It’s not the Party Corps, I promise

Happy Monday, friends! After a fabulous weekend with my fellow volunteers, we returned to our usual training schedule…boo. While we were waiting for class to start, we chatted about our weekend, particularly the super fun house party that one of us threw on Friday night. There are ton of pictures floating around from that night and if we are Facebook friends, I’m sure you’ve seen them. We all kind of realized that the majority of pictures we’ve been sharing with our friends and family have been of us hanging out, chilling at the beach or dancing. One of my pals said his mom asked him if he joined the Peace Corps or the Party Corps (I obviously loved the pun and stole it for my title. Thanks, Derek’s mom!)

The truth is, right now it can seem more like the Party Corps because we haven’t been doing a ton of work. All of our time is spent in training so that we can be even better volunteers once we finally start working. November 14 is the day of our swear-in and after that, everyone will move to their new sites. Even some of us in Barranquilla will be moving to different parts of the city to be closer to our schools.

Last week, we were FINALLY able to visit our new schools and meet our “counterparts” (PC term meaning Colombian coworker). On Monday, we all met up at a hotel where they fed us a bomb.com lunch, sans beans, and we met a representative from our schools. The woman who was there for me is the definition of fabulous. Her English is near perfection and I can already tell she is going to be extremely hard-working and will push me to be better and make our school the best it can be. We spent Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning in sessions about teamwork, the PC mission and whatnot and then, after another stellar lunch (mashed potatoes!!!!) we were handed over to our counterparts and taken to visit our new schools.

As most schools are, mine is broken up into two “jornadas” or shifts, with grades 6-11 in the morning and k-5 in the afternoon. My counterpart and the other English teachers all work the morning shift. However, those little sweethearts stayed late to give me a warm welcome to my colegio. The students even prepared an AMAZING dance showcase for me. Seriously, I’ve never been so intimidated by the talent of 15 year olds. It was incredible. Others performed English songs and we had some deditios (cheese filled pasteries) and pastelitos (meat filled pastry) to snack on. I met the principal and several other teachers from different content areas. Everyone was so friendly and made me feel welcome.

IMG_0232.JPG

IMG_0230.JPG

It was creativity week at my school and on Wednesday it was science and math day. I was able to spend all morning attending a science fair that the kids had worked really hard on. They are so smart! It was a blast. The next two days were Spanish and English and as all of my counterparts teach both subjects, they were busy planning. Thursday was Spanish day and they had several classrooms set up to represent various parts of Spanish history and culture such as the Middle Ages, Spanish literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, cinema and one more that I am forgetting. A group of seventh graders put on a short reenactment of Snow White. It was just precious. Aren’t they adorable?! On Friday they were having an English song competition, which I was asked to judged but had to decline because we returned to training. What a bummer. But that’s ok because I have two years to make my mark and help improve the English program! I even jokingly gave them idea for a new club where the students teach me to dance but before they do, I give them the vocabulary to teach me in English. Seriously I was 100% kidding but the “coordinadora” (basically asst. principal) loved the idea! Which is great for me because I want to be able to be a dance coach on DWTS after this experience 😉

In addition to working at my school, I plan on staying at CEDESOCIAL. It worked out wonderfully because the other two ladies volunteering with me are also staying in Barranquilla so we are keeping the dream team alive! We had our second workshop on Friday with a group of teenage girls who, because of abuse, have dropped out of school. Some are working the streets and some have children or are pregnant. The fact that anyone would want to hurt these sweet little girls is sickening. They are so respectful, sweet, fun and child like. In PC we get a lot of resiliency training to help us cope with the struggles of living overseas for two years. These girls are the absolute definition of resilience. I am awed and inspired by their pure hearts and tough attitudes. We did a song analysis of Marc Anthony’s “Vivir mi Vida” which all about living life to the fullest and letting go of pain. Then, we had the girls write about their dreams and how they plan on achieving these dreams. One 13-year old wrote she wants to help vulnerable children have better lives and move her family to a better neighborhood, others want to be doctors or teachers while others just want to create a better life for their family. It was an amazing session and according the director, the girls really enjoyed it.
Here are some pics of us working and then relaxing at the park.

IMG_0239.JPG

IMG_0258.JPG

IMG_0260.JPG

IMG_0240.JPG

I started this blog with so much more to say but now I’ve found an avocado to eat and I’m distracted 🙂 I promise to have more pics of me working soon, because after all, I’m not in the Party Corps! The truth is, we are trying to spend as much time together because training is rapidly coming to a close and some of us are leaving. I love this group and am so happy and excited to see what we all accomplish in the next 28 months. I love you all! Happy Halloween!!! 🎃👻

IMG_0056.JPG

Advertisements

Dear Jessica, you’ve been assigned to a school in….

