Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Over a year has passed in the stage of my life defined as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and it seems impossible to reflect back on all the events that have come to pass in the most interesting year of my life to date. Perhaps this is why I have been notoriously bad at keeping friends and family updated about my life here in Moldova. I remember thinking, preparing, and planning how I pictured my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer when I was preparing to make this journey. I pictured learning a foreign language, learning a new culture, meeting new friends, and doing work which I passionately believed would be making a difference in people's lives...and I pictured writing home about it every step of the way. Thankfully, I can honestly say that I have achieved all of those goals, except for the last! Truth is, sometimes it's hard to sit down and write about something when you're in the midst of doing it. Well, summer has arrived, and although I've already been on vacation for a month, I'm finally finding the time to sit down and write some reflections on the past year.
First of all, for friends and family who are going to be in the NYC or Olean area between the dates of July 20th and August 3rd - I'm COMING HOME!!!!!!! This will be my only trip back to the states as a PCV (according to my bank account) so I want to take advantage of seeing as many loved ones as possible. Just send me an email and we'll plan a good time to meet up. Second of all, let's talk in general about what the past year has been like for me.

School starts on the 1st of September every year in Moldova with a really fun opening ceremony where the whole school gathers and gives good wishes for the school year and lots and lots of flowers for the teachers. I had just arrived in my town, Cimislia (a small "city" located in the South of Moldova), and had no idea what was going on. It's funny to look back at how much I progressed from the first day of school to the last. Although I gave a speech in Romanian on the first day of school, my partner teacher had to write it for me, and I had no idea what I was saying! I had the privilege of presenting some awards at the end of the school year and this time I was able to write the speech myself, and had no problems pronouncing it! In fact, in a year I progressed from a beginner to advanced level of Romanian language, and hope to keep progressing from here. So, the school year began and I was given all the groups of 5th, 6th, and 7th grades, plus one 11th grade group to teach together with my 4 fellow English teachers, Doamna Elena, Oxana, Olga, and Ludmila. Unfortunately, in the middle of the second semester my colleague and close friend Ludmila immigrated to Canada with her family in hopes of making a more prosperous life. Anyway, the first semester passed quickly and I fell into a schedule of lesson planning, teaching, learning Romanian, and giving English lessons to various community members. One of the best parts of Moldova still remains THE PARTIES!! No one celebrates like the Moldovans, and no one finds so many reasons to celebrate! I felt like once a week I was coming together with my colleagues to eat, drink, and dance the night away. Soon, Christmas came and Moldova was covered in snow! I hadn't seen a snowfall like that since I was a kid, and apparently, neither had the Moldovans. Hello global warming! But the Moldovans didn't seem bothered, and soon we were all bundled up with fur hats looking like Eskimos and pulling the kids through the streets on sleds.

I took advantage of our two week winter break and planned a trek over Eastern/Western Europe with some friends. We set off from Chisinau the day after Christmas and took an 18 hour bus through Romania to the border of Hungary. From there a short train ride brought us into Budapest, maybe one of my favorite cities in the world. It was like a gigantic Christmas market. Christmas trees and decorations everywhere and hot mulled wine on every street corner! I was in heaven. We had some great adventures including swimming in hot springs in the snow, and then took off for a night in Vienna. This was my second trip to Austria, but I had forgotten just how beautiful of a country it is. The architecture and layout of the city is really breathtaking. With just one night to spend we decided to "Couch surf" for those of you who know what that is, and ended up finding ourselves in the student Union of the University. Unknown to us, the person who agreed to take us in was in fact living in the student union which was taken over by protesters of the high fees of the educational system. I guess they have never been to America! After taking in the scene, we threw our packs down on a hammock and headed down to the soup kitchen where we made some friends who took us for a whirlwind tour of the city by night. Next morning we hopped on our bus, next stop Prague, where two other PCV's were waiting for us in a penthouse apartment we had rented for the New Year's weekend. Oh the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer! Prague proved to only escalate the level of beauty in this part of the world, and the good times continued to roll. We spent 3 days exploring the city, eating street sausages and yes of course more hot wine. The architecture of this city was breathtaking, and the fortress on the hill overlooking the city held one of the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen. New Years Eve 2010 was a blur of smoke and fireworks set off by people in the streets right in front of our apartment. A little dangerous, and a friend even got hit in the leg with one! Time flew as it always does and it was time to leave this amazing city for 5 days of relaxation in the German countryside with an old friend, Thomas. I took an overnight bus to Hamburg where Thomas met me and bought me out to his family's house in Ferden, about an hour outside of Hamburg. There we relaxed, ate delicious German food, drank delicious German beer, and caught up on the last couple years of our lives. Overall, a two week vacation spent unwinding form the stresses of living in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, and being a teacher - one of the hardest jobs in the world!

