Close of Service Conference

Our M31 group at theCOS conference (photo credit: David Jarmul)

As we begin to wind down our service here in Moldova, the M31 group (the 31st group of volunteers in Moldova) met this past week for our Close of Service (COS) conference. The conference was held at a camp-style resort near the forest. This conference serves to prepare us to wrap up our time here in Moldova and reintegrate into the United States again. It was definitely an emotional time for us, as we begin thinking about how we will say goodbye to our communities, partners, students, and host families and reflected on our service here.

We started off the conference by thinking about the successes we’ve had and our accomplishments and favorite memories in Moldova. We also discussed the close-out procedures (medical, administrative, etc.) as well as readjustment to life in the USA. At the end, we met with our separate programs and discussed the things we need to do in the next 2 to 3 months in our sites as we prepare to and begin to say our goodbyes. For example, we need to wrap up any projects or meet with our partners to transition responsibilities to them. We also need to create a plan of how we want to say goodbye to the various groups of individuals that have been a part of our lives the past two years.

Volunteers at the conference

I think most of us are struggling with the conflicting emotions this time brings up. I’m sad to leave behind my partners, students, and especially my host family, but excited to go home and be with my family and friends. Some moments I feel very ready to leave, but other days I can’t imagine actually leaving. To give an idea of some of the things we discussed, here are a few sample questions we were asked to consider and my responses to them:

In what ways have I changed? This one is hard to answer. I think I’m much more patient, flexible, and deal with random constant changes much better. However, in some ways I have far less patience, especially when I watch the news in the United States. I’ve gained numerous skills and, even more than before, really appreciate honesty, directness, and responsibility.

What are the critical aspects about my experience that I want to share with my family and friends? I have plenty of humorous stories to share, but more than anything I hope to share about the relationships I have made, especially with my host family. I’d love to also share the aspects of Moldovan culture and life that I love- their love of dance (the hora), Moldovan music, big celebrations for everything big or small, their value of family, etc.

What activities am I looking forward to the most when I return? I want to spend time with family and friends. I’m really looking forward to doing a lot of outdoor activities this summer, like biking, hiking, and kayaking. I can’t wait to eat ALL the food (though not all at once of course) and pick blueberries (which sadly don’t really exist here).

What will I miss about Moldova? I will miss my host family, my students, my partner teachers, my colleagues, the sunflowers, the gorgeous flower gardens, the dancing, the singing, and so much more.

My First Peace Corps Thanksgiving

Ungheni

This past week was the first time I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving abroad, without my family.  The actual day of Thanksgiving was almost like any other day here.  I went to school, taught 5 lessons, several of which didn’t go particularly well, then planned with my partner for several hours after school.  At one point I was a little sad and homesick as I thought about what I was missing at home, but I had the opportunity to skype briefly with my family in the United States, which helped a bit.  Then, right before bed, I managed to catch my grandparents on the phone for a quick conversation.  It was my first time talking to them in over 3 months, and I miss them very much, so I was grateful for the 30 free minutes of international calls each month we get on our Peace Corps plan.

I hadn’t planned to celebrate with other volunteers, mostly because I had some work to do at home and have travel planned for next weekend, and I just thought I could use a quiet weekend at home.  On Friday, I had to go to the capital to pick up some medication and while at Peace Corps, I ran into another volunteer.  She encouraged me to come to the north of Moldova for the weekend to celebrate with a group of volunteers.  In the end, her promise of mac and cheese won me over, and after a quick phone call to my host mom to make sure it was okay, I headed to the northern bus station and hopped on a rutiera to Ungheni.  Ungheni is located in the northwestern part of the country, about two hours from Chisinau in the opposite direction of my town.  We lucked out in terms of transportation: we arrived at the station five minutes before our rutiera was due to leave, bought tickets, and then were granted two seats in the front row with the driver.  They were real seats like you might find in a car, and they were very comfortable and provided us with an excellent view.

We arrived in Ungheni and met up with a couple of other volunteers, all of whom I hadn’t met before.  We had some drinks, went grocery shopping for the feast the following day, and grabbed some pizza at a local restaurant.  We then headed to one of the volunteer’s houses, where we spent several hours eating, drinking, and talking with his very generous and kind host parents.

Aaron, one of the other volunteers, attempting to play the accordion
Aaron, one of the other volunteers, attempting to play the accordion

On Saturday, we headed to the house of another volunteer to prepare our feast.  Our menu included: mac and cheese, barbequed chicken legs, gumbo (made by a native Louisian), mashed potatoes, an Italian casserole dish, homemade cookies, bruschetta, house wine and other house alcohol, as well as some store-bought beer.  We cooked and baked most of the day, and then sat down to enjoy our feast.  There were eight volunteers, and three host family members.  The food was delicious and mostly American, the wine was plenty, and the company was great.  The host dad that had allowed us to use his kitchen and host the feast in his house even played the accordion for us and one of the volunteers played guitar.

Towards the end of the night, one of the volunteers skyped with his grandmother in the United States, who had immigrated from Poland.  Our Moldovan host played, at his request, a Polish song on the accordion, which was a very special moment that involved three languages, plenty of translation, and some tears.

Ungheni

The next morning we played some Bananagrams over breakfast, then walked through the town to the lake, which was peaceful and chilly before heading back home.  Although my trip home was long and not-so-pleasant, I was glad I went and enjoyed a great weekend with new friends.