A Look Back: The Third Six Months

A couple days ago I reached my one and a half year mark in Moldova.  As with the first half of my time here, the time has passed quickly and I can’t believe the next of these recaps will be my last.  It feels like my time here is started to wind down, which is certainly bittersweet.  As excited as I am to eat my favorite American foods and see my favorite people back home, it will be incredibly hard and sad to leave behind everything here.  In the meantime, I am enjoying every minute and soaking in this incredible experience.  Here’s a recap of my third quarter in Moldova (you can find a recap of the first six months here, and a recap of the second six months here).

Month 13: June.

The month kicked off with a celebration in the village park for Children’s Day with song, dance, and games.  With the school year finished, I joined my fellow teachers on an excursion to the northern part of the country to visit Saharna and Țîpova Monasteries.  Most of the month was spent at home spending time with my host mom and visiting host niece, Valerica.  We picked strawberries, cherries, and raspberries.  Our courtyard was filled with the sound of little ducklings.  After months of torture from our rooster, he met his end and we ate him.

Month 14: July.

Our village welcomed a group of fellow Peace Corps Volunteers as they did a walking tour of the southeast of Moldova, visiting libraries, schools, and mayor’s offices to spread peace and friendship.  I spent a wonderful night celebrating with my former 9th graders, their parents, and my fellow teachers in honor of the 9th grade graduation.  There was a graduation ceremony, followed by plenty of food and dancing.  My host nieces spent much of the month with us and we played plenty and had a lot of fun.  I attended the opening of a monument in my village honoring those that were deported from the village during Soviet times.  My parents came to Moldova and we spent an amazing two weeks exploring Moldova and Romania.  We explored my village, Soroca, Orhei Vechi, Tipova Monastery, Purcari Winery, Comrat, Cricova Winery, and Chisinau.  In Romania, we visited Sinaia, Bran Castle, Brasov, Rupea Fortress, Sighisoara, Maramures County with its wooden churches, and Breb.  Valerica (my host-niece) spent a fun afternoon dressing up in my clothes, earrings, and sunglasses and pretending to be a model.

Month 15: August.

I made my host nieces American-style pancakes (with real maple syrup!) and scrambled eggs.  The library grant project I worked with my school on was underway and I took several trips to our raion center and Chisinau to procure furniture, technology, and new books.  Heather, my sister, came to Moldova and we spent a weekend in the capital before heading to my village for a week.  Together, we went to my village’s celebration of Language Day and Moldova’s Independence Day, where we ate and enjoyed the performances by my students and various competitions (and tried not to be too nervous during the pole-climbing competition).  I visited Et Cetera Winery with my sister and a volunteer friend, and on our way, we walked through the fields at the margin of my village with my host mom, host sister, and host niece, enjoying the beauty of a summer evening in Moldova.  I got a site mate (another volunteer living in the same village) and I spent some time working on projects with him at school.

Month 16: September.

We celebrated the first day of school with the traditional First Bell ceremony.  I said goodbye to my sister and got back into the swing of the school year.  We celebrated International Day of Peace at school by making a huge peace sign in the school courtyard and students shared what peace means to them.  I enjoyed the beautiful autumn sunsets over the village.  The corn and grape harvest began, and I baked banana bread and chocolate chip cookies.  At school, we completed our pre-tests for the year and the schedule changed many times.

Month 17: October.

Autumn continued in my village, and along with came more pretty sunsets and making wine.  One day, my host mom called me and told me to come to the garden in the valley to pick strawberries.  Although a little confused, I joined her, and to my surprise there were autumn strawberries!  At school, we celebrated Teacher’s Day and I joined the other teachers at a faculty party, where we ate yummy food and danced for hours.  I finally mastered several different versions of Moldova’s traditional dance, the hora.  We completed installing our library project and had an opening ceremony and celebration.  Our English Club (with students from 7th through 9th grade) started up again.  At the end of the month, our village received visitors from Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and after touring our school, we joined them and a group of other volunteers in our raion center for lunch.

Month 18: November.