I returned to Moldova refreshed, recharged, and ready to resume the hard work. January and February passed with a full schedule of lessons at school and the local community center, sports games with the kids, and preparing for the "odyssey of the mind" competition in mid February. We met the national competition of Odyssey of the Mind with success, with one team placing 3rd and one team placing 1st. The first place team was invited to the international competition "Eurofest" in Belarus in April, and I was invited to come along. This was right around the time that I was seeing $30 tickets to Italy, and planned an Easter vacation. Looked like April was going to be a busy month. March passed full of conferences, seminars, and a production of Cinderella at the Primary School in Honor of foreign languages week. I helped find and translate the music and script, and drew the cute little animals that the kids are wearing on their heads! So, we've arrived in early April, spring break, and Italy! I have to say that after this trip it's pretty clear to me that I have Italian ancestry. I was in heaven in Italy! The food! The wine! The GELATTO! A week to explore Venice, Florence, and Rome with tow of my favorite PCV's - does life get any better? I think not. We saw everything that someone sees when they go to Italy, the maze of the streets of venice, the David, the Domo, the Tuscan countryside, museums, the Vatican, ancient Rome, the Coliseum, trevi fountain, spanish steps, and even made it out to the beach one day! After 10 days and about that many pounds added to my waistline, we were back in Moldova rushing to complete the preparations for the next trip - Eurofest in Bearus one week later! After several trips to the embassy, I finally received my visa and hopped on board a 3 day bus ride with 50 other Moldovan students, teachers, and 3 other pcv's. Not the funnest bus ride ever, but seriously one of the best things I've had the opportunity to do as a PCV. Kids from 16 countries ranging from Germany to India and Kazakhstan gathered for a week of collaboration, cultural exchange, and of course competition. We were paired up with a group of kids from Russia, and another from Poland, and given a creative thinking problem to represent with an 8 minute skit in 3 days. The days were filled with hard work, and trying to translate between 4 different languages. I don't think I could have found a better example of why my students need to learn English if I tried! We managed, and luckily our team was full of a number of perfectionists including myself and the other coaches who wouldn't stop until we got the best results. We filled the nights with talent competitions, discos, international market place, and other fun activities, but the days were all business! The last day arrived at last and it was time to present our problem. not having seen any of the other performances, I had no idea how we stacked up, and I honestly couldn't judge the judges reaction. They seemed really pleased, but who knows? That night we all gathered for the closing ceremony where the winnners were to be announced. We sat feeling our hearts drop as they announced the 3rd and 2nd place winners, feeling our victory slipping away. I honestly couldn't believe my ears when they announced us as the 1st place winners! I jumped up, screamed, and wrapped my arms around my partner, Doamna Rodika. We went on stage to accept our awards and I can honestly say I have never felt so gratified in my life. These kids worked so hard and it's they never get to see any positive results from the hard work they do. They felt like superstars in that moment, and to so many people they really were! We returned back home to be met by the community like celebrities, the news station and paper waiting for interviews, and everyone in the community congratulating us. GO GIM JUNIOR!!!! Here's hoping that next year we make it all the way to world fest! So, May came in with a bang, but no time to rest as we planned a field trip to the ancient ruins in the city of Orhei with the 3rd grade. I never knew it was possible to pack so much into one day, but we did! 7am driving to the capital to go to the history museum, early matinee of "The Princess and the Frog" (In Russian of course), picnic by the lake, exploring the caves and monasteries of the ancient ruins, a stop at the village of a famous Moldovan author, the amusement park in the capital, and dinner at McDonald's bought us back home at midnight! What an awesomely exhausting day! Next cam time to begin preparations for another volunteer project in the school community. I wish I could say that I could take credit for this idea, but I am so proud to say that I didn't. I was lucky enough to help the student body fund raise to gather clothes and funds to make a donation to a local orphanage. We held a lottery, clothes drive, and the school theatre troupe went around town performing their show to raise money to get us to the orphanage in Hincesti. Altogether we raised about $300 and several boxes of clothes - a truly amazing feat! I accompanied the theatre group and volunteers responsible for organizing the trip to Hincesti, where our theatre troupe put on an amazing performance titled "O zi in orasul florilor" or a day in the city of flowers, for an excited audience of about 100 disable orphans. We also donated clothes, and each participant received a bag full of sweets and goodies. I was honestly moved to tears when I saw the excitement on those kids faces. It made their whole week, and maybe even year! For me, this was such a special bonding experience with my students and fellow teachers alike, one which I will never forget! Now we have arrived at June, and the end of the school year. I felt that I had really come full circle standing up in front of a school full of students on the last day of school, who 8 months earlier I viewed as strangers. I was treated just like a true Moldovan teacher and soon my arms were full of flowers, my cheeks covered with kisses, and my ears ringing with words of thanks and well wishes from my students. It was such a satisfying feeling to reflect back on the progress we had made together as a community in the past school year, and mostly to know that vacation was beginning! This is one time when it becomes clear what the benefits of being a teacher are! So, I took a week off, relaxed, had picnics with my students, picked cherries from Olga's garden to make pies, and really just enjoyed not going to work! Unfortunately, that week flew by and was followed by 3 straight weeks of chaos! Beginning with the arrival of 70 new PCV's in Moldova, a trip to the beach in the Ukraine for my birthday, summer camps, and PC trainings.....oh boy! 13 of my closest friend in Moldova took off for a few days in Odessa, probably the closest beach town to us on the Ukrainian black sea. We indulged ourselves with Mojitos, sushi, Mexican food, and margaritas - not something we do everyday in Moldova! I swam in the Sea everyday for hours, lay in the hot sun, bought a beautiful new dress, and got a pedicure. I couldn't think of a better way to spend the beginning of my 29th year in this world. We returned to Moldova where I had to fit in a summer camp before preparing for the 9th and 12th form "Balls" which is like a mix between American graduations and prom and goes until 4am! The following week was spent out in the region where all the new volunteers are living, facilitating sessions preparing them for the jobs here in Moldova and working with a summer camp in the capital city preparing students from all over the former soviet union who will be going to spend a year studying in American high schools. Believe it or not, through all of this madness I found time to meet a boyfriend! His name is Petru and he is probably the nicest Moldovan I have ever met. He speaks English along with 4 other languages, is super smart, and most of all makes me happy. More details on that to come! This past weekend about 400 Americans and Moldovans celebrated the 4th at a local country club, and it was awesome! Hotdogs, hamburgers, and real potato salad! Lots of fun games - I liboed, got trampled in tug of war, and danced my butt off to some old school rock and roll! Lot's of great people from PC, the US Embassy, NGO's, and Moldovan's who have been working with Americans both in the States and here in Moldova. I met so many great people and had an awesome day! This week has been pretty quite with no summer camps to work on. I just finished writing a grant for a project at my school last week and am waiting for DC to approve it before it can get up on Peace Corps website. I will be sending you all details on that and asking for your donations - don't worry! Now I think I'm going to hang my laundry out to dry and go for a run. I hope I didn't bore ya'll too much. It seems like I've talked a lot more about what I've been doing outside of Moldova - ooops! Don't get me wrong, I could talk all day about what life is like in Moldova, but after 4 pages I'm gonna save that for next time, or maybe even tell you in person in a couple of weeks. All I'll say is, what can I say? This country is my home away from home, and I am loving every second of every minute of every hour of every day. It truly is more than I ever imagined it could be and by far the best experience of my life so far! Mi-e dor, si va iubesc mai multt decat stiu cum sa spun in orice limba! Noroc si senatate!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow!