BARRANQUILLA!!!!!!!! At first when I saw my letter, I was like ok well this is not mine and who the heck is Jessica? When the realization that I would be staying in this bustling metropolis I had so many emotions I don’t even know where to begin. I went into this with very little expectations because I didn’t want to be let down. However, after my visit to Santa Marta I fell in love and secretly crossed my fingers that I would be sent to a little beach town near there. However, once the ceremony started and they started naming who would be in Barranquilla, I heard the names of two of my absolute favorite people and thought “ok ok I can do this, if they place me in Barranquilla I will be with my besties and that will be awesome!”

When they finally called me up and announced that I will be in Barranquilla, I felt slightly let down but also happy to be in such good company. There was a small part of me that wanted the more “stereotypical” Peace Corps experience of living in a village and really having an impact on a community. I mean Barranquilla has like 12 malls, it’s own pro soccer team and multiple pizza delivery services! Why do they need my help? After a minute, I realized that just because some people in Quilla are very well off and have multiple cars, many more are illiterate and barely getting by. If I can help just one person here realize their potential and better their life, I will have had a true Peace Corps experience. That’s what it’s all about right? Making a difference. Where you live is rather insignificant because you’ll find people everywhere who need a hand. Besides, when we think of places needing help in the US we definitely don’t think of po-dunk Iowa or western Nebraska- we think of places like downtown LA or New Orleans.

The school I’ve been placed at is located in a rougher part of town, something I am absolutely thrilled about because the worst job I ever loved was when I worked in North Omaha. The school has both primary and secondary and has had a PC volunteer before. It sounds like I will be working with all grades which will be interesting. Do kindergarteners like One Direction? How do you teach a snotty-nosed, crying 6 year old? I guess we’ll find out! In addition to working at my school, I plan on continuing my work with CEDE. We teach our second class this week! I can’t wait to tell the staff and kids that all three of us will be with them for 2 years. Once I move into my new home, I will start looking for community project ideas because we all know I turn into a crazy person if I’m not busy and running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

Yesterday was an emotional roller coaster and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I was unable to keep my emotions under control. I started crying before I even got my placement! Real talk, I’m getting choked up now. I am so incredibly grateful to be placed in such an exciting city with the most amazing people I have had the privilege to meet. Words cannot express how much I love our group and how grateful I am to have them with me. I am also absolutely devastated to see some of my friends head off to other sites but I’m also so excited for them. I have no doubt in my mind that every single person here is going to change the world. They’ve already made it a happier place just by being alive.

I love you all and am so grateful for this beautiful life and the wonderful support I get from you every day. Next week I get to visit my school and meet the people I’ll be working with!! Besitos 😘

IMG_0207.JPG

My response when Katie texted and asked “how do you feel”.

IMG_0200.JPG

Be heros, friends ❤

Libre soy

So one of the major things you learn very quickly in the Peace Corps process is that you have minimal control over what happens to you. You apply, tell them your skills and experience, check the little continent box where you prefer to serve (however you aren’t guaranteed your indicated preference), cross your fingers and hope the best. I believe that this may have changed for the newbies who applied this year, however for the 2013 and earlier applicants, we even had very little say in when we began our service, let alone where we would go.

After receiving your invitation, the PC allows you a choice: accept or deny. However, any denials stay on record and you may not receive a second invitation. Once you arrive to site, everything is chosen for you. Your schedule, your host family, even what and when you eat! But, you suck it up because this is what you signed up for. During the first 6-ish weeks of training, you are being tested and evaluated so that the Program Manager can determine your permanent site placement. Yes, that’s right, folks. You not only get little say in your country of service but almost no say in what you will doing or where you’ll be living for two years. And that’s fine, because again, that’s what we signed up for. I think it’s Core Expectation #2: volunteers will serve wherever needed. So this lack of control should be easy to deal with because we were warned of it, right? That’s definitely what I thought but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This Friday we find out where we will be living and working for the next 24 months of our lives and to say the tension is thick is definitely an understatement. Before this afternoon, I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone (me) had a mental breakdown in the next 90 hours. Thank goodness my attitude has changed due to the inspiration of my adorable 6 year old neighbor.

I came home after a particularly sweaty bus ride, ready to crash in bed for awhile when I turned the corner and was bombarded by a group of little girls wanting to hang out. I was trying to think of an excuse when I looked at one niña who was wearing a t-shirt from the cinematic classic, Frozen. This t-shirt had the ultimate BA princess, Elsa and underneath, it read “Let it go”. So that’s what I’m doing friends! I’m letting go of all control and as such, I’m also letting go of any stresses and anxieties that come along with this experience. I will now trust the process and believe that everything will work out the way it is supposed it. Heck, it’s worked up until now, right?

