so I didn’t see many students (just a couple who I passed on the street) or either of the partner teachers I worked with when I lived there. This was a bit disappointing but not entirely unexpected. I did get to enjoy some tea and cookies with a small group of teachers from the school I worked at one morning.
I spent my last evening in the capital with my host sister and her family. We took a very brief trip to the city center, where we walked around Cathedral Park for a short while. Some day, I’d like to go back for a longer amount of time and visit some of the attractions and wineries I never visited when I lived there, but it was a nice, short trip spent with some of my favorite people!
It’s been a little quiet on here the past few months. I left Moldova 9 months ago, and I’m still adjusting back to life in the United States and figuring out my next steps. I’m working as a long-term sub in a 5th grade classroom (which I’m enjoying and which is keeping me quite busy!), but I’m not yet sure where I’ll be/what I’ll be doing come fall.
This time last year, I was inching toward the end of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. To be honest, at that point, I felt I was really ready to go home and leave Moldova. Things that had been exciting during the first year of service had begun to frustrate me. I missed American food and ingredients, I missed doing activities that were more accessible in the United States (hiking, walking without people asking where I was going, going to the movies, meeting up with friends, etc.), and I missed my family and friends. I still tried to focus on enjoying every moment I had remaining in Moldova, but I was mostly looking forward to leaving.
The last couple of months of my service, however, was full of reminders to stay focused on the present. I began to finally feel closer to my colleagues at school. I worked on some projects I was proud of. As I began to say my goodbyes, I felt the love of so many wonderful Moldovans. I appreciated the natural beauty surrounding me.
Now, nine months later, I miss Moldova and her people more than I had ever imagined I would. I knew I would miss some people, especially my host family. But I miss so much more. I miss the earlier spring, with flowers blooming everywhere and fruit trees blossoming every few yards. I missed the holiday traditions around Christmas and New Year. I miss my students and the teachers at school. I miss walking to and from school on quiet roads lined with plants and flowers and the smell of nature. I miss sitting on the swing in the courtyard sipping on tea made from the mint leaves my host mom had planted and then dried. I miss “my” cat (he was really my host family’s, but everybody called him mine because he was rather partial to me). I miss the random adventures and visits I made with my host mom.
In the United States, I am hesitant to talk to someone I don’t know or throw myself into the unknown, but in Moldova I thought little of accompanying my host mom when visiting a friend unannounced or walking to the next town over to visit her friends. I ate food prepared by almost anyone (that only registered as unusual when I returned to the U.S. and realized once again that it was not common here).
Some things have stayed with me from my time in Moldova. I feel like I’m rebellious if I wear shoes inside someone’s home (even my own home- Moldovans never wear shoes, excluding slippers, inside homes as it’s seen as unclean). I feel the need to make sure my shoes are always clean (Moldovans take great pride in making sure their shoes are clean). I wear a robe around the house when I’m cold (my family thinks this is weird, but it’s warmer than a sweater and easier than a blanket). I drink more tea than I did before I went to Moldova (Moldovans drink tea with most meals).
I’d really like to return to my “other home” soon to visit my host family, friends, and students, but so far scheduling such a trip has been difficult. Perhaps I’ll be able to make the trip in the summer. But regardless of when I get to “go home”, I think of Moldova almost every day.
I’m sure we all say this most years, but wow! What a year 2018 has been! Before we leap into 2019, I thought I had better wrap up 2018 with some of my top memories from the past year (in years past I’ve limited myself to 20 or so, but there were so many great moments in the past year, this list is longer than usual!).
Went cross-country skiing with my mom. Winter seems like such a better season when you actually get out and enjoy the snow and cold, and this is one of the best ways to do that!
Made it home to my village just in time to celebrate Christmas with my host family. After a VERY long journey back to Moldova from the United States (I got stuck in JFK airport for 24 hours), I was so happy to celebrate Christmas with my host family and snuggle with my host nieces.
My students coming to our house for caroling, uraturi, and seed-throwing. It was nice to see the various Moldovan traditions for both Christmas and New Year.
Found out when my last day in Moldova would be. We had a COS (Close of Service) lottery with all of the volunteers in my group and selected the days we would finish our Peace Corps service.
Visited Andrei with my partner teacher, Liuba. Andrei is a man from my village who suffers from health issues that leave him bed-ridden, but had been asking for some time to meet the “American girl”. We had a really nice visit.
Got ambushed by some neighborhood kids (my students) in a snowballfight. I’ve determined Moldovan kids are ruthless when it comes to snowball fights!