As I’ve begun every unfinished attempt at my blog entries, sorry that the updates on life as a PCV have been sparse at best. No excuses, but I feel like my skype transcripts could really be turned into a novel by this point in time! Anyway, let’s begin on a small scale, how about my day today? Well for beginners, we have SNOW. Not just a little bit of snow, but inches and maybe even into the feet by this point! I woke up yesterday morning to see the whole world outside my window blanketed in white, and it hasn’t stopped snowing for two days! This means some interesting things in Moldova. In a land without snow plows or from what I’ve seen, even shovels, this makes the morning commute interesting to say the least! I am thanking God that I moved into my new apartment across the street from my school, as this is about all the walking through snow up to my knees I can handle! Anyway, I was glad that I did brave the blizzard because the past two days have been pretty magical. When I first got to school on Tuesday morning, you could tell that the kids spirits were high, and this feeling has stuck with us through the week. I’ve been told that Cimislia hasn’t seen snow like this for a few years, so I am feeling pretty lucky to have the first snow of the season be such a beautiful one. Yesterday my seventh form stood up to greet me like they normally do, and after their choral response of “I’m fine thank you and you?” I didn’t even have the opportunity to say “I’m fine too” before they were begging us to go outside and play in the snow. Who am I to deny a special opportunity like this! Little did I know that I was going to be getting my butt kicked by a bunch of 12 year olds in a snowball fight! All in good fun, I was after all aiming for their faces! There’s nothing like making a fool of yourself in front of kids to put yourself on the same level as them. Well, thank God that opportunity presents itself to me almost everyday! Yesterday was when I attempted to follow the kids lead in sliding across the parking lot and ended up on my back in a skirt in front of half of the school! Today, when I threw all my pride out the window and put on a santa claus suit in front of my students! My partner teacher and I decided over a glass of wine or three that it would be a great idea for me to lead our English club Christmas celebration dressed as the fat man himself. I think the kids got a kick out of it, which is all that matters right? It’s all about the children! On that note, I’m going to cut this entry short and actually post it for once rather than wait to make it sound great and perfect and never post it like all the others. So, sorry if the first edition of Peace Corps Moldova through the eyes of Miss Erin is a bit dull or lacking, but I am TIRED and have to get up early to write lesson plans and make Christmas trees out of colored paper. So, hi noapte buna until next time!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Call to Service, Barack Obama Style!

