Saturday, January 13, 2007

Back in the USA

So I have officially finished my Peace Corps service in Kyrgyzstan, and after serving exactly two years (I swore in as a volunteer on December 1, 2004 and officially closed my service on December 2, 2006) I proudly have my Peace Corps completion certificate hanging on my wall at my parents house. Yes, I have to confess: I am 28 and living with my parents – but really! It’s not what it seems, I’m in transition, going places and just happen to need a place to stay to save up some money before moving on – really.

Ok, so the news going around is, I got accepted into Georgetown University’s MBA program, so I’ll be moving to Washington, DC this summer to settle in before beginning a new life as a grad student in the big city. I am VERY excited. I actually applied to Georgetown’s dual MBA/MSFS (Master of Science in Foreign Service) degree, but I won’t find out if I’m accepted into the MSFS program until the end of March. Regardless, I will still go to business school in the fall and reapply for the dual program next year if I’m not accepted this year. I’m really not worried about it, I think with my interesting background I have a good fighting chance of getting in and even perhaps getting one of those coveted fellowships.

What I’ve been up to.

I left Kyrgyzstan on December 4th and flew to Italy, via a 12 hour layover in Moscow, to visit some dear friends I had worked with when I was a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Japan from 2002 until 2004, up till right before I joined the Peace Corps. Shirley (my dear friend) was also a CIR from Scotland, who started a year later than me and stayed in Japan for two more years after I left with her Italian husband. Well, she finished her contract in Japan a few months before I finished mine in Kyrgyzstan and she moved to Italy with her husband and I decided to go visit them and add Italy to the growing list of countries I’ve visited. So I went and had a great time. They live in a small town called Sergno, which is located about an hour by train from Milan. I stayed with them for a week and we hung out, reminisced about Japan (ate Japanese food) and went sight seeing to Milan, Bergamo, Verona and Rome (although I visited Rome alone for two days). I was surprised to find out that pizza is more popular in Italy than in the States, and very pleasantly surprised to find out how delicious and cheap the coffee was. I had my cappuccino everyday without even putting a dent in my Italy fund. Having wine every single day was another interesting, yet delightful ritual. I think my favorite place was Verona – it was soooooo charming! I just loved it! Aside from the charm factor, I would have to say that Rome was equally amazing it was one of the first times ever, that I honestly wished I could come back to see more – someday! (I did throw my coin into the Fountain of Trevi, so there is hope.)

After Italy, I flew to Washington, DC to interview at Georgetown’s Business School and one of my girlfriends from high school (Becky) flew out from Seattle to spend a week sight seeing in the Capitol with me. After visiting other major capitols in the world (Tokyo, Seoul, Bangkok, London, Rome, etc.), I decided it was time for me to finally visit my own country’s national capitol and see the major monuments. Anyways, I had a great time, and so did Becky and am grateful that I had the chance to interview, sightsee and visit with an old friend all at once.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The end is in sight.

I know it has been a horribly long time since I updated my blog, and I’ve actually received numerous complaints about it. So, I’ve actually decided to sit down and write an update of all things I’ve been up to for the last 5 months or so.

A visit home
The most recent news is I went home for the last two weeks in August to visit my family and attend my 10 year high school reunion. Going into Peace Corps two years ago, I had no intention of going home until I finished my service, but last winter my parents so kindly offered to buy me the ticket home last and I was more than happy to oblige them. So I went home on August 13th, and spent the following two weeks with my family and friends enjoying tons of great food I had been deprived of for the last two years, and found that my latte addiction was easy to pick up again after a long dry spell – can I just say that lattes are BEAUTIFUL! You guys have no idea how heavenly properly made coffee can be after two years of instant Nescafe.

My reunion
So, it has been ten years (I can barely believe it!) since I graduated from high school and started to be an adult (gasp!). Out of 550 graduates, 170 of my classmates got together to celebrate the fact that we are all 10 years older, and perhaps a little more mature than we were 10 years ago. I went largely because my best friends from high school (you know who you are) were all coming into town for the event, and since none of us live in Spokane anymore, we usually are only able to be all together about once every two or three years. It was great to see and spend time with them, all the while having the chance to see what has happened to our other classmates. I received a $25 gift card to Starbucks for “coming the farthest”, I mean, you got to admit that it’s harder to get farther away than the opposite side of the planet – Ok, so South Africa and Antarctica are perhaps farther, but no one at the reunion came from those places. I would have received another $25 gift card to REI for living the longest in a foreign country (six years total), but they limited it to military personnel, but still! I beat the top military record by three years! – (the winner had spent three years in Portugal)

Back to things Kyrgyz…

Community Based Tourism
In late April we were awarded another grant in order to purchase a new digital camera, memory card, and a color printer, and it took about a month just to get the money and another month to order the camera and printer at a local computer shop. As for the memory card, we had some troubles because at the time I originally wrote my grant in January, you could buy 128 MB memory cards for about $20 – which is what I had budgeted for in my grant, but by the time we got the money, pretty much anything under 256 MB had been discontinued and we were looking at having to spend twice as much as we had planned. So, I decided to wait and look around in the States for something, only even when I was back home I found the same problem. Finally, I found a deal that brought our cost into our budget, but dependent on a rebate! I bought the stupid thing anyways, and am hoping for that rebate to be a nice little surprise when I return home.

The first income generating project (renting camping equipment) that I helped initiate and found funding for was a huge success. Our income, so far, this year increased by 44% making my organization completely financially sustainable and we were able to purchase more equipment with some of the profits.