Celebrated English Week at school. This year, English Week was actually two weeks and combined with Russian Week. We held lots of competitions, played games, and organized fun activities with our students. At the end of the two weeks, we had a dance for the older students, which they always really enjoy.
Attended my host cousin’s wedding. It was a simpler affair than my first Moldovan wedding, but this time I could actually speak Romanian and everyone had a lot of fun dancing the hora (Moldova’s traditional dance).
Organized a week of activities for Peace Corps Week. We held a mini “International Film Festival”, skyped with an American class of 5th graders, and hosted several other Peace Corps Volunteers at an event about what home means to each of us.
Successfully completed our “control” (audit) at school. Each year, the education officials come to the school and observe every teacher, class, and audit the records. It’s a stressful week, but I enjoyed working together with my partners on some really good lessons. On the last day of the audit, my partner teachers and I didn’t have any lessons, so we were responsible for cooking a meal for the auditors in the school cafeteria.
Celebrated Easter with my host family. Easter is the most important holiday in the year for Moldovans, and I celebrated it with my host family.
My host niece, Valerica, visited and we celebrated her birthday. I can’t believe the little 6-year-old that was my first friend when I moved to my village is now 8! We had lots of fun playing together and spending time together over the Easter break from school.
Celebrated one of my partner teacher’s birthdays. I was so happy to go to my partner teacher’s birthday party. It was moments like these that I felt like I had found my place in Moldova and in my village.
Attended our COS conference in central Moldova. To help prepare us for closing out our service and returning home to the United States, Peace Corps held a 3-day conference for the group of volunteers I arrived in country with. We had a great time reminiscing and reflecting on our two years of service.
Held an American meal at English Club. To thank my students for coming to English Club regularly for 2 years, my site mate and I prepared several American foods and had a small party with the regular participants. They especially loved the tacos (we had taco seasoning mailed to us from the U.S.) and mac and cheese!
Attended the Peace Corps Moldova 25th anniversary celebration. My partner teachers and school director joined Peace Corps in the capital for a celebration of 25 years of work and service in Moldova.
Went to my final Last Bell celebration at school and celebrated in the forest with my colleagues. I gave a short speech, received lots of flowers, poems, and letters, and said goodbye to many of my students on the last day of school. After lessons had ended, the teachers gathered for a barbecue in the forest, which lasted for several hours.
Accompanied the dance ensemble from my village to an International Traditions Festival. I helped chaperone the students and afterwards, I enjoyed a meal with the other chaperones while the students had some free time to explore the festival.
Had a farewell dinner with my fellow English Education volunteers. We all spent the first 10 weeks in Moldova living in the same town and completing our training together, and remained close throughout the two years. It was a bittersweet dinner, since for many of us it was also goodbye, but we had a good time and enjoyed each others’ company.
Held two day camps in my village. My site mate and I held a week-long Leadership Camp for our older students, and I held a week-long English Camp for the younger students.
Milked a cow! This was one of my goals while living in Moldova and just before I left, I was finally able to milk a cow at my host aunt’s house.
Said goodbye at farewell parties both at school and with my hostfamily. My colleagues, students, and partner teachers surprised me with a farewell party at the school, complete with some of my favorite foods, a gorgeous cake, and gifts. My host mom’s sisters and brothers came for a farewell party at home as well.
Rang the COS bell, marking the end of my service in Moldova. I was proud to have made it all the way to the end, and excited to figure out what was next.
Traveled to Iceland with my family! On my way home from Moldova, I met my parents and brother in Iceland for a week-long trip. Some favorite highlights were swimming in a hot spring pool, visiting a greenhouse combined with a restaurant, and all of the beautiful sights we saw.
Picked blueberries! Blueberries don’t grow in Moldova but are my absolute favorite food, so I was so happy to make it home in time for blueberry season!
Spent lots of time with family. Cousins, aunts, and uncles visited this past summer and we spent a lot of time hanging out and soaking up this rare time together. The reason for their visits was bittersweet, as we were also saying goodbye to our Grandma Jeri, but I treasured the time spent with them and with Grandma Jeri.
Went to my cousin’s wedding! My cousin got married and the whole family came for it. We had SO much fun celebrating her and her new husband!
Went to Rochester to visit some friends and have a girls’ weekend. We hung out, went mini-golfing, and spent some time on a beach.
Baked a crazy amount of recipes with pears. Our pear tree produced a ton of pears this year, so my brother, sister, and I made just about every possible recipe with pears: pear cider, pear sauce, pear pie, pear crisp, pear cake, baked pears, etc. It was fun to bake together with my siblings and everything was delicious!