Yesterday President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. This is the biggest legislation promoting public service since Clinton created Americorps back in '93. It entails all sorts of incentives to increase public service, including increased funding, as well as a slew of scholarships and credits towards college tuition. An adult can even volunteer to raise money for a child's college education. President Obama mentioned the Peace Corps and President Kennedy several times in his speech. It is, after all, an act named after Ted Kennedy, and several Kennedy's were in attendance. I mention this in my blog because it really brought this whole experience full circle to me. To be able watch the speech that President Kennedy gave all those years ago bringing the Peace Corps into existence on youtube, and then to see President Obama on live TV keeping his legacy alive over 40 years later goes to show that this in not a fad nor a trend. This is a way of life, and for us volunteers, just another affirmation that we are doing the right thing by giving back and help others. As President Obama says, to many people, this is all that matters. The theme of this presidency has been a time for "change" in a very hard time for this world. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by the great Mahatma Gandhi who said "be the change you want to see in the world". If you want to make a difference, go out and make one. Well, all I have to say is this - Watch me!

I have posted the official transcript of President Obama's speech, which can be found on and have highlighted those parts which I felt spoke to the heart of all Peace Corps volunteers.

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate ReleaseApril 21, 2009
3:56 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you. Well, what an extraordinary day. It is good to be here with all of you.
I want to, first of all, thank President Bill Clinton for joining us here today -- where’s President Clinton? -- (applause) -- for his lifetime of service to our country, but also the fact that he created AmeriCorps, and that not only made this day possible, it has directly enlisted more than half a million Americans in service to their country; service that has touched the lives of millions more.
Now, it just so happens that one of those people who have been touched by AmeriCorps was FLOTUS, otherwise known as First Lady of the United States -- (laughter) -- Michelle Obama, who ran a AmeriCorps-sponsored program, Public Allies, in Chicago. (Applause.)
I also want to thank former First Lady Rosalynn Carter for being here -- (applause) -- for her advocacy on behalf of those with mental illness, and for her husband’s continued good works that inspire us all. I am thrilled to have Caroline Kennedy here -- (applause) -- for carrying on her family’s long legacy of service.
To my congressional colleagues who did such a fantastic job on a bipartisan basis ushering this through, starting with the two leaders of the House and the Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, I’m grateful to them, and obviously to Barbara Mikulski and Orrin Hatch, George Miller, the entire delegation who helped to shepherd this through -- please give them a huge round of applause. (Applause.)
To my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden. (Applause.) To Dr. Jill Biden. (Applause.) A couple of outstanding public servants in their own right, please, a warm welcome for General Colin Powell and his wonderful wife, Alma. (Applause.) For the outstanding Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg. (Applause.) And I’ve got to give some special props to my fellow Illinoisan, a great friend, Dick Durbin. (Applause.)
Finally -- and I know that I’ve got some prepared remarks -- but I just want to go ahead and say it now. There are very few people who have touched the life of this nation in the same breadth and the same order of magnitude than the person who is seated right behind me. And so this is just an extraordinary day for him. And I am truly grateful and honored to call him a friend, a colleague, and one of the finest leaders we’ve ever had -- Ted Kennedy. (Applause.)
All right. I want to thank the students and the faculty of the SEED School -- (applause) -- our hosts for today -- and their headmaster, Charles Adams. Where’s Mr. Adams? Is he here? (Applause.) A shining example of how AmeriCorps alums go on to do great things. This school is a true success story -- a place where for four of the last five years, every graduate from the SEED School was admitted to college -- every graduate. (Applause.)
It’s a place where service is a core component of the curriculum. And just as the SEED School teaches reading and writing, arithmetic and athletics, it also prepares our young Americans to grow into active and engaged citizens. And what these students come to discover through service is that by befriending a senior citizen, or helping the homeless, or easing the suffering of others, they can find a sense of purpose and renew their commitment to this country that we love.
