Pre-Departure Jitters

In two days I will be getting up bright and early, taking a trip to the airport, and getting on a plane to San Francisco, CA for Peace Corps staging.

I’ll spend three days in SF attending meetings, exploring the city, meeting the other M28s (we’re the 28th group to go to Mongolia), and eating a lot of In-n-Out Burger.

From there, in the early hours of May 27th, we’ll be flying to Seoul, South Korea, eat some Korean food during the layover, and then fly to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

It’s crazy to me that in just less a week from now, I will be in the “land of the blue sky.”

I remember getting my acceptance email back in October while I was at work and crying from how happy I felt.

I remember thinking May 24th would never arrive and I’d be stuck in Michigan for what felt like decades.

I remember making a countdown that said 210 days until my departure, and now I have two.

A lot of people keep asking me how I feel about leaving home for so long and I never really knew what to tell them – until now.

Have you seen Jaws? Of course you have! And if you haven’t, don’t fret because you will still know exactly what I’m talking about.

When Chrissie – yeah, I’m talking old school, original Jaws – takes her infamous last swim and the haunting “dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun, da-na-na!” plays eerily in the background as the great white shark makes his slow approach, you can’t help but feel on edge because you know this huge event in the movie is about to happen.

And that’s exactly how I feel!

As the number of days until my departure lessen, I can’t help but feel like this journey I am about to embark on is going to be a major part of my life, and to be honest, my emotions are all over the place.

Some days I’m happy and excited, while other days I’m sad and anxious.

I just want the day to be here already.

Now, I don’t mean to compare this huge life event of mine to a death scene in Jaws (sorry mom!), but I just wanted to create the perfect metaphor that captures my ultimate love for Shark Week and my anxious/excited feelings about the Peace Corps.

Thankfully, after giving my readers that great visual, I’ll be heading to a landlocked country – so no need to worry about any sharks!

 

 

Advertisements

Peace Corps Timeline

There were a lot of helpful blog posts about the timeline for the Peace Corps when I was looking to apply, but they all varied depending on the country and the person. I decided to make a timeline to inform my readers of the process I’ve been going through for the past four months.

Mid-August: I recently returned from living in Malta and I decided I wanted to continue to work and live abroad any way that I could. I began researching my options and I came across the Peace Corps. I researched every country that had volunteer positions available and I decided that my top choices would be Mongolia, Kosovo and “Anywhere in the world.”

September 4-5: I began the application process on September 4th. I updated my resume, wrote my essay, and answered some basic application questions. On September 5th, I submitted my application and was informed I needed to fill out a Health History Form, submit a soft-skills questionnaire, and then I selected my country preferences.

September 6: I spoke to a local recruiter over the phone who said I have a good shot at being considered for Mongolia. (I was obviously excited since that was my first choice.)

September 27: I received notification from the Peace Corps Placement Office that I am being under consideration for a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia. (YAY!)

September 29: I receive an interview request from a Placement and Assessment Specialist. I was asked to choose from 10 or so dates/times and I chose the soonest option. I was also given information about what types of questions would be asked so I could prepare for the interview over the weekend.

October 3: INTERVIEW DAY! The interview took place over Skype and it was kind of awkward. My interviewer told me at the beginning of the interview that she would have to interrupt me during my answers to make sure she is getting the information she needed. This only happened a few times but it definitely did throw me off a bit. I left the interview not feeling too confident, but also hopeful because I knew my interview didn’t go how I had planned due to the set-up.

October 4-12: I signed up for two Peace Corps webinars to learn more information and I also sought out ways to gain more experience. I emailed my interviewer twice throughout this time, once to thank her for the interview and explain that I would be looking for ways to gain more experience, and the second time to tell her about one of the webinars I attended.

October 12: I received an email from my interviewer thanking me for making an effort to learn more about the Peace Corps, and she informed me I would be receiving good news in my email that day.

…10 minutes later: I RECEIVED MY INVITATION!!!!! I was told that I was selected to serve as a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia, pending medical and legal clearance. It was the best email I have ever received in my life. I even cried at work.

I was given 3 days to accept or reject the invitation, but I think I accepted it about 20 minutes after I finally stopped crying.

October 13: I began completing tasks in my new volunteer portal. These tasks included beginning the application for my visa and PC passport, updating some information and my resume, completing a hometown press release, etc.

