Friday, June 6, 2008

The Obligatory Introduction

It's been a long road frought with peril and bureaucracy, but I'm finally here. On May 29th, I received my invitation to join the 267th group of Peace Corps volunteers in the Philippines, leaving on August 13th. I am both anxious and excited, and I know that this will impact my life in ways I can't yet anticipate. I am very much looking forward to meeting my fellow 267ers, my students, my co-workers, the people of the community in which I'm placed and anyone else who might cross my path. My life is gaining momentum.

Here is an overview of my journey to the Peace Corps:

My father is an RPCV who served two tours in Thailand in the early to mid 1970s. For my entire life, I have known what the Peace Corps does and how drastically it changed almost everything about him for the positive. During college and especially during my own application process, I came to realize how much his time in Thailand, which lasted much longer than his service, has meant to him. I began to consider joining during my junior year in college, which I spent in Scotland being ecstatic and frolicking over every available surface. 

My father always said, "I wanted to see the world, and I didn't want to pay for it." The benefits of the Peace Corps, which are certainly not limited to the professional and financial, were too wonderful for me to pass up. In the Peace Corps, I could see parts of the world I'd never imagined, become a better version of myself, experience a completely different life, develop valuable skills, meet incredible people and maybe even contribute to society if I'm very lucky. So, in mid-October 2007, I began the application process. 

On Halloween, I had an interview with my recruiter, who would become my strongest supporter and for whom I have a lot of appreciation and admiration. On November 1st, she nominated me for my first choice location, Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa, leaving June 2008. I was very happy. I got my medical kit in during the third week of December, mere days before I would be diagnosed with gluten intolerance by a gastroenterologist. Though devastating, this diagnosis would explain debilitating symptoms which had disrupted my life since the summer I was fifteen. Unluckily for me, my medical kit did not read "gluten intolerance" but "IBS." On December 27th, I was told I could not join the Peace Corps with "IBS," but since I suddenly had a name for my actual medical issue, I was determined to go forward. I wrote an appealing letter, including my new medical evidence, and received a call from my screening nurse, who said she would reopen consideration of my case once the efficacy of my new diet was reevaluated in March.

At the end of March, I was officially diagnosed with gluten intolerance and my doctor sent my screening nurse the latest medical evaluations and a letter stating his confidence in my ability to serve in the Peace Corps. I got another call from my screening nurse saying I was cleared on gluten intolerance, but now she had to go over the rest of my medical kit, which had apparently not been cracked since December. I was relieved and happy, and during April, I sent in a few more labs and statements for final medical clearance. 

On May 2nd, I received the much-coveted medical clearance. I really cannot now articulate the level of my happiness, as I thought this was the end of my travails. There was a two page list of countries that could support my diet, and I was driving hard into the busy end of my senior year. About a week before graduation, I received another call, this time one that would raze my spirits and make me very, very nervous.

I realized that it was just slightly too late for my original nomination date, but that suited me just fine as I now wanted to go to the Wesleyan Writers Conference, which would have been later than my leaving date. The call I got, however, said that I could not go to Francophone Africa at all. For six months, I had anticipated time in that region and was rather unhappy about not being able to go. Then, my placement officer said she wanted to send me to the Central Asian Caucasus region. I knew nothing about these countries except that they were practically in Europe, and didn't that mean they ate exactly the food that I really, really cannot? I did some research and found out not only do they eat that food, but they sometimes revere it. Going to the Caucasus region would be tantamount to a death sentence. I would not have been able to eat much of anything, I would have had to be rude to my hosts by refusing meals, and, most likely, I would have had gluten reintroduced into my system and become ill again. I contacted my screening nurse, who assured me that any country on the gluten-free friendly list was safe, but nonetheless offered to check with country-specific medical to confirm. 

A week later, the Friday before graduation weekend, I received another call from my screening nurse saying that the Caucasus region was indeed not the best place for me. She took it off the gluten-free friendly list of countries, and now no one with my affliction will ever have to go there and be ill. I was relieved, though now I had no nomination and no idea as to where the Peace Corps might send me. 

A week and a half after that, I was still operating without news of a new nomination. I was hoping for Asia or non-Francophone Africa, but I was willing to go anywhere they wanted to send me and always had been. My father had not originally wanted to go to Thailand at all, but clearly he had a wonderful experience, and I was sure that wherever the Peace Corps decided to send me, I would be able to appreciate and enjoy that place as well. While visiting with my friend and her parents on Tuesday, May 27th, I received a call from placement asking me how I felt about Southeast Asia, teaching secondary school English, mid-August departure. Of course I was incredibly enthusiastic about both the location and the bountiful (and safe) rice that I was sure to encounter, and on Thursday, the 29th, I had that invitation to the Philippines in my hands. I probably didn't stop squealing for a solid five minutes. After looking over everything with loads of delight, I accepted my invitation the next morning. 

So, I've sent in my passport and visa paperwork. I'm now working (procrastinating) on my tailored resume and aspiration statement. I've set up this blog so I can keep people back home updated during my service. I am so excited for what I have chosen to do with this time in my life after undergrad, when the opportunities seem boundless and I have no obligation but the one where I keep myself happy and stimulated. I know I've made the right decision, and I'm so happy to have been placed in the Philippines. I could not imagine a better placement, and I can't wait for the latest adventure to start.