I spent our autumn vacation in Chisinau, attending a conference and catching up with friends.  Our English Club continued.  My village celebrated Hram (Village Day) and I attended the concert held at our Casa de Cultura (Cultural House).  I made cinnamon and dinner rolls for Thanksgiving and spent a weekend in Chisinau with other volunteers for Thanksgiving.  I attended the school’s celebrations for Youth Day, with skits, songs, and dance.

It’s been a pretty good and fairly busy past 6 months!  Here’s to the last part of this journey and my remaining time in Moldova!

A Look Back: The Second Six Months

Today marks one year in Moldova.  This means I am close to half through my time here in Moldova.  The time has passed incredibly quickly.  Though not without challenges, my first year here has been a positive, amazing journey.  Here’s a recap of my second half-year in Moldova (you can find a recap of the first six months here).

Month 7: December.

I participated in Dressember, to raise funds and awareness about human trafficking.  I took a weekend trip towards the north and Criuleni for a yoga retreat with other volunteers, stopping on the way in Chisinau and checking out some of the tourist sites while the snow fell lightly.  I got used to the winter weather, spent many evenings eating sunflower seeds with my host mom and talking, and continued to bucket bathe (though much more rarely as it was cold!).  I went to my raion center (Stefan Voda) to run errands with my host mom on the oldest bus I’ve seen in Moldova.  We celebrated the holidays at school: I taught my 3rd and 4th graders “Jingle Bells”, my 4th grade students surprised me with balloons for my birthday, and we had a afternoon and night of festivities at the school, with songs and dance.  I spent Christmas Eve in Chisinau with some other volunteers and ate at a really nice Italian restaurant for my birthday.  On Christmas morning, I headed back to my village and celebrated my birthday with my host family, school director, and partner teacher and her family.  The next day, my colleagues at school surprised me with a beautiful birthday present.

Month 8: January.

I celebrated the New Year with my host parents at home, enjoying the fireworks many of the neighbors set off.  I attended the village’s Winter “Carnival”, which was like a variety show, with my host-niece.  We celebrated the old (traditional Moldovan) Christmas and New Year, complete with carolers coming to our house (mostly my students).  The bathroom was finished (though the shower didn’t work) and I no longer had to use the outhouse!  We had a big snowstorm and very cold temperatures for a week.  I walked to a nearby town with my host mom.  I participated in the Blogging Abroad New Year’s Challenge (my posts: 7 Ways Globalization Shows Up in Moldova; 5 Ways My Students Give Me Hope; Cheating? What’s That?; and Looking Beyond Our Assumptions) and was featured on Design Mom.  We had a conference on grants and projects in Chisinau, and I visited MallDova for the first time.  I received a big, amazing package from my friends with all my most-missed foods.

Month 9: February.

My partner teacher and I held “English Week” at school.  We also had our first “open lesson”, which is an observed lesson.  I observed a couple of “open lessons” as well, a homeroom lesson and a Romanian lesson.  The weather changed and spring approached. I visited my host sister in Boscana and some other extended family near there.  We celebrated Grigore Vieru, a famous Moldovan poet and writer, at school with an assembly.  I went to Stefan Voda with my host mom and nearly got frostbite.  I spent a weekend in Chisinau for a language training.  At school, we had “Festelita Are Talent” (Festelita Has Talent), celebrated Dragomete (sort of like Valentine’s Day), and started our weekly English Club.  Peace Corps week started, and I skyped with my mom’s 5th graders in the United States.

Month 10: March.

We finished Peace Corps Week: my students helped create a video, and I participated in a Peace Corps Week event in Causeni.  Marţişor, which is the holiday that welcomes spring in Moldova, was celebrated.  My English Education group of volunteers gathered at our fellow volunteers’, Champa and David’s, to enjoy Nepali food and American desserts.  We had a short spring break off from school and celebrated International Women’s Day.  We had “control” at our school- which is essentially an audit and a week of observations.  I completed and submitted my VRF, which is the document that Peace Corps uses to monitor our successes and work in country.  My host mom and I went to my school director’s birthday party.  I spent a day in Chisinau for mentor training for the new group of volunteers.  The weather was beautiful and warm!  My partner teacher, Ina, returned from her maternity leave.