October 14: I completed an online Background Check Certification which allowed PC to conduct my background check, and I also patiently waited for my fingerprint charts to come in the mail so I could get those done and mailed out as soon as possible.

October 18: I mailed my fingerprint charts to the headquarters.

October 26: I was emailed about my access to Learning Space, where I needed to complete a few online training courses. These courses each took about a half hour and I was able to get them done within a couple of days.

November 5: The Medical Clearance forms became available! I was told I had until January 5th to turn in about a million documents. I scheduled a bunch of doctors appointments for November to make sure I would have all of my stuff in early, in case if there were any issues.

Which there was.

November 23: I attended my physical exam, not thinking too much of it. I had a bunch of blood work done that was required from PC and I found out I had high cholesterol. Not your average high cholesterol, like REALLY high cholesterol.

I informed my PC nurse right away because I read horror stories online about people not being medically cleared or being deferred for up to a year because of small issues like this.

My PC nurse required me to have my doctor fill out a form stating that I was healthy enough to complete 27 months of service and told me she would need to contact the Medical Advisor before they could medically clear me.

December 12: I submitted all of my documents and hoped for the best news possible and no issues with my high cholesterol.

December 13: I AM MEDICALLY CLEARED!

This was a huge relief. I haven’t technically been legally cleared yet, but I don’t have anything on my record so I think I should be good to go in that department.

Now, my only worries are figuring out how I am going to fit 27 months of stuff into two suitcases!

Peace Corps FAQs

After being invited to serve in the Peace Corps as a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions from my family, friends, and random people in my classes. I figured I would take the time to write a blog post dedicated to all of these important – and sometimes silly – questions, to give you all an idea of what I am getting myself into.

What made you want to join the Peace Corps?

I’ve been asked this almost every day, from every person I’ve told, and I think my answer changes every single time.

Basically, I loved my time abroad in the Netherlands and Malta so much, once I returned home I began seeking opportunities abroad for after graduation.

I knew I didn’t just want any old job abroad. I wanted to do something that would make a difference, something that would put me out of my comfort zone, and something that would make me miss home – but not enough to return.

I looked into being an au pair, a flight attendant, or even a translator, but I realized none of those things were really what I was looking for.

I soon remembered hearing about the Peace Corps from all my time spent in the international office at Ferris, and I figured I would look into it and maybe even consider applying. After all, I had a lot of experience with tutoring international students in English, and if you pair that with my passion for volunteering, I was a perfect candidate.

Once I saw the opening for a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia, I realized it was meant for me. I knew I was going there the second I started filling out my application – not kidding.

I guess I just have a really accurate intuition!

I heard the application process takes a really long time, how long did it take you?

For most people, it does take a long time. There are a lot of steps you have to take, such as filling out a bunch of medical paperwork, updating your resume, answering a soft skills questionnaire and writing an essay. I dedicated an entire Saturday to my application and I was able to get almost everything done.

I say almost because I contacted a local recruiter the following Monday and he gave me some tips to strengthen my resume and go over my application. Not everyone has to do this, but it REALLY helped me out.

According to the Peace Corps website, 55% of applicants who contact a recruiter are more likely to become volunteers. And I’m one of them 😉

 

Where will you be going once you get to Mongolia? Will you be living in a ger? Or with a host family?

I actually have no idea.

I know I’ll definitely be living with a host family during my three months of training, but after that, I’m clueless. I don’t think I’ll be finding out anytime soon, but I secretly really want to live in a ger.

Ger-Camp

Original photo from Bernd Thaller.

How are you going to communicate with Mongolian people? Don’t they speak another language?

Yes! They speak Mongolian and I will be going through three months of intensive language training before becoming a teacher so hopefully I’ll be fluent enough to get by toward the end of training!

But before that, when I’m living with my host family, I assume I’ll communicate with lots of smiling and head nodding.

And if you’re wondering what to get me for Christmas this year, a Mongolian dictionary is high on my list.

So are you just going to be eating a bunch of Mongolian BBQ every day?

Uhhhh, I wish! Mongolian BBQ is great. But I think Mongolian BBQ in the US is similar to Chinese food in the US….it’s nothing like the real deal.

If I could walk up to a cart filled with  fresh veggies, meats and noodles for every meal, I think I would be in heaven.

