Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Three Days Before Departure

Wow, how quickly time has passed! It is weird to think that in just four days I'll be in Philadelphia for orientation and then boarding a plane two days later to South Africa! The past few weeks I've been able to spend a lot of time with family and friends. It's been great just catching up with old high school/college/teacher friends as well as all my extended family . My parents had a going away party for me on Saturday that was a bit overwhelming and emotional for me, but it was great to see everyone. On Monday I was able to go to Cedar Point with Lacey, Kelsey, and Alisha (three of my cousins) which was a "screaming good time"! Unfortunately we don't have any pictures from the rollar coasters to prove it, however I think that's in my best interest not to have them!! Tuesday was spent packing and really trying to determine what was "essential items" that I feel like I have to have during the two month training and then determing items that I could have to consider "non-essentials" that I could do without for the first two months. Today was spent running errands/taking care of last minutes things and then spent the evening with a few of my best friends I also had the opportunity to talk with Rena, one of my team teachers that I taught with, who is just fabulous and so encouraging! Tomorrow my parents and brother are going to dinner and bowling as a family. Friday I plan just relax around the house, watch a movie and maybe catch Oprah, eat some icecream, spend a little time with my cats (ha ha), no real set agenda for the day which should be relaxing. Saturday we're having a huge family game night. Nothing like a flashback to childhood like a family game night!! Then Sunday at 11am I'll be flying out of Columbus to Philadelphia for staging.

For the first two months of Pre-Service Training, there may or may not be regular communication with me (based upon what I've read, heard from county directors, and other volunteers). I might not have telephone access and internet access at all, so postal mail letters will be the best form of communication during the first two months. Once Pre-Service Training is completed (end of September/beginning of October) I will be able to get a cell phone. If you want the number you can call/email my parents or email me ( Also, once training is completed I will have more access to internet so I'll be able to email and/or post message to blog. As far as letters and packages go, they say it usually takes 2-4 weeks for letters to be received. Please date and number letters so I'll know if/when I'm receiving letters. If you're planning to send a letter during Pre-Service Training, send it to:

Sarah Gray, PCT
Peace Corps
PO Box 9536
Pretoria 0001
South Africa

If I gave you an address that included Hatfield in address please discard, I have been informed that it is an old address and the one above should be used instead.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Less than a month before departure

Alright it's been about a month since I've posted anything so here is a brief update....

I finished teaching and moved from Wilmington about three weeks ago. The last few weeks of teaching was a little hectic as I was trying to keep the attention of sixth graders who were ready for summer break, cleaning and organing my classroom, and packing everything in my apartment. I don't know if realized how close I had become to some of the teachers I worked with. It was kind of a sad ending and hard to say goodbye to some of the friends I had made in Wilmington.

The month of June has been both busy and relaxing. I've spent a lot of time catching with old high school friends, meeting up with a group of teachers I went through grad school with, having lunch and shopping with a teacher I taught with in Wilmington, and spending time parents, brother, and extended family. I've been reading and relaxing quite a bit. I've also been able to talk with some fellow Peace Corps volunteers going to South Africa in the same group through a yahoo message board. It's been nice exhanging ideas, concerns, packing tips, and reading through blogs of current volunteers serving in South Africa.

Staging (2 day orientation) has been pushed back one week. I will now be flying to Philadelphia on Sunday July 23rd. On the 24th and 25th, we will meet as a whole group (both EDU and NGO volunteers) to briefly go over safety, a few Peace Corps policies, and get our shots. We will fly out of NY on July 26th, first landing in Dakar, Senegal, and next fly to Johannesburg, South Africa. The flight totals 17 hours, however with the time change it will be approximately 6pm (US Eastern Time) to about 6pm the next day (South Africa Time). The first 8-10 weeks will be spent living with temporary host familys. Also during this training time we will be attending intense classes where we will learn local language, culture, food, safety, our primary assignment jobs, etc.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Things I'm Going To Miss...

