It’s official!

I’m a Peace Corps volunteer! Goodbye to trainee status and all of the terrible rules that come with it! Last Friday, I, along with 31 of my amazing friends, took an oath (in front of the US ambassador!) to uphold the constitution and some other stuff I can’t remember. I’m not one for ceremonies since they are typically snooze fests, however this one wasn’t so bad. The ceremony began with a speech welcoming all of the important guests and press, then we were introduced by our program manager. We each had to turn around and introduce ourselves to the audience (in Spanish!) Apparently, I did such an amazing job, El Heraldo, the local newspaper snapped a picture of me and used it for their story, here is the link. Actually, I just think they chose me because, besides one other blonde dude, I’m the most gringa looking person in our group.

Introducing ourselves was mildly terrifying, but then we listened to a speech from the ambassador and the mayor of Barranquilla. I was starting to get restless but then we got to watch a 10 minute performance of native Colombian dances. It was absolutely mesmerizing and I cannot wait to learn how to dance just like them! There was a closing speech and then we watched this really amazing video about the Peace Corps’ history here in Colombia. The movie was called “Hijos de Kennedy” (because, as you all know, the PC was founded by JFK). It showed all of the work that the Peace Corps did during the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, PC had to pull out in the 80s and suspend the program due to all of the violence. Luckily, this beautiful country has made a turn for the better and in 2010, they reinstated the program. The current president was even interviewed about all of the work we are doing here. It was super inspiring and it also made me proud to part of such a respected organization.

The days of training leading up to swear in were rough. I think the realization that the training wheels were about to come off and our group would be split up finally started to sink in and we were all in a funk. However, on our very last day we completed the tradition of reading our commitments to service. This really reinvigorated everyone and reminded us all why we are really here. As some of you may know I did not have to sigma contract to join the Peace Corps, it’s not like the military where I have to complete X number of days of service and I get penalized if I leave early. Truthfully, I can leave whenever I want. Instead of signing a formal contract, the Peace Corps asks us to make commitments of service. These commitments, in my opinion, are more meaningful than a contract because I am the only one holding myself responsible for completing this journey. To be honest, I was kind of annoyed when I found out that not only would I have to write my commitment, read it aloud in front of my fellow trainees and other PC staff, but I was dreading listening to 32 other speeches because I had assumed they would all be the same. Shocker, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Seeing the drive, passion and commitment that my peers have for this work was inspiring.

Ironically enough, the day we swore in and committed ourselves to two years of service, Colombia played USA in soccer. Sorry folks, but I rooted for COL all the way! Some of us even went out and bought jerseys to wear on the chiva that night. What’s a chiva, you ask? Well, a traditional chiva is a rickety old bus that used to transport farm workers, ranchers, animals and anything else you can think of from pueblo to pueblo. There are still chivas like this, but in the concrete jungle of Barranquilla, chivas a party busses that take you around the city to different salsa clubs, which is actually unnecessary seeing as they have a live band playing on the bus. We had so much fun blowing off steam and celebrating making it through 11 weeks of training. On Saturday, I woke up and moved down south to my new barrio. My new host family is amazing, it is just an older woman and sometimes her husband (he lives out of town for work). My barrio is a lot livelier than my old one, hopefully one of these nights they’ll turn down the music so I can get some sleep. However, I think I’m going to be very happy here. I’m about 200 feet from my school and so far, all of the neighbors seem super friendly. Also, when I spent all day at the beach today and when I came home, my new host mom cleaned my room because she knew I’d be tired 🙂 I’m so lucky.