But luckily I’m not a picky eater and I’m up for trying whatever anyone puts on my plate.

Aren’t you going to miss your family and friends?

Of course!

I’m sure I’ll miss them every day but it will get easier with time. I’m really nervous for being away for holidays, but other than that I think I’ll do just fine being away from home.

With all of the modern technology, I’m sure my mom will still be blowing up my phone every day and I’ll be able to stalk all of my friends through Facebook.

What are you getting yourself into?

I really have no idea, but I know I’m ready for it.

Peace Corps Update

peace_corps_logo16-svg

As some of you may know from my previous blog post, I recently applied to the Peace Corps.

I applied for secondary English teaching positions in countries all over the world, but my top choice was Mongolia.

I sent my application in on Sept. 9 and was invited to interview with a Placement and Assessment Specialist on Oct. 3. After the hour long Skype interview, I was told I could be hearing back from her regarding my application as soon as that day or as late as Dec. 1.

Hearing that, I obviously checked my email every five seconds hoping for an invitation to serve.

This morning while I was reading my usual Buzzfeed articles at work, I noticed a new notification in my e-mail from the Peace Corps and my heart stopped. Literally.

I opened the email and read “Congratulations!” and I started to cry. At my desk. In front of my boss. Before I even read the rest of the e-mail.

Once I calmed down and finished reading the e-mail, I was informed that I have been invited to serve in the Peace Corps as a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia. I officially accepted my invitation – about five minutes ago – and I am planning to depart in May 2017.

Have you ever felt like running a marathon and shouting from the top of a roof simultaneously? Same. To say I am excited would be an understatement.

So what does this mean for me now?

Well, first of all, I have to contain my excitement and finish my homework due today.

Then, I have to pass medical and legal clearances, buy a Mongolian dictionary, and celebrate with family and friends.

I knew I started this travel blog for a reason. 😉

Post Travel Blues

It’s been awhile since you last heard from me, but rest assured, I’m alive and well.

I returned home on July 31st and was thrown right back into my old, every day lifestyle. I bought a car, learned to drive in Detroit traffic again, went shopping at the over-sized American supermarkets, and began living in my old apartment again.

It was great seeing all of my friends and family members because I missed them so much, and I loved telling them about my trip, but I probably repeated my favorite stories five times a day and eventually it got old. For everyone.

After the initial excitement I felt upon returning home, I eventually started experiencing some post travel blues. I wanted to go back to my life in the Netherlands, where I could hop on a plane and fly anywhere in Europe, ride my bike along a canal, or even go back to Malta where the only thing on my daily agenda was sunbathing on a beach.

But instead of annoying people and sulking over my amazing experiences, I decided to take action and plan for my next one.

Don’t get me wrong, Michigan is great, but now that I’ve had a little taste of life across the Atlantic, I can’t wait to go back!

Since I’m scheduled to graduate this December, I began researching careers and volunteer opportunities abroad that I can begin applying for right now.

I considered joining the circus, working for a U.S. embassy, selling my car and traveling until I go broke, or applying for the Peace Corps.

All of the above are great options (joining the circus the most tempting all), but I decided the best one for me right now would be joining the Peace Corps.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps, it is a volunteer program for Americans who want to help communities abroad. It’s different from the other volunteer opportunities abroad because you don’t have to pay a high fee to join, and instead you actually get paid to be there. The volunteer opportunities range from teaching school children English (what I applied for), to health outreach, and even agriculture related positions.

If I were to be offered a volunteer position with the Peace Corps, I would be shipped overseas (I’m hoping for Mongolia) and live and work in a new country for 27 months! It may seem like a long time, but in the big scheme of things, it’s really not.

Plus, I would be working in a controlled environment near other volunteers and have access to adequate health care.

I think this would be the next big step for me, and I have already been contacted by a recruiter who thinks I have a pretty great shot.

Fingers crossed!

Welcome to America

I am currently writing this to you all from the airport in Boston while I wait for my flight to Detroit.

In 5 hours I will be landing in my home city where I will be met by my mom and Leona (the pug).

When I arrived at the airport in Boston, I was greeted by a TSA agent who gave me a high five and said “welcome back home!”

Initially, I felt so happy to be in America again, but after about five minutes his words felt like a slap in the face.

There was a point during my trip where I wanted nothing more than to return home and see familiar faces. I wanted to be in a place that felt like home to me.