Month 11: April.

I went to Chisinau for a weekend to celebrate a fellow volunteer’s birthday and enjoy the gorgeous weather.  My host niece, Valerica, visited for a few days.  My English Club at school skyped with a friend’s 3rd grade class in the United States.  We enjoyed gorgeous spring- and even summer-like weather.  Tracey, our Peace Corps Moldova country director, visited my school and came to an English Club meeting.  My school and I worked on and submitted a grant proposal for a Peace Corps SPA grant.  I enjoyed Easter Break, and celebrated both Easter and Memorial Easter.  I walked with my host mom and visited her sister, who had a baby calf!  We had a huge, late snow storm that caused wide-spread damage throughout Moldova and left us without power for 2 full days.  Good weather returned quickly.  I went to Chisinau again with a partner from school (a Romanian teacher) to present our grant proposal (and we were awarded the grant!) and also visited my host sister in Boscana.

Month 12: May.

I spent a lot of time outside on the wooden swing my host dad built.  We celebrated Labor Day (which was uneventful in my village) and Victory Day (celebrated by all of the students gathering by the monument in our village, a few gun salutes by veterans, and flowers laid by the monument).  I took a mini-vacation within Moldova with my friend and fellow volunteer Andrea.  We visited the Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame monument and park in Chisinau and attended the opening of a new Himalaya Restaurant, along with a number of other volunteers.  The following day, we went on a guided tour to Curchi Monastery and Orhei Vechi.  I wrapped up my English Club for the school year with a competitive game of Jeopardy.  School began to wrap up with end-of-year exams and restless students as well as a Saturday day of classes in the form of a Day of Sports.  I helped my host mom harvest flowers from locust trees (used to make tea) and we took an afternoon trip to a nearby town’s hram (where we met up with fellow volunteer Erika).  I ate the first strawberries of the season and helped my host mom pick locust flowers to make tea with.  And, finally, the school year ended with the Last Bell Ceremony.

It has been a pretty good first half of this Peace Corps journey!

Year in Review: 2016

2016.  It’s been quite the year.  Without even getting into it on a global scale, this has been a year full of huge changes and amazing experiences in my life.  I’ve called four different places home (Elmira, Walton, Costesti, and Festelita).  I started the year off as a college senior, completed my final semester of college, graduated in April (though I won’t get to see my diploma in person till I go home in about a year and a half), traveled to South Africa, substitute taught for a month, and then departed to Moldova as a Peace Corps volunteer in May.  Whew!  This year has been a combination of hard, challenging, amazing, and occasionally mundane.  Here are my top 16 moments of 2016 (in no particular order).

1. I suppose this is more than a single moment, but all of the days and nights spent with my Perry Apartment roommates laughing and talking.  I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to live with for my final year of college.  From nights when we all crammed into one small bedroom instead of the huge living room to eating homemade cookie dough by the spoonful, I certainly miss living with my four roommates.

2. Experiencing St. Patrick’s Day in Rochester with Kristine.  I spent a short weekend in Rochester with one of my best friends, catching up and watching the never-ending parade of green.

3. Graduating College.  I’m not actually sure what date I supposedly graduated on, but I did it!  Our college had uneven trimesters and I finished in April between the 2nd and 3rd terms, but I think I technically graduated in June (I didn’t get to go to graduation and I’ve never seen my diploma, so it all feels a little like it didn’t happen).

4. A trip to South Africa.  My parents called me one day and basically were like “Hey.  So I know we said we were going to go to Canada in three weeks, but would it be okay if we go to South Africa and visit Heather [my sister] instead?”.  Um, obviously!  It was a great trip and the best graduation present ever!

5. Related, going bar-hopping with my sister in South Africa.  This is usually not at all my thing, but I had a really fun time going out with my little sister and her friends.  She basically forced me to go out with them, since I won’t be in the United States for her 21st birthday this coming spring, but it truly was a lot of fun (and no worries, totally legal there!).