And that is the spirit in which we gather today, as I sign into law a bill that represents the boldest expansion of opportunities to serve our communities and our country since the creation of AmeriCorps -- (applause) -- a piece of legislation named for a man who has not only touched countless lives, but who still sails against the wind, a man who’s never stopped asking what he can do for his country, and that’s Senator Edward M. Kennedy. (Applause.)
In my address to a joint session of Congress in February, I asked for swift passage of this legislation, and these folks on the stage came through. So, again, I want to thank wide bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate who came together to pass this bill -- especially Barbara Mikulski, Mike Enzi, Chris Dodd, John McCain, who’s not here, Thad Cochran, as well as, on the House side, Representatives Miller and Carolyn McCarthy, Buck McKeon and Howard Berman.
More than anyone else, the new era of service we enter in today has been made possible by the unlikely friendship between these two men, Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy. They may be the odd couple of the Senate. (Laughter.) One is a conservative Republican from Utah; the other is, well, Ted Kennedy. (Laughter.) But time and again, they placed partnership over partisanship to advance this nation even in times when we were told that wasn’t possible. (Applause.)
Senator Hatch was shaped by his experience as a young missionary serving others, a period he has called the greatest of his life. And last year he approached Senator Kennedy to share his ideas about service. Out of that conversation came this legislation. And last month, at Senator Hatch’s selfless request, the Senate unanimously chose to name this bill after his dear friend, Ted. (Applause.) That’s the kind of class act that Orrin Hatch is.
Now, Ted’s story and the story of his family is known to all. It’s a story of service. And it’s also the story of America -- of hard work and sacrifice of generation after generation, some called upon to give more than others, but each committed to the idea that we can make tomorrow better than today. I wouldn’t be standing here today if not for the service of others, or for the purpose that service gave my own life.
I’ve told this story before. When I moved to Chicago more than two decades ago to become a community organizer, I wasn’t sure what was waiting for me there, but I had always been inspired by the stories of the civil rights movement, and President Kennedy’s call to service, and I knew I wanted to do my part to advance the cause of justice and equality.
And it wasn’t easy, but eventually, over time, working with leaders from all across these communities, we began to make a difference -- in neighborhoods that had been devastated by steel plants that had closed down and jobs that had dried up. We began to see a real impact in people’s lives. And I came to realize I wasn’t just helping people, I was receiving something in return, because through service I found a community that embraced me, citizenship that was meaningful, the direction that I had been seeking. I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America.
It’s the same spirit of service I’ve seen across this country. I’ve met countless people of all ages and walks of life who want nothing more than to do their part. I’ve seen a rising generation of young people work and volunteer and turn out in record numbers. They’re a generation that came of age amidst the horrors of 9/11 and Katrina, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an economic crisis without precedent. And yet, despite all this -- or more likely because of it -- they’ve become a generation of activists possessed with that most American of ideas, that people who love their country can change it.
They’re why the Peace Corps had three applications for every position available last year; why 35,000 young people applied for only 4,000 slots in Teach for America; why AmeriCorps has seen a 400-percent increase in applications in just the past four months. And yet, even as so many want to serve, even as so many are struggling, our economic crisis has forced our charities and non-for-profits to cut back.
What this legislation does, then, is to help harness this patriotism and connect deeds to needs. It creates opportunities to serve for students, seniors, and everyone in between. It supports innovation and strengthens the nonprofit sector. And it is just the beginning of a sustained, collaborative and focused effort to involve our greatest resource -- our citizens -- in the work of remaking this nation.
We’re doing this because I’ve always believed that the answers to our challenges cannot come from government alone. Our government can help to rebuild our economy and lift up our schools and reform health care systems and make sure our soldiers and veterans have everything they need -- but we need Americans willing to mentor our eager young children, or care for the sick, or ease the strains of deployment on our military families.