School is almost out for the “summer” so we have some relaxation time over Thanksgiving and Christmas and then school starts back up in January. I hear everyone back home is a little chilly? I sure felt sorry for you all today while I was splashing in the waves 😉 Talk soon, amigos. Stay warm! Xoxoxo

P.S. Here’s my commitment to service:

Before embarking on this job, I had no expectations or plans because I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t want to be surprised or let down. I did, however, have hopes. I wanted to find myself immersed in a new culture, helping others by sharing my experiences and learning from locals and other volunteers. I hoped to feel welcome, valued and supported by the Peace Corps, other volunteers and the community. I was scared to leave the comforts of home and being surrounded my friends and family but I hoped to find a new home in Colombia. Since this journey has began, everything I had hoped for has come true. There have been challenges we’ve had to face and there are many more to come but I feel confident and ready, especially because I know we will face them together. M short time here has taught me that I can stop hoping because I’m no longer taking a chance or a leap of faith. I’m committing myself to 24 months if service, learning, personal growth and adventure. I make this commitment not only to the Peace Corps. But to Colombia, CII-6*, my community and myself. I am far from perfect and I still have so much to learn but I promise to listen, be present, open and always humble. This the beginning of amazing journey and I promise not to take this privilege for granted.

*CII-6 is the name of our cohort. C=Colombia, II=the second time the Peace Corps has had a presence in Colombia and 6=the sixth group that has been here in the second round of volunteers. Last year’s volunteers are CII-5, next year we’ll meet CII-7. ¿Comprende?

All of us after swear in with some of the PC staff. We’re looking pretty sharp, huh?

Soccer jerseys on the chiva!

My neighbor and best buddy, MC, who left me today for Santa Marta 😥

This is me awkwardly talking while our country director, ambassador and mayor look on.



Roots and Wings

I was sitting at the mall last night with my friends (yes I’ve regressed to my middle school habits since being in Colombia) and I saw a man with his baby girl in his lap. They were playing peek-a-boo and it was just the cutest thing. This was my third baby encounter of the day and it got me thinking. I’m totes ready to start a family. Kidding! It made me think about my parents. I obviously don’t remember being a baby, but I do remember being small enough for my dad to throw me up in the air and catch me or sit on his stomach, leaning on his knees with my feet on his chest while he read me story. If I have those memories, I’m sure my parents do, also. Now, I’m all grown up and if I sat on my dad I would probably crush him. How strange it must be to go from holding your baby in your arms to watching them leave home to move halfway across the world where you can’t be there to protect and provide for them. I’m so lucky to have parents that completely support me and my dreams, which include traveling and living far away from home. Last night I found myself wondering if that baby girl would grow up to leave her family for her own adventure just like I did. Watching the way her dad interacted with her, it seemed impossible.

As Peace Corps Volunteers we hear all of the time what a wonderful, selfless endeavor we are embarking on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “you are such an amazing person!” Obviously, I love it and never get tired of hearing it, however I’m not sure it’s totally accurate. As we get closer to swear in, we are thinking about our commitment to service and I think we all agree that none of us are selfless, Mother Teresa saviors who have given up our lives to service. We all made the conscious choice to come here because we wanted to help and make a difference, but also know that we are gaining so much from this experience, whether it be adventure, personal growth or an awesome line on our resume. However, there are people we had to leave behind in order to do this. People who had no choice in the matter. Because I chose to leave, my parents worry every day, my brothers don’t get to call up their big sister whenever they feel like it and my friends don’t have their crazy partner in crime anymore. The same goes for the friends and families of every PC volunteer. They know we will eventually come back and instead of telling us how much they miss us or that they wish we were there, they support us. These people are the selfless ones, the ones that deserve the praise. I can’t thank everyone back home enough for all of the love and support, especially my family.

We have just under a week until we swear in and commit ourselves to 24 mons of service. It’s both terrifying and invigorating. I’m ready to begin my work but I’m also realizing that all of this real and I’m signing myself up for 2 years of living in Colombia, with my only connections to America being through FaceTime or Facebook. I think I’m ready, at least I hope I am 🙂 While there are certain American comforts I miss, I’m not really homesick. I’m definitely family/friend-sick (is that a real thing?) but I don’t think that will ever go away. However getting hugs and kisses from the girls in our group at CEDESOCIAL, salsa music, hearing my little neighbor shout “buenos días, Jessi!!!” and soccer games with my fellow volunteers make it a little easier.

I love you all! Next post should be all about swearing in so stay tuned! ❤

Second to last day of soccer before everyone heads off to their sites!

CII-6…the most professional group of trainees Peace Corps has ever seen.

Thanks Mom and Dad, I love you.