Reflections on Moldova

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.

Goodbyes and New Beginnings

Ringing the COS bell
Many of the English Educators group ringing the bell to end their service.

This is my last post as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) in Moldova. As you read this, I’ll already be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, otherwise referred to as an RPCV, and be on a plane headed west. It’s so strange to think that I have spent the past 25 months here in Moldova and that my time here has come to an end. It has been a wonderful journey that I am so thankful to have had.

A last picture with my host mom and host nieces.

The last week has been full of bittersweet goodbyes. I will dearly miss my host family, who has supported and loved me as a daughter. I will miss my host nieces a lot as well- they’ve given me plenty of laughs and cuddles (and a handful of headaches). I will miss my colleagues at school, who helped me navigate a new environment and supported my projects and ideas. I’ll especially miss the two teachers that I taught beside for two school years, Ina and Liuba. They helped translate when I didn’t understand me, and I’m really proud of the work we did together and the friendships we developed. I’ll miss my students, who have been at the center of my work here. They are the ones who often made a bad day better and who made me smile and laugh when things were hard or I was missing home. I’ll miss this village and community, who opened me with open arms. I couldn’t have been placed in a better place, and I loved living in this small, quiet community. And I’ll miss Moldova, with its sunflower fields, bright sunsets, hot bus rides, and beautiful churches.

A surprise farewell party at the school.

The goodbyes have been hard, but I’m also ready for the next stage in my life. I’m so glad I spent the past 2 years here. Now it’s on to new things and new adventures (though to be honest I’m still figuring that part out). For now, I’m returning to my hometown and I’m looking forward to  spending time with my family, picking and eating quart upon quart of blueberries, going hiking in the woods, and kayaking down the river. I’m anticipating that the adjustment back to life in the USA might be a bit difficult and might take some time. Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this journey for the past 25 months! I’ll still be posting here (first up: my COS- or Close of Service- trip to Iceland with my family), so I hope you’ll keep reading!

Last 100 Days, Days 5-1

As I’ve mentioned, I’m sharing a photo and a look back on my favorite memories in moments in Moldova for each of my last 100 days here.  I’m counting down, so here are days 5-1.  Tomorrow I will be leaving Moldova so this is the final post for the Last 100 Days.  See all of my “Last 100 Days” posts here.

Day 5: I was once again invited to accompany my village’s dance ensemble, this time to an international festival. Knowing it was likely my last chance to see my students dance, I immediately agreed to go. The festival was held outside under the shade of big trees, and the kids and teenagers from my village did a great job! After they finished, we had a bit of time to walk around and eat some food, and then we headed back to the village. I have loved getting to attend these performances over the past two years, and it is something I will dearly miss. (June 2018)
Day 4: I finished out my service with two summer day camps in my village. The first one, with students in grades 6 through 8, was a leadership camp. The second was an English Camp with the theme of “Around the World” for students in grades 3 through 5, where we imagined we were traveling to a different country each day. Both camps were a lot of fun, and it was great to see our students be active and motivated! (June 2018)
Day 3: My school community had a surprise farewell party for me my last week in site. Several teachers and students gathered at the school, and surprised me with a beautiful Moldovan flag cake, champagne, a beautiful gift, my favorite Moldovan food (pelemeni), and kind words. I was so lucky to work at this school with these people, and a fair number of tears were shed as I said goodbye for the last time to my school director, partner teachers, colleagues, students, and school staff. (June 2018)
Day 2: I was so fortunate to live with a wonderful host family for two years in my village. I will miss my host mom and host nieces so, so much! My last two days in the village were spent with them, as well as with my extended host family, who all came to celebrate a delicious meal together one last time. I couldn’t have asked for a better family to call my own in Moldova. (July 2018)
Day 1: Before we leave the country and become RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), we get to ring the COS (Close of Service) bell at Peace Corps headquarters in the capital. The ringing of the bell signifies the end of our service here in Moldova and the beginning of our next adventures. (July 2018)

Last 100 Days, Days 10-6

As I’ve mentioned, I’m sharing a photo and a look back on my favorite memories in moments in Moldova for each of my last 100 days here.  I’m counting down, so here are days 10-6.  See all of my “Last 100 Days” posts here.