Ok so to celebrate this grand step in self-actualization, I will make a list because if you’ve learned nothing else from this blog it’s that I love lists 🙂 Here is what I am releasing all control of:

1) The busses. Either I make it to class on time or I don’t. Either I arrive drenched in sweat or surprisingly fresh. It’s not the end of the world. I’m lucky to have access to cheap public transportation.
2) FOOD! Ok this is tough, I LOVE food. Seriously, I consider food to be in my top 5 best friends. However, for now I must succumb to the culinary stylings of my host mother and the cheap restaurant that the PC caters from. It’s ok. Food is meant for sustenance and I’m getting plenty of that. Plus, I have plenty of time to eat what I want when I am done with this amazing experience.
3) Other people’s opinions. As someone recently told me, those that matter know me and know my heart and the people that don’t, aren’t worth my time.
4) Mosquitos. They are going to get me whether I like it or not. Resistance is futile.
5) Anything Peace Corps related. I will accept my training, my site placement, my new host family and anything else that gets thrown at me with grace. I am lucky to be here and I need to be grateful for this opportunity.

While there is so much outside of my control, the one thing that I always have a say in is my attitude. No one else can determine how I handle challenges but me and this experience will be exactly what I make of it. I haven’t been doing very well with this but here is my commitment to be better. I’m back to being a glass half full kind of girl!

Thanks for reading, friends! Expect a post this weekend for the unveiling of my site! We find out Friday afternoon and immediately afterwards we are going out to celebrate/drown our sorrows so pending any hangovers, you should hear from me on Saturday. Love you all ❤ If you have something that is currently weighing you down, I encourage you to let it go…or as they say in Colombia, “Libre soy” ( I am free). Besitos!!!!!

PS shout out to my favorite person in the planet, my baby brother John, for his promotion at work! So proud of you and I love you and miss you so much!!

IMG_0059.JPG

IMG_0058-4.PNG

You win some, you lose some

Recently, on a very disappointing trip to an arepa stand, my good pal MC reminded me of a very important fact of life…you win some and you lose some. In the spirit of her wisdom, I have decided to create a short list of things that have happened in the last week. Some were winning, others not so much.

1) I tried a new flavor of ice cream at the local *McDonald’s. It’s called “Arequipe” and was absolutely mind blowing. Win
*most major grocery stores have mini McDonald’s that only serve desserts. They are my heaven. This wonderful ice cream cone only cost 2,000 pesos, about $1.
2) I played soccer for the first time in over ten years. I scored the very first goal! Win
3) I knew I wasn’t going to reach the ball in time to score said goal and did something stupid, which caused me to sprain my ankle. Major loss
4) The doctor said I needed to rest my ankle so I had to skip class and lay in bed all day last Friday watching Netflix. Win
5) I missed going out with my friends on Friday because I couldn’t walk. Loss
6) I got bored on Saturday so I broke the doctor’s rules and ventured out with my friends. I ended up having a blast playing Apples to Apples and eating pizza at English club. Win
7) MC and I braved the heat, went on an adventure on Sunday and discovered a movie theater about a mile from our house. Win
8) I risked my life by jumping on a crowded bus and hanging out the door for half the trip but I got a free bus ride and wasn’t late to my first official day at my new volunteer project. However, I showed up drenched in sweat and limping because I was smushed up against a rather sweaty lady the whole ride. Tie
9) I ignored my doctor’s orders and stopped using my crutches. My foot is swollen and I think I should chop it off. Loss
10) I decided to save money and eat dinner at home, even though the food isn’t my favorite. I was in an incredibly bad mood when my host mom called me to the table, however she surprised me with guacamole and arroz de coco! Win
11) I showed up to my practicum completely prepared to sit in the back and observe. However, when the teacher asked us if we wanted to teach, my crazy partner said yes. I wanted to punch him but instead, I went along with it and ended up teaching a pretty good lesson where we got to learn a lot about our students. Plus, I had a blast being in charge again. I even got to scold a few kids! Sammy and I got to show off our mad co-teaching skills and get told we rock. Championship sized win

Life is all about choices and consequences. Sometimes, we make the wrong decisions and end up with a big fat loss. However, the wins are what make life worth living. Even a loss can take us on an unexpected adventure. I hope you go out and take a chance sometime this week!

All is well on the coast, my project is going fantastically, I still love (most of) my fellow volunteers and we find out our site placements in 15 days!!! Things are moving along quite nicely. The heat this past week has been a nightmare, the only thing worse are the mutant mosquitos attacking every inch of my body. However, I discovered today that those little bastards will be gone by the end of November! Happy October, friends. I beg of you, eat something pumpkin flavored and think of me. Besitos!!!!

IMG_0157.PNG