6. Substitute teaching for a few weeks before leaving the country.  I really enjoyed getting to work with kids after a semester off from teaching at all, and I even got to substitute in the art room and music room, which I really enjoyed!

7. Getting together with my high school friends (again, before leaving the country).  Although I’d seen them individually, the four of us hadn’t been together since I think freshman year of college, and I was so happy we could get together one more time before I left the country for a long-ish period of time.  Also, one of them drove a 4-hour round trip just to come meet up with us for a few hours (I really appreciated it, Beth!).

8. Moving to this beautiful country called Moldova and starting my Peace Corps service.  Do I really need to say more?

9. Attending my first Moldovan wedding.  It was definitely an event I will forever remember.

10. Spending 8 hours a day with fellow volunteers during PST.  While this was also rather hard at times (that’s a LOT of time to spend with the same people), I have so many wonderful memories, including singing to 90s hits, eating ice cream every day, haircuts during lunch breaks, and lots of laughter.

11. Getting our site placements and visiting our sites for the first time.  I was a little worried when the blindfold came off and it appeared there was no one else even somewhat close on the map to me, but as soon as I visited the following weekend, I loved my little village.

12. Getting to know and love my host family(ies).  I was incredibly fortunate to be placed with wonderful host families both for PST and now here at site.  My current host family often introduces me to others as their “American daughter” and they have been beyond wonderful to me.

13. Teaching middle-school-aged students.  What?! The one age level I always said I would never want to teach has become my favorite.  They’re seriously awesome!  And just in general, finally feeling like I belong at school.

14. All the little “surprise” moments that are some fantastic mix of strange, unexpected, bizarre, and cool.  As probably any Peace Corps volunteer can tell you, regardless of where they serve, this is what makes Peace Corps both amazing and challenging.  One small example: when the bus, during a snowstorm, stops halfway up a hill, backs down it, and hooks up a car to the back and tows it all the way to town.

15. Walking through the sunflower and wheat fields during my first visit to site.  It was so truly peaceful and beautiful.  Think of fields of yellow sunflowers stretching far to one side and fields of tall wheat stretching far to the other side.

16. Exploring Moldova.  So far, I’ve been to Chisinau (too many times to count), Ungheni, Criuleni, Causeni, and around the towns of Festelita (Stefan Voda raion) and Costesti (Ialoveni  raion).  Moldova is a beautiful, diverse country, and I hope to see much more of it while I’m here.

In English, but in a Moldovan style: I wish for you a year with success, health, peace, and happiness.

A Look Back: The First Six Months

Today marks six months in Moldova.  I know it’s cliche, but it’s really, truly hard to believe that I have already been in this beautiful country for six months, for one half of a year.  I remember sitting on the plane as it took off from JFK airport and thinking, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this!”.  I was excited and nervous and had no idea what was to come.  Here’s a recap of my first half year in Moldova.

Month 1: June.

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We landed in Moldova and were greeted by Peace Corps staff and volunteers at the airport.  We then spent 2 days in Chisinau getting adjusted, then moved to our pre-service training sites.  I got my first bee sting while waiting to be taken to meet my host family, and broke out the med kit for the first time.  We met our host families, got settled into our new rooms, and used the four or five rehearsed Romanian sentences we had learned.  Over the next month, we spent our mornings learning Romanian and our afternoons doing technical trainings.  We gained new friends, sweated more than we ever had before in our lives, and struggled through long days of training.  We figured out the public transportation system and got more or less used to rutieras.  I use my first outhouse, and then my first public squat toilet (ew!).  I attended my first Moldovan wedding.  We visited three gorgeous monasteries.  We also visited the National Museum of Natural History and Ethnography.  We attended several hub sites, where we learned about health and security and received our rabies vaccines.  At the end of the month, we had our site announcements, when we found out where we would live for our two years of service!

Month 2: July.