Now that the day is here, I wish I was sitting on a canal in Utrecht or laying on a beach somewhere in Malta. Or basically anywhere outside of this airport.

I have extended this trip three different times and I would extend it longer if I could. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look up flights to other countries.

Luckily, my dwindling bank account talked me out of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so excited to see everyone that I’ve missed, but I think a part of me will always want to go back.

Over the past seven months I have visited seven countries, seen the sunset 200 times, flown in 10 airplanes, drank at least 100 bottles of wine, met thousands of people, and made countless memories in the process.

I would not change a single thing.

This little chapter of my life has been so transforming and personal for me, and I feel that if I share more with my readers I would be giving away a part of myself.

So I will end with this:

If you are thinking about dropping everything and seeking out something greater for yourself, do it.

It took me way too long to get the nerve to travel on my own but I finally did it. And I will do it again, and again, and again.

See you soon, Michigan.

Until next time, Europe.

A Letter to Everyone I Love

Twenty-four hours from now I will be boarding a plane destined to land in Amsterdam, where I will be living for the next six months.

While six months may sound like a lifetime, I know time will fly and this entire experience will all just seem like a crazy, unbelievable dream.

I’m sure you are all feeling different emotions with my departure; some of you are worried about the distance and my safety, and some of you are excited for all of my new adventures. Most of you are somewhere in between, as am I.

Although I cannot assure you I won’t get into some shenanigans (I will most definitely), I can promise you all I will do my best to return in one piece.

This trip will change my entire life in ways I cannot even imagine yet, and I feel confident that studying abroad in the Netherlands will be the best decision I’ve made during my college career.

I plan to keep you all up to date through this blog on a weekly basis, so make sure to check here to see all of the fun (illegal) stuff I’m doing!

And to answer the question on everyone’s mind: YES! I am so nervous about this trip. I’m afraid of experiencing culture shock, traveling alone, and getting lost on the public transportation system.

But I’m mostly afraid of how much I’ll want to return back to my second home. I haven’t even arrived, and yet I already don’t want to leave.

Maybe this will change once July comes around, but I’m not so sure…

So in short, thank you to everyone who has supported me getting to this place. (And an extra shout out to you mom!) Whether you listened to me cry over the amount of paperwork I had to do, or gave me tips on traveling in Europe, all of your help has been appreciated.

I love you and I already miss you, but I’m excited to share this experience with you all.

 

5 Expectations for Studying Abroad

phonto.jpg

Original Chalkboard Photo

A year from now I’ll be reminiscing on my time abroad, and thinking back to how much I changed (or didn’t).

I have friends who have studied or interned abroad, and their stories have always seemed so extraordinary and significant. I hope that one day I’ll be able to share my own stories that inspire people to travel or study abroad.

But of course, having friends with these stories means I have some pretty high expectations for my own time abroad, so I’d like to share with you my top five expectations for living, working, and studying in the Netherlands.

1. I’m going to meet the most interesting people while working at a hostel.

Have you ever stayed in a hostel? Cause I sure haven’t. I didn’t even know what a hostel was until a few months ago. When I think of a traveler that frequents a hostel, I picture a solo dude with dreadlocks that has an accent you just can’t seem to place, who has become a professional backpacker, and often ends conversations with “Namaste.

I’m actually very hopeful that I will meet someone who fits this description, so fingers crossed.

2. I will rarely attend my classes, but still manage to pass them all. 

The European approach to school is so different from the United States. At Ferris, I am required to attend all of my class lectures, complete approximately five assignments of homework for each class every week, and take three to five exams each semester, for every. single. class. But did you know that in Europe it’s typical for professors to make their lectures optional? Yep, you read that right. There’s also no homework and only one exam at the end of the semester. Hallelujah!

3. My alcohol tolerance will be tested, but I will ultimately win in the end. 

For those of you who know me, I can carry myself pretty well while guzzling down a bottle of wine. But those European’s, they’ve got me beat. Give me a beer or anything with vodka, and I look like I’ve just eaten a Warheads Sour Candy. With the appropriate amount of mental preparation, I know I can take on the European bar scene and not look like the sloppy American people will expect me to be!

4. I will make some of the best, lifelong friends. 

How could I live a whole ocean away and not manage to make a few lasting friendships? Although leaving my friends in the United States for six months will be hard, I’m comforted knowing that there are good people everywhere.