That’s why this bill will expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 slots today to 250,000 in less than a decade. (Applause.) And it’s not just for freshly minted college grads. As I said, my wife Michelle left her job at a law firm to be the founding director of an AmeriCorps program in Chicago that trains young people for careers in public service. And Michelle can tell you the transformation that occurred in her life as a consequence of being able to follow her passions, follow her dreams.
Programs like these are a force multiplier; they leverage small numbers of members into thousands of volunteers. And we will focus their service toward solving today’s most pressing challenges: clean energy, energy efficiency, health care, education, economic opportunity, veterans and military families.

We’ll invest in ideas that help us meet our common challenges, no matter where those ideas come from. All across America, there are ideas that could benefit millions of Americans if only they were given a chance to take root and to grow -- ideas like the one that Eric Adler and Raj Vinnakota had that led to this school and expanded its model to others.
That’s why this bill includes a new Social Innovation Fund that will bring nonprofits and foundations and faith-based organizations and the private sector to the table with government so that we can learn from one another’s success stories. We’ll invest in ideas that work, leverage private-sector dollars to encourage innovation, expand successful programs to scale and make them work in cities across America.
Because we must prepare our young Americans to grow into active citizens, this bill makes new investments in service learning. And we’ve increased the AmeriCorps education award and linked it to Pell Grant award levels, another step toward our goal of ensuring that every American receives an affordable college education. (Applause.)
Because millions of Americans are out of school and out of work, it creates an Energy Corps that will help people find useful work and gain skills in a growing industry of the future.
Because our boomers are the most highly educated generation in history, and our seniors live longer and more active lives than ever before, this bill offers new pathways to harness their talent and experience to serve others.
And because this historic expansion of the Corporation for National and Community Service requires someone with both bold vision and responsible management experience, I have chosen Mary* Eitel -- where’s Mary*? There she is, stand up, Mary -- as its new CEO. (Applause.) The founder and first president of the Nike Foundation, Maria is a smart and innovative thinker, and a leader who shares my belief in the power of service. And I also wanted to thank the acting CEO, Nicky Goren -- where’s Nicky? -- (applause) -- for guiding the corporation through this transition.
A week from tomorrow marks the 100th day of my administration. In those next eight days, I ask every American to make an enduring commitment to serving your community and your country in whatever way you can. Visit to share your stories of service and success. And together, we will measure our progress not just in the number of hours served or volunteers mobilized, but in the impact our efforts have on the life of this nation.
We’re getting started right away -- this afternoon, I’ll be joined by President Clinton and Michelle and Joe Biden and Dr. Biden to plant trees in a park not far from here. It’s as simple as that. All that’s required on your part is a willingness to make a difference. And that is, after all, the beauty of service. Anybody can do it. You don’t need to be a community organizer, or a senator, or a Kennedy -- (laughter) -- or even a President to bring change to people’s lives.
When Ted Kennedy makes this point, he also tells a story as elegantly simple as it is profound. An old man walking along a beach at dawn saw a young man pick up a starfish and throwing them out to sea. "Why are you doing that?" the old man inquired.
The young man explained that the starfish had been stranded on the beach by a receding tide, and would soon die in the daytime sun. "But the beach goes on for miles," the old man said. "And there are so many. How can your effort make any difference?" The young man looked at the starfish in his hand, and without hesitating, threw it to safety in the sea. He looked up at the old man, smiled, and said: "It will make a difference to that one." (Laughter.)
To Ted, that’s more than just a story. For even in the midst of his epic fights on the floor of the Senate to enact sweeping change, he’s made a quiet trek to a school not far from the Capitol, week after week, year after year, without cameras or fanfare, to sit down and read with one solitary child.
Ted Kennedy is that young man who will not rest until we’ve made a difference in the life of every American. He walks down that beach and he keeps on picking up starfish, tossing them into the sea. And as I sign this legislation, I want all Americans to take up that spirit of the man for whom this bill is named; of a President who sent us to the moon; of a dreamer who always asked "Why not?" -- of a younger generation that carries the torch of a single family that has made an immeasurable difference in the lives of countless families.
We need your service right now, at this moment in history. I’m not going to tell you what your role should be; that’s for you to discover. But I’m asking you to stand up and play your part. I’m asking you to help change history’s course, put your shoulder up against the wheel. And if I -- if you do, I promise you your life will be richer, our country will be stronger, and someday, years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century.
Thank you very much, everybody. I’m going to sign this bill. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)
END 4:14 P.M. EDT

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The last time I'll do that for the next 27 months :-(

As the departure date grows closer, the more I am experiencing "That's the last time I'll....."

I don't know if I'm ready for this after all!
So far I've lived through the last time I'll.....
  • See Kira and Eric
  • See Stevie
  • Go to Woodstock
  • this list is going to be growing rapidly!

Let the festivities begin

Well, It's been a couple of weeks since I last blogged, and things have been moving quickly as ever hurling towards the June 10th departure day. I have so much to do! Most notably over the last couple weeks plans have come together for a series of events and goodbye parties. I set a date for my farewell soiree in NYC, May 1st (due to every other weekend between now and June being booked). A little bit early, but should be fun just the same. Things have come together nicely and I have had a terrific show of support from friends both in NYC and out of town. Friends will travel to New York for the party from Philly, Olean, even North Carolina! To keep things simple, I am throwing a house party out in Brooklyn, that way we don't have to worry about high priced drinks, and crowded bars. People can come and go when they please, and it will be a nice chilled out environment. Trying to find a bar that could offer this was impossible!
There is also a goodbye party being thrown by the Peace Corps for all volunteers with upcoming departure dates. It's times like this when living in the city makes things so easy! Since Shannon (my sister) will be in town for the Grateful Dead Reunion show at MSG, she agreed to be my date. I've already facebook messaged with a couple Moldovan volunteers in the NYC area who will also attend the party. Can't wait to meet them!
Lastly, when I was down in Florida a couple of weeks ago and visited with my Aunt Mary, we came up with a plan for her to come up to Olean for my final weekend in the states. She convinced my Aunt Peggy to make the drive down from Boston, and voila - we have a regular Flynn family reunion! My mom is looking into renting out the Hibernian Hall (it's an Irish thing) and getting some food and beer to make it a party! On top of that my mom told our small town priest about my upcoming service and he has asked if he could conduct a "blessing" of some sort at the church for all my family and friends. I'm not really sure what that means, but I told my mom that this might be the only event in my life that will be blessed in the Catholic church, so why not! I feel like a regular celebrity!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What the heck is going on in Moldova?

Moldova made the news today, and not in a good way.

Apparantly there has been some pretty nasty protesting happening in Chisnau regarding the results of the election. I wonder what this means for Peace Corps volunteers!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Aspiration Statement, check!