Day 10: One week after Easter, Moldovans celebrate “Memorial Easter”. This occurs either on Sunday or Monday, and everyone gathers at the cemetery. There is a service, with the names of all of the departed loved ones read off during a long prayer, then the graves are blessed with food and wine. The week leading up to this, every family spends days in the cemetery cleaning up and decorating the graves of their loved ones, and on the day of the holiday, many families stay and eat a meal at tables set up by the gravestones. (April 2018)
Day 9: On May 9th, one or both of two holidays are celebrated in Moldovan communities: Victory Day, which commemorates the victory of the Allied forces in World War II and also recognizes those who have lost their lives in wars, and Europe Day, which also commemorates the end of World War II and promotes peace. Government and other businesses are closed on this day, and in my village, the students gather at school, then walk the short way to the World War II memorial near the park, where there is a short ceremony before all the students and some community members place flowers around the monument. (May 2018)
Day 8: The English Club I have with a group of 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students has been one of the highlights of my time here in Moldova. To thank them for coming and being interested in English, we had an American “masa”, or meal, at the end of the school year. My site mate, Amir, and I made mac and cheese, tacos, deviled eggs, cornbread, banana bread, cinnamon rolls, chocolate chip cookies, and fruit punch and iced tea for the students who came regularly throughout the year. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed getting to share my favorite foods with them! (May 2018)
Day 7: Peace Corps was established in Moldova in 1993, just two years after Moldova’s independence. That means that this year marks 25 years of the Peace Corps in Moldova. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Peace Corps had a large celebration in the capital, complete with music, videos, a few short speeches, and a nice reception following the ceremony. I was so glad my partners, school director, and my site mate and his partners were able to join us in celebrating. (May 2018)
Day 6: Each year the last day of school falls on May 31st and is celebrated with a ceremony called “Last Bell”. This year’s celebration, being my final Last Bell and also final day of school, was an emotional day for me, as well as for the 9th grade graduates, who will move on to other schools or work next year. It was a beautiful, touching ceremony, and I received a diploma for the work I’ve done in the school as well as a bunch of notes and drawings from my students. I will miss this school, these teachers, and these kids so much when I leave! (May 2018)

“Around the World” Summer Day Camp

The participants with their diplomas sporting big “American” smiles

This past week we had an “Around the World in 5 Days” themed English summer camp at our school with students in 3rd through 5th grade. Each day, we “traveled” to a country on each of the continents (minus Antarctica), learned about the country, and did a craft and/or game inspired by that country. The students had passports that we glued stamps into each day after we “traveled” to the country. We had a lot of fun and a decent turn out, so I’d say it was a success!

Day 1: Making mosaics
Day 1: Valeria with her finished mosaic of a pizza
Day 1: The finished mosaics

On Monday, we traveled to Italy in Europe. We learned about Italy, talking about some of the popular places people like to visit, then created mosaics from paper, inspired by the famous mosaics of the Roman Empire. The students also received their passports for the week and their workbooks. We learned some English vocabulary, such as boot (the shape of Italy), canal, and bridge.

Day 2: Learning African drumming thanks to our guest Peace Corps volunteer, Anne
Day 2: Learning an African dance
Day 2: Filling out worksheets for vocabulary and fast facts about Senegal

On Tuesday, we traveled to Senegal in Africa. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Anne, joined us and taught the students some African drumming and dance, which the students really loved! After, we learned a bit about Senegal and some English vocabulary such as grasslands, savanna, and prehistoric.

Day 3: Doing the Hokey Pokey
Day 3: Playing Simon Says
Day 3: Making, and then unraveling, a human knot

On Wednesday, we traveled to two countries: The United States of America in North America and Peru in South America. Some vocabulary we learned included stars, stripes, prairie, rain forest, and guinea pig. We played some classic American children’s games outside, such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and the Hokey Pokey. It was a lot of fun!

Day 4: Our camp workbooks and passports
Day 4: Playing Simon Says with our guest volunteer, Alicia
Day 4: The students with the mandalas they colored

On Thursday, we traveled to Thailand in Asia. A fellow volunteer, Alicia, joined us. We learned about Thailand, including some favorite Thai foods and English vocabulary such as spicy and jungle. We did some simple meditation while the students colored mandalas and listened to some meditation music (I’ve never seen them be so quiet!). After, we played a children’s game from Thailand called “Stealing the Leaves”, which was fun!

Day 5: Making paintings inspired by Aboriginal dot painting
Day 5: Water balloon fight
Day 5: Our finished paintings

On Friday, our last day, we learned about Australia. After learned some interesting facts about Australia and looking at a bunch of photos, we made some paintings inspired by Aboriginal Dot Paintings. They turned out quite well! Since it was the last day, we then went outside and played games, including a water balloon toss and fight! At the end of the camp, we handed out diplomas and reflected on the camp.

I think the kids really enjoyed the camp and they learned a lot about some places and countries they didn’t know much about before. They even asked if there would be another camp next week! This was my last official project in Moldova, and the last time I will work with my students. Friday was a bittersweet day because of that, but I bought the two older students that helped a ton throughout the week some ice cream and we sat and talked for a while. These two students are in 6th grade and I only taught them for part of my time here, so I didn’t know either well before the past two weeks. I was so impressed by both of them and the camp wouldn’t have been so successful without their hard work!