5. My life will be changed forever. 

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I plan to run with it. I’m going to spend a semester trying new and exciting things, meeting new people, and traveling the world. I would be crazy to think that I could stay the same person after returning in July.

 

Don’t worry, after my trip ends I’ll be sure to refer back to this blog post and write a killer story about the Namaste guy I meet.

How I Landed a Job as a Hostel Worker

For those of you who don’t know, while studying abroad I will be juggling a few classes and also a sweet gig at a hostel in the city center of Utrecht, Netherlands.

A hostel is similar to a hotel, but travelers can stay there cheaper because the rooms are set up “dorm style.” You will have your own locker for personal belongings, but share a large room with other travelers.

When I tell my coworkers and friends this, they always have two questions: How did you land a job like that? Have you seen the movie Hostel?!

For starters, I am not a scary movie fanatic, nor do I plan to be, so please don’t scare me out of working there!

And secondly, I came across this job through a website called workaway.info.

I was scrambling to find a place to stay for the semester because the student housing through my university was so expensive! Yes, I know I’m studying abroad and will need to splurge once in awhile, but I was also up for a unique experience so I began searching for alternative (cheap) housing. I looked into the possibility of a home stay, but couldn’t find anything close enough to the city, or anything that allowed me to have some free time to explore my new surroundings.

And then fate worked its magic and workaway.info fell right into my lap (metaphorically, of course).

Workaway.info is a website that allows travelers to work part time in the country that they’re traveling to, typically in exchange for a bed and some authentic cuisine. You can work in so many different countries for as little as a week, or as long as months on end.

You can even sign up as a single person or with your significant other! The only catch was paying a fee for creating your account, but the fee covers a membership for two years. ($29 for a single person or $38 for a couple)

After creating my profile that detailed my skills, interests and hobbies, plus a few pictures so interested hosts would know I’m not a robot, I was ready to reach out to possible hosts.

I searched for opportunities in Utrecht, Netherlands, where I will be staying, and found nine options. After reading each profile, I sent a message to three hosts, two of which were volunteer positions at hostels.

I didn’t hear back from any of the hosts for two weeks, and I almost lost hope. But if I’ve learned one thing from the process of studying abroad, it would be to never give up!

I received an email two weeks later from the owners of the hostel and they offered me a position!

In exchange for working 12-16 hours a week, I will be sharing an apartment with four other female workers and I will have my groceries paid for (basic ingredients to make breakfast, lunch and dinner).

I will primarily have reception duties, in addition to making sure the hostel is clean and up to the guests standards.

In no way will this be the typical study abroad experience, but I’ve always been open to new things and I’m excited to see what this opportunity will bring me.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be an advertisement or promotion for workaway.info. This is simply me sharing my experience through their website.

How I Decided to Study Abroad

IMG_5022

Photo of Utrecht

A year ago, if you would have asked me if I was planning to study abroad, I would have nervously laughed at the thought and dismissed it. Studying abroad seemed like a fairy tale only available to students with an upper-class background and definitely something that was not in the books for me.

I have always considered myself the adventurous type, but more so with trying new hobbies or restaurants, not travel. In my 20 short years of life, I have left the United States twice, and both times I went to Canada. (Does that even count?!)

This summer something changed. While discussing future plans with my roommate before the fall semester started, I felt the need to leave everything behind and forge a new path in my future. We discussed the possibility of me studying abroad and I started looking into the different options right away.

My first question after deciding to study abroad was: where do I go?

I looked into the possibility of France, because I am minoring in French studies, but decided against it because of 1. the price and 2. the courses were not applicable to my communication major. After some extensive research on the schools that are affiliated with Ferris, I came across the wonderful Hogeschool Utrecht University of Applied Sciences. Hogeschool Utrecht was the first university I found that offered a ton of courses that would all count towards my major. Besides the university, Utrecht has a lot to offer. It’s about an hour from Amsterdam and offers a great night life as well as charming boutiques, cafés and restaurants. It is very historic and different from the surroundings I’m used to.

After deciding on Hogeschool Utrecht, I made an appointment with the study abroad counselor at Ferris and discovered that studying abroad in the Netherlands will be the exact same price, or a little cheaper, than studying at Ferris. Of course, I applied right away and fortunately was accepted soon after.

The rest was history.