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We had our Site Team Conferences (with our school directors) and visited our sites for the first time.  I fell in love with Festelita and visited a nearby monastery.  We drew monsters in class, I spent a lot of time with my host brothers, and I laughed with my host mom about elephant green tea.  I visited Festelita again to meet my new host family.  I cut my hair, celebrated another volunteer’s birthday, and played with our kittens.  We began practice school, and we had our swearing in ceremony, officially becoming Peace Corps Volunteers.

Month 3: August.

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We completed practice school and had a mini-carnival to celebrate.  I helped my brother harvest onions, went to the Chisinau zoo with my host family, taught my host mom how to play Uno, and learned to laugh at a number of small mishaps (my host family’s kitten falling into the outhouse hole, the same kitten getting in a fight and injuring his paw, and my host mom backing the car into the garage staircase).  We had our final language class (and tried not to cry).  Our language instructor, Galina wrote us poems and we had a crash course on Moldovan history.  I packed my bags and had one last celebration with my training host family.  We loaded up all our belongings and moved to our permanent sites to start our next chapter.  I spent many days in the school’s library and attended a school open house.  I adjusted to village life, got to know my new host family, and started taking bucket baths.  I also read over ten books in two weeks and celebrated Moldova’s Independence Day in Chisinau.

Month 4: September.

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We had the first day of school, and I began teaching English.  I took a surprise day trip up north for my host niece’s baptism.  I continued to adjust to life in Moldova and in my village.  I experienced an earthquake, read many more books, and spent many hours alone.  I also spent each evening talking to my host mom after dinner.

Month 5: October.

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I went to Chisinau for a Tech4Dev meeting and ATIP Auction and attended the National Day of Wine while there.  I went to my raion center for the first time, watched my students do traditional dances, and celebrated National Teacher’s Day.  I continued to teach English at school, and still had lots of free time.  I made another trip to Chisinau and spent time with my host mom’s sisters and daughters, as well as attended a luncheon at the Ambassador’s residence.  My host family continued to work on the kitchen and bathroom renovations, and I was attacked by our rooster several times.  I spent many cool nights bundled up in my blankets, thankful for our soba (stove), and spent many evening talking with my host mom over sunflower seeds and ice cream.

Month 6: November.

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One of my partner teachers began her maternity leave and my schedule changed once again.  We had our fall vacation.  All of the M31 EE volunteers gathered in Chisinau for one week of IST (in-service training) for both language and technical trainings.  We learned the results of the United States election and cried and hugged each other, and then Moldova had its own elections.  I taught a few classes completely or partly on my own.  I ordered a new camera (hopefully arriving soon), and had less free time than before.  I called my grandparents on Thanksgiving, thus making my first international phone call.  I spent the weekend after Thanksgiving taking a surprise trip to Ungheni in the north to celebrate with other volunteers and drank plenty of house wine.  I made my first cookies in Moldova and shared them with my 7th grade classes as part of a lesson about making cookies.  Nina from Peace Corps came for my first site visit to see how things are going and I observed a Romanian lesson.  I got more comfortable teaching and felt like a real teacher again.

I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to spend the past half year exploring the culture and landscapes of Moldova and that I get to spend another one and a half years here.  If the past six months are any indication, my time here is going to fly by more quickly than I can imagine!

Life Lately (or, you know, My Life in 2015)

Wow! I have trouble believing yet another year has gone by!  This year seemed to pass by the fastest yet.  This was a good, full, busy year to be sure.  Here’s a bit of how I spent my time this year.

2015 Year in Review

January 2015

January was busy with classes and club activities.  Starting in January, for two of my education courses, we went to a local high-needs elementary school once a week to tutor struggling students in ELA and math.  I also helped out at a girl scout event held by my education club on campus.  I met with my “research group” (the group I presented with at the NYSRA conference in fall 2014) a couple of times, and also visited some local museums as part of my art criticism class.

February 2015

February was another busy month.  We started the month off with a Super Bowl Party with friends at college.  Five of my close college friends had birthdays in February, so we had plenty of birthday parties, including a cheese and Capri Sun party. I had a relaxing February break, followed by a visit from my sister for a weekend at college.