As this blog is just as much a place for others to keep in touch with me as it is a way for me to keep track of this crazy journey, I am including my aspiration statement that I just submitted to the Peace Corps offices in Moldova. This writing sample will be seen by the Peace Corps officers, as well as the school and government administrators in Moldova. Again, I know I am long winded. Deal with it!

Erin Flynn
June 11th, 2009

The professional attributes that you plan to use, and what aspirations you hope to fulfill during your Peace Corps service

The professional attributes I plan to use in this position are many. First, as a teacher of the English Language, I will need to draw on the skills I possess as an English speaker and then find an efficient way to pass this knowledge on to others. Second, I will use the training and experience I have gained as a teacher or volunteer in the past. In particular my time spent teaching English in Thailand has provided me with a firsthand understanding of what it is like to be in a foreign classroom setting. Although every experience is different, I think that this will help me possess the confidence I need to be a successful teacher. Aside from my experience as a teacher of the English language, I also possess many years of working experience in a professional business setting. These years of experience have taught me many lessons from how to manage my time and work load to how to manage professional relationships in the work place. I think this experience will come in handy in a team teaching setting.

As a Peace Corps volunteer my main objective is to fulfill the mission of the Peace Corps and to best serve the people of Moldova. Specifically the task that I have been assigned is to teach people how to speak English. I am very happy to be given this job because I believe that a profession in teaching is something that I may pursue upon my return. I come from a family full of teachers, and I have found in my experiences to date that I am very comfortable in a classroom. Therefore, one of my main aspirations is to become a successful teacher, and to provide my students and the community with the knowledge they need to achieve their goals and fulfill their dreams. Another side of my professional aspirations is to gain an extensive knowledge of the people and the culture of Moldova during my 27 months spent living in their country. This is part of the Peace Corps mission, but also a personal benefit in my view. I look forward to learning lessons on life by being exposed to a culture and community that is different from my own. I think that these lessons will be invaluable and hope to carry them with me for the rest of my life. I also look forward to the friendships and bonds that will be created both with the people of my community and school and with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers. If after 27 months living and working with the people of Moldova I can walk away saying that I have impacted their lives in as positive a way as they have mine, then my mission will be fulfilled.

Your strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed need

I think that when working with others in any professional setting, your first priority should always be mutual respect. Not only treating your coworkers with the upmost respect, but also conducting yourself in a way that commands respect from them. As I will be foreign to this situation in so many ways, I plan to lean on my host country partner as much as possible. He or she will be my primary source of knowledge about the way the school is operated and the way the classroom is set up for learning. Not only will he or she be a great resource and role model for me in the classroom, but I’m sure will also be a great source of knowledge on the ways of life in Moldova. It will be vital to have a person to go to with the many questions that I am sure will arise as I start to get the hang of things. I will do my best to impart any skills that I possess in return for their support, whether this means assistance with the English Language, or contributing some aspect of my professional experience that could be useful in the classroom.

I am actually very pleased that I will be working with a country partner during my service. I’m sure there will be some obstacles to overcome as we get to know each other, but it seems important to be able to form this kind of bond with one of the teachers in my school. I think it will be vital in my ultimate acceptance into the community of staff and administrators with in my school. The last time I worked in a school teaching English as a second language in Thailand I had a very difficult time with this. The foreign teachers had a separate staff room, ate at separate tables during lunch, and tended to separate themselves from the Thai teachers. I know that this experience is going to be very different from my last; I am not trying to compare the two. I am simply trying to express my favor this team teaching setup, and reiterate my commitment to make this partnership a success. My strategy to achieve this goal is to be kind, courteous, patient, and respectful of the person I will be placed with. I will work hard and do my best to contribute not only my share, but also everything that is within my reach to the classroom setting. I will keep an open mind, a light heart, and always apply a sense of humor to my dealings with others.

C. Your strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural

No two people are the same just like no two cultures are the same. When I made the decision to apply to the Peace Corps, I knew that no matter where I was sent I would be dealing with a culture very different from my own. There was never any doubt that adjustments would need to be made on my part. Knowing this ahead of time, my strategy is to possess as little expectation and assumption of this experience as possible. After all, how is it possible to make assumptions about a place that I have never been? About a people I have never met? I know that there will be a million changes from the part of the world I leave when I get on that plane to the part that I discover when I arrive. I also know that no matter what I do to prepare for these changes, I could never be fully prepared. Therefore my strategy is to keep my mind as open as possible and just let the changes occur. The more open my mind is, the more room there is to absorb all of the changes around me. I will not judge, nor say this is different from home. Obviously it is different from home, it is not home. It was my decision to make this journey and to leave home behind; therefore I know that I am to expect a life very different from my home.