Friday May 26th (10pm)

Things I'm going to miss....
My parents 50th birthdays
My great grandma's 100th birthday
Lacey's 21st birthday
Alisha's graduation
Charlie's wedding
Dark chocolate
Donato's pizza
My quiet little private apartment
Cell phone and internet access
Seeing a classroom full of middle schoolers
YMCA classes
Talking on the phone to family and friends
Family cookouts
The spring and fall seasons
Middle schooler's humor
Washer and dryer (soon be hand washing)
George Foreman grill, toaster oven, and refridgerator
Popsicles (with the cheesy kids' jokes)
Spaghetti, alfredo, grilled chicken, mashed potatoes
American food
Vanilla candles
Bath & Body Works
Privacy / alone time
Relaxing on the couch with a good movie
Air conditioning
Sleeping in
My bed
The convenience of a Wendy's drive thru
Getting pedicures

People I'm going to miss...
Everyone :)
My parents
My brother Charlie
My grandparents
My aunts and uncles
All my cousins
All my friends
Teachers I teach with
My students
My cats

Things I'm not going to miss...
Balancing my checkbook
Paying bills
The feeling of rushing from place to place
Cold snowy winters
One-way streets
Cat litter box

Monday, May 22, 2006

Feeling A Little Overwhelmed

For some reason the dates and times are often incorrect when posting so I think I need to start including the date and time of post each time :)

Monday May 22nd 6pm

Alright so I've gotten through the application process, survived the huge medical portion, practiced patience as I awaited my invitation, talked to my placement officier and have accepted my invitation, completed my passport and visa paperwork, notified my landlord, transferred my car and started to sort other finanical obligations, packed everything into boxes, taken apart furniture, make donations to Salvation Army, talked to my family, friends, and co-workers, made lists of things I want to pack and take to South Africa with me, made list of books I want to take with me, and am in the process of completing my updated resume and aspiration statement. The past month has been very busy and emotional. I think it is partially because its the end of the school year and the kids are getting excited for summer break. Another part is due to my decision to move at the end of May to be able to move home to spend the last seven weeks with family and friends rather than staying in Wilmington through June. Right now I think I'm just feeling a little under the pressure to complete PC paperwork, plan lessons, teach, grade, pack everything in my apartment, organize and clean my classroom, and I still feel like there are so many things that I can't keep up with right now. So like I said, I'm feeling just a little overwhelmed right now.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Reality Sets In

I've talked to a few of my friends this past week about my invite to South Africa. I know that I've mentioned it to them before but I don't know if they really took me seriously then. I had a really good talk with Rebecca (my old M.Ed study buddy, co-RA, roommate) and she got me even more excited about it! She confirmed a lot of the things that I had been thinking. She kept saying that it was a perfect time in my life: being in my early/mid 20's and being flexible at this point in my life, bachelors and masters degree as well as two years of teaching experience under my belt, and financially nothing holding me back. We also talked about how it would be a good time for me to get a fresh perspective on another culture, how education is structured and valued and implemented in another country. She was excited for all the possibilities and doors it could open for me. I hadn't talked to Rebecca for probably two months so it was great to talk to her and hear her be so positive and encouraging.

I went and talked to my landlord Wednesday about ending my lease. He said there are no middle of the month pro-rated options so I could either end it June 1st or July 1st. I decided that I would go with June 1st and plan to move Memorial Day Weekend. That means I have three weeks before I have to have everything packed! So tomorrow (Sunday) I decided I would get started with the packing! Several things went through my mind as I begin packing this afternoon.

Wow, I've got a lot of crap was one thing. It was exhausting to go through everything and decide what I wanted, what I didn't want, and then getting into it to fit neatly into boxes. As I kept packing more boxes, I kept reminding myself to pack each box full because I have limited storage space, yet at the same time I didn't want to throw anything out that I am going to need in a few years. It's really amazing how much stuff one person can have. I think Peace Corps is really going to help me to sort out what's important and what's not important. I know that all the material things that I have aren't important, but I don't think that I truly know how much I have compared to how little others have in other parts of the world. I think reality really hit today as I was packing. I would not be using or seeing any of the stuff that I was packing for probably two and a half years. Peace Corps was no longer something that I had thought about, it was now something that I was going to be doing very soon. Another thing I kept thinking about was how much 80lbs. is and how much stuff I would be able to take with me. I want to be prepared rather than wish that I had brought this or that, yet at the same time I don't to stand out by having a lot of things that others don't have. I assume, based upon what I've read from information PC has given me, that I will be in a rural area so I'm not sure what will be available and what I should bring. I guess I have two months to decide on all that. I think reality really kind of started to set in today. My mind was wondering all day as I packed up my apartment stuff: what will my living conditions be like? how rural of area will I be living in? will I have running water or electricity? will I live in separate house or in room attached to host family? how close to a city will I be? how close will I live to other volunteers? what the climate really going to be like? cold and hot weather, what clothes will I take that will allow for layers? are hba or other personal items will I take that won't be able to be bought in South Africa? what teaching resource books and leisure books will I take? would it be more benefical to just have people send me 3-4 books in an envelope or would be better to just pack them? wonder how many pictures I'll take and how many memory cards I'll need? should I take a laptop or will that make me stand out? what other technology items do I want to take? I don't know if I have ever been so excited and so nervous about something in my life like this.