Went on an apple adventure with the family. We drove a couple of hours and visited an apple orchard known for its hard cider and wood-fired pizza then headed to another orchard to pick a bag of apples.
Took a short trip to Vermont. We spent a couple of days in Middlebury, Rutland, and Bennington.
Traveled to Scotland and Ireland! It was my first ever solo trip, and I fell in love with Scotland and enjoyed spending time with my sister in Ireland.
Helped out at the family’s Christmas Tree Farm. My parents took over my grandpa’s tree farm a couple of years ago, and I helped out each weekend for a few hours.
Published an advent calendar of activities for our town together with my brother. We provided ideas for things to do at home or in our community for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. It was a success and we had fun doing the activities.
Spent a quiet and simple Christmas Day at home. We had a lazy, slow morning of eating breakfast and opening presents, then some family came over in the afternoon for good food and conversation. We ended the night with my birthday cake and gifts, then after our guests left watched a funny movie.
I could probably add more to this list, but that might be a little excessive. What were some of your favorite memories this year? Here’s to a happy, healthy, and fresh New Year!
Nothing says fall in New York like apples. A few weekends ago, our family went on an apple adventure in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Our first stop was at Westwind Orchard. The orchard didn’t produce enough apples this year for u-pick, but there is a nice area for hanging out, along with a small restaurant serving Italian tapas and wood-fired pizza, a variety of hard ciders, and a small store selling locally made goods and foods.
My sister and I ordered a flight of hard cider to try and we all got some pizzas to share. There are a bunch of tables outside and we played some cornhole while waiting for our food. There were lots of families enjoying the beautiful weather and gorgeous location.
After eating our fill, we headed down the road to a small U-pick orchard. Stone Ridge Orchard is a traditional apple orchard. The apple trees are 200-plus years old and the orchard doesn’t have the commercial feel typical of many U-pick orchards in New York. There were no lines and the employees were incredibly friendly and helpful. We explored the orchard after a long conversation with one of the employees. In addition to plenty of apple trees, we were encouraged to walk up the short hill to see the 300-year-old white oak tree. The tree is massive and absolutely stunning.
We picked a bag of apples, then bought some apple cider and donuts. Before heading out, we sampled some of the hard cider made with apples from the orchard.
By then, it was late afternoon, so we headed home. It was a perfect outing on a beautiful day!
After a bit of a blog break, I thought it was time for a Life Lately post to catch up on the past few weeks. The last two plus weeks have been a blur of being busy, and it looks like the next few weeks will be just about as busy. Here’s what I’ve been up to:
Traveled to Iceland. For my COS (Close of Service) trip, I flew from Moldova to Iceland (with flight changes in Ukraine and London on the way), where I met my brother and parents. We spent a week traveling in Iceland, doing both the Golden Circle and South Coast. I’ll be posting more about that soon, but it was a nice trip in a gorgeous location! We had a lot of fun!
Returned home to the U.S.A. After the trip to Iceland, I flew home with my family. Although I was sad to leave behind my life in Moldova, I was also ready to come home. So far, I’m enjoying being back home in upstate New York.
Went blueberry picking. The very first thing I did after coming home (besides sleep) was to pick blueberries the following morning with my mom. I love blueberries, but they are hard or almost impossible to find in Moldova, and picking blueberries several times each summer is a family tradition I love. We often pick at least 30 quarts to freeze each year.
Visited with both sets of grandparents. I’ve missed my grandparents a lot over the past two years, and I’m happy to be home and able to spend time with them. On my first day home I visited both sets of grandparents and began to catch up.
Helped get things ready for some summer guests. My parents own an old farmhouse, which is where my grandpa grew up and my great-grandma lived until her 90s. As with many old farmhouses, it needs a fair amount of work. Some family members are going to stay there for a visit in a week or so, so we spent some time up there one afternoon deep-cleaning and clearing stuff out.
Went to my cousin’s wedding. This past weekend was my cousin’s wedding. The ENTIRE family came, and both the wedding and the bride were gorgeous! We had such a great time and it was so nice to see my entire extended family on my mom’s side.
Started to get my room back in order. I left for the Peace Corps pretty soon after I finished college, so I never really unpacked for college. After two years, I really needed to go through things and get things organized and cleaned. I also decided to change up one wall of my room, which is still a work in progress.
I think that’s it for now! Of course, I’ve also been eating lots of my favorite foods and I briefly hung out with a close friend the other day. I was worried about the process of getting back into the swing of things here, but we’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to get stressed or miss Moldova too much. I’m looking forward to seeing some more family, (including cousins I haven’t seen in years), meeting up with friends, swimming, kayaking, and just enjoying this summer to the fullest in the coming weeks!