When I arrive and these changes begin to occur, I plan to smile, be polite, respectful, and aware, and as each day passes begin to fit in a little bit more and more to the new life I have begun. When times are difficult, or I start to feel lonely and far away from home, I will remember the reason why I left in the first place, and realize that if I look, a friend will never be too far away. I will do my best to take the life that I have lived up to this point, and while still keeping hold of the person that I am, find a way to fuse myself into a mixture of the old me and the new to come. I hope to become someone who can remember where she came from, but have the freedom and flexibility to adapt and develop into the person that she will become. This person will be largely affected by my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer. Speaking more on a specific level, again I will keep my mind as open as possible to everything I should encounter. I will try new food, listen to new music, engage in new topics of conversation, and see what I have to offer the people of Moldova in return for everything that I am sure they will be offering to me.

The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project

I recognize that the pre service training is a very vital part of the Peace Corps service on many levels. It will be the first stop in this long journey and will serve so many purposes. First, it will be my first exposure to my new home, and will assist in my transition into daily life in Moldova. It will provide me with a system of support and a network of people that I will be able to count on during my time abroad. I believe that this will help make the transition a little bit easier and more comfortable. Also, within this group of new people I will be meeting I hope to form some friendships and start to build a foundation with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and country officers. I will be meeting people and making friends and forming support systems on all levels. I will have a place to go and people to ask the million questions that I am sure will come to me when I arrive. I think that this first and foremost will be beneficial to my personal growth and transition into becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. It will provide a buffer between my life in America and my life in Moldova which will help diminish the shock of my new surroundings.

Secondly, I will rely on my pre service training to equip me with the skills I will need to perform my job to the best of my abilities. These skills will be wide-reaching on many levels, but I believe that they will be vital to my success once I reach my placement. Learning about the culture, customs, traditions and history of my new community will be integral to understanding its citizens and to finding a place for myself within this community. Without this vital training period, I think that I would have a much harder time adapting to the people and culture of Moldova. Personally, I know that I always feel a little bit nervous when I go to a foreign country that I have never been to before. I worry that I will do something offensive or strange to the people of that country to make a bad impression, and will not be accepted into the community. I feel fortunate to have the privilege of learning from the Peace Corps community which already exists in Moldova, as I am sure I will find their expertise and experiences invaluable. I believe that the pre service training will take a lot of stress and pressure off of me by teaching me about the culture and the customs and Moldova, so I don’t have to worry about finding out the hard way.

Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, are the obvious benefits that language training will provide me with. After all, if I can not communicate with the local people at my placement it will be very difficult to achieve my goals and perform my duties. I realize that the process of learning a new language is not an easy one. I am sure it will take time, and I will do my best to be patient and not become frustrated with my progress. That said, I will need to start somewhere and I think that the three months of pre service training will provide me with a solid foundation to feel comfortable enough to enter my community and have the skills and abilities to communicate with others. I am sure that my days will find a way to fill up very quickly once my service starts so I am glad to have the opportunity to devote a great portion of my attention and energy to learning as much of the language (whether it be Romanian, Russian, or both) as is possible.

How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends.

This is a difficult question because I don’t think I will ever know the limit of the opportunities that will be opened up for me as a result of my Peace Corps service. I expect that I will be affected by this experience in some way for the rest of my life. In fact I know rpcv’s who are back from service for 40 years and are still involved in many ways in fulfilling the Peace Corps mission. Therefore, I believe the effects of this service will be continuously changing and growing throughout my lifetime.

That said, in the more immediate future, I have some ideas as to how this journey will affect the next steps of my life. First, I would like to apply for the master’s international program upon my return, and if all goes well gain a master’s degree in education. This program is a wonderful opportunity to go back to school at an affordable price, while working and having a positive effect on the community in which I am living. I realize that a lot of things may change over my 27 months spent in Moldova, and I believe that an experience like this teaches you a lot about yourself and what you want out of life. If after two years working as a teacher, I decide that this is not the right path for me, I have faith that my experiences in Moldova will open up a lot a lot of doors for me. These doors will be of both personal and professional in nature. On a personal level I hope that my experiences and accomplishments over the 27 months will lead me to gain an understanding of life in a way that I didn’t possess before. On a professional level, I believe that many jobs will see a term as a Peace Corps volunteer as a very positive life and work experience that will afford me with a competitive advantage when seeking out and applying for jobs.

Overall, no matter what my service is like, I believe that it will affect me so deeply and completely that the effects will be with me for the rest of my life. If I can immerse myself in my service, and take away the lessons that life will teach me over these 27 months, I know that the extent of what I can aspire to achieve will never end. I think that the skills, knowledge, and life experience I gain in the Peace Corps will shape the rest of my career. But not just my career - everything I do in life. If I can carry the lessons I learn and the qualities that I gain with me through out my life no matter what I am doing, I will be able to spread these gifts everywhere I go. To me, this is what being a Peace Corps volunteer is all about.