March

March was busy (yet again).  I did a lot of work with my research group to prepare for a big presentation at the college as part of the college’s Arts Alive celebration.  I attended a Save Our Schools Rally calling for an end to ridiculous standardized testing as well as additional support for our public schools in New York.  I spent a lot of time working on my ceramics.  We had a meeting about Cooperative Housing (on-campus apartments) and my roommate and I decided to go in with three other girls to get an apartment.  I hosted an overnight prospective student (who now attends the college!), attended the Orchesis show (on-campus dance show), and my best friend visited me.

April

I spent some time doing filming with three classmates for a video for my Art Criticism class- we interviewed random people at stores and asked them what they thought about certain art pieces.  Spring Break was busy but good, and included a surprise birthday party for my sister.  After Spring Break, I started my first student teaching.  I taught first grade students for six weeks in a relatively affluent area.

May

I continued my student teaching in first grade, but also made some time for some fun.  I went home for a weekend and hung out with some of my best friends, went to see Pitch Perfect 2, and ate plenty of ice cream.  At the end of the month, I headed back home for the summer.  My first weekend home consisted of meeting up with one of my favorite teachers from high school for dinner, hanging out with several of my friends, and doing some painting for my old track coach.

June

I started working at Lucky Dog Organic Store at the very beginning of June.  It’s an old general/farm store and cafe.  I worked both in the store and in the cafe.  On my days off, I went antiquing and got lunch with a high school friend, worked on my dresser makeover, babysat, made rolls with my grandpa, had a campfire with friends, and visited cousins to celebrate my cousin’s high school graduation.

July

I spent most of my time working, primarily at Lucky Dog, but I also babysat some.  I also worked on my bedroom makeover, including redoing my iron bed.  I went blueberrying several times (yum!).  I also wandered on to the Peace Corps website one day and within a week, applied to the Peace Corps!

August

I spent a lot of time working (yet again-sigh!).  At the beginning of the month, I had my Peace Corps interview.  I also went to a local production of “The Breakfast Club” and celebrated one of my best friend’s 21st birthdays.  The week of the county fair (which is right by my house), my mom, dad, and sister went to Oregon and Washington, while I worked and spent an hour or so at the fair each day.

September

I finished up my job at Lucky Dog at the beginning of the month, then packed everything back up and headed back to Elmira for my final year of college.  I started my second student teaching, this time teaching 6th grade in an inner-city school.  My roommates and I spent a lot of time cleaning our apartment (they don’t get cleaned over the summer and it’s been inhabited by guys the past several years).  We also cooked our first meals in the apartment and ate a whole bowl of cookie dough in one sitting.

October

I spent most of my time student teaching, but also managed to squeeze in time with my roommates and friends.  I spent Columbus Day weekend at home, but our midterm break at college because of student teaching.  All but one of my 4 roommates stayed over midterm break as well, and we actually had a lot of fun just hanging out.

November

November was super busy with student teaching.  The same research group I worked with earlier in the year and last year presented at a conference in Saratoga Springs in mid-November.  It was quite the adventure to say the least (a 3 1/2 hour trip took us over eight hours…in pouring rain…and included a broken down car and waiting on the side of the road for a tow truck for 2 hours).  My college has the entire week of Thanksgiving Break off, but I had to stay until Tuesday for student teaching.  I’m pretty sure I was one of the only people in my entire huge building, which was a little creepy.

December

The weekend before the last week of classes, we had our annual Holiday Banquet at college.  Everyone gets dressed up nicely, and the professors carve the turkey and serve us and then we sing carols and such.  It’s my favorite event of the year.  I ended student teaching, which was a very bittersweet moment.  Over the course of three months, I actually grew to really like my crazy kids.  I then headed home for my month-long Christmas break (yay!).  The day after my sister got home from college, my siblings and I invited a bunch of our friends over for a 1920s-themed Christmas party, which was a lot of fun.  Then there was Christmas, followed by a three-day visit from family friends (with three of the cutest little girls!).