My Invite

I spoke with my Placement Officier on Monday May 1st and he said that my invitation would arrive within the next day or two. Just hearing him say that got me excited that I was finally going to know exactly where and when I'd be going. The next day, May 2nd which just happens to be my birthday, I decided to drive home during my plan period to check to see if the invite had come. As I pulled into my drive it didn't look like any big package was waiting for me, but when I opened the screen door I saw the big package I had been waiting for! So I'll be headed for South Africa July 17th as a Primary Math Education Teacher Trainer! The packet had lots of information specific to my program, general information about South Africa, a Peace Corps volunteer handbook, a CD-ROM full of information about South Africa, a packing list, etc. As if that wasn't enough reading material, I went to Barnes and Noble to buy a few travel books on South Africa the next evening! Well, I've got enough reading material and more paperwork (passport, visa, aspiration statement) to keep me busy. I've had a lot of good birthday and lots of neat birthday gifts, but I think my Peace Corps Invite package might be one my biggest birthday gifts so far!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Medically Cleared

I sent my medical kit through Fed-Ex on Tuesday April 4th and my online toolkit stated that PC received my medical packet on Monday April 10th. I have read that it often takes 4-8 weeks for medical clearance so I was nervous if I would receive medical clearance in time for my July nomination.

I just checked the online toolkit and found out that PC medically cleared me on Thursday April 20th. That's just 10 days!! I am so excited and feeling like things are falling into place.

I am simply waiting on dental clearance (I had to resubmit after denist signed paperwork stating that cavity had been filled). I know that dental clearance doesn't stop you from getting invite so I'm just glad that medical clearance is done and the placement office now has my file in front of them. Now I just need to sit back and wait on that big invite packet to come in the mail. I think that's when it will really feel real. I'll know for certain where and when I'll be going!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Telling Family About PC

Okay, so if I plan to do this whole PC thing I need tell my close family and friends....

I told my brother Charlie, my friend Tyler, and my friend Rachel in February, shortly after attending the information session, completing the application, and having the interview. Not wanting to get too excited as I was only in the first stages of the process, yet still wanting to share my excitement of idea of PC with a few people. Charlie and Tyler both thought it was an awesome experience and were very encouraging. Rachel laughed and said she remembered me talking about it high school - I knew that I had thought about PC for a long time but I didn't remember actually saying it outloud to a high school friend.

I received a nomination the first week of March for a Math Resource Education Position in Africa leaving July so I then realized that I would need to sit down and tell my parents, as July was only four months away. I was a little scared to tell them mainly because I was afraid they'd think I was crazy. They actually responded very well to the news. They asked a lot of good questions as well some silly ones (as you can guess that would be mom would came up with those ones). It seemed like very time I was on the phone with them, they'd be asking more questions and basically just trying to get more information.

Currently I am in the process of going through medical clearance and of course the next step is to receive an invitation. I decided that it might be a good idea to tell some of my extended family as July is quickly approaching. I thought about telling my grandma or one of my aunts, however I wanted to be the one to tell people so decided that I'd announce it mid-April at Easter dinner. I think my Aunt Laura and Aunt Marsha asked a lot of good questions. I think I caught Grandma Margaret off guard as she asked if it was a 3 month program. Lacey had told me that she thought it was an awesome opportunity, however she is an international business major so I would expect that of her. I can understand that it can be a lot to take in when you first hear it - only months away in July, a 27 month program, and the idea of being in Africa. The room was a little quiet as I don't think they knew what to say at first. I shared some stories about some returned volunteers as well shared the "use left hand only" stories which helped to lighten the mood. So the ice is broken and they now know my plans of joining the PC.