I guess the only other big news concerning my organization is that they are receiving a new volunteer from the end of September. We will be overlapping here for about two months. Whether this a good or bad thing, is yet to be known.

Other topics
What else can I possibly tell you about my life in Kyrgyzstan that you wouldn’t find boring? I mean, I am already used to Kyrgyz hair dressers, crazy drivers (that try to miss pot holes first and then just honk at pedestrians to make them move), and avoiding eye contact with the entire male species (unless I want to encourage an unwelcome come on). I had a good summer in general, working and spending time at the beach with local friends when I wasn’t working. Now that tourist season is winding down, I expect I will have a lot more free time to read, prepare my grad school applications, and think about what I’m going to do between December and August when I hope to actually start graduate study.

Monday, July 31, 2006

My Counterpart and I

We had the Festival of National Cuisine and Folklore in Jety Oguz Valley on July 30th. My counterpart and I acted as MCs.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Working Hard

Library Restoration Project

In June, several volunteers went back to our training village, Koshoi, to do some repairs and donate books to the library.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Spring in Full Swing

Time is beginning to fly by now that my Peace Corps service is more than 3/4ths finished. It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that we were just celebrating the one year mark of service and now I only have six months left before I’m done. I had been considering extending, but PC here in Kyrgyzstan has some stupid rule that you can only extend for a full year, and if you extend and then quite half way (I only wanted to extend for 6 more months) then you don’t get about half of the benefits of a fully COSed (close of service) volunteer. So, I gave up that idea and am looking forward to going home and spending some time with my family for about 8 months before I start graduate school. What the heck I’m going to do for 8 months while I’m there is an entirely different question.

So, as you [should] know, I had been studying like crazy for the GRE and GMAT and I finally went up to Almaty in Kazakhstan to take the exams on May 15th and 16th. That’s right, a double whammy and I’m telling you right now that it was a grueling two days. On Monday I had the GRE and I was so nervous that I thought I was going to puke and have a diarrhea accident at the same time. The good news is, I did great on the GRE: 640 on the Verbal and 700 on the Quant section (I still don’t have the scores to my writing assessment section), the bad news is, my great GRE score didn’t calm my nerves at all for the GMAT test, which I considered to be a lot harder, so I spent another day feeling sick and nauseous. But on Tuesday, I faced the GMAT exam with bravery and to my delightful surprise, I did even better than I had done on the GRE with an overall score of 680 (89th percentile). Generally speaking, my scores are high enough that I could apply to any program that I like and have a fighting chance for gaining admission when combined with my high GPA and international experience.

Ok, that’s my exciting news, which may not be so exciting for you who is reading this blog

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Noruz - the Muslim New Year

Some local friends and I spend the day at the local park with thousands of others to celebrate New Years.....for the third time this year.

My cat playing fetch

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Spring and stuff...

Ok, I admit it, I’ve been awful at updating my blog and now I’m getting complaint letters. So, I’m finally sitting down to give you a little update about what’s going on here in good ole Kyrgyzstan.

First of all, nothing exciting has really happened, and I could just tell you cute little stories about my cat that sometimes thinks she’s a dog. Why? Well, so doesn’t hiss, she tends to growl at birds from the window sill, and she likes to chew things up and plays fetch. I’m serious, she has a thing for candy, if I throw a piece of candy she runs after it, picks it up, brings it back to me and sets it down waiting for me to throw it again. And it’s not just fetch, I think she just loves playing with candy because if she catches a glimpse of something shiny in my purse she’ll dig through it and steal any candy she finds. I used to keep a candy dish on my dining table for guests, but I had to put it away because I started coming home from work to discover she had stolen every single piece and they were either scattered all over the floor or hidden in the strangest places. She’s quite silly actually. I come home from work and she runs to the door, lays on her back and stretches as if to say “it’s about time you came back” and when I leave, or even when friends leave, she’ll do the same thing, as if she’s saying, “oh, please don’t go just yet!” Sometimes, not often, she gets loneliness pangs and has to sit with me no matter where I am or what I am doing. One time I was making cheese raviolis and she wanted to sit on my lap and watch me. When I pushed her down and scooted towards the table so there wouldn’t be any room for her, she decided to sit on my knees underneath the table, but finding that uncomfortable she resorted to suddenly jumping up on my shoulders and making herself comfortable until I could find an opportune time to push her off and lock her in another room. Indeed, life is definitely not boring with her around.

About the grants I had submitted in January, the Disney Grant wasn’t approved because they had a huge amount of applications this year and were looking for projects “designed and led by youth” and since I just turned 28 a week ago, I don’t quite fit into that category anymore. The other grant was through a Peace Corps program and wasn’t approved because of some questions with the price quotes I provided for the equipment I was asking for. The good news is, after making some minor changes to my proposal, I have a second chance at the end of this month to get it approved. I’m hoping to start another project soon, but I need a lot of internet time, which isn’t available at my office right now, so I’ll tell you more about it as soon as I really have news about it to tell.

Other news: I’m going to Almaty, Kazakhstan next month to take both the GRE and GMAT exam (woo-hoo!) because I’m applying to graduate schools this coming fall for next year. Right now I’m looking mostly at two schools and trying to find a third that really catches my eye. More news on that as things develop…

So, as I mentioned above, I just turned a grand 28 about a week ago, and although I’m not married, have no kids, and don’t own a house, I’m not counting my woes. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that most locals, and even volunteers who meet me for the first time tend to think I’m somewhere between 18 and 22 years old. Seriously, I’ve gotten 18 twice in the last four months, which might have been offensive when I was 21, but I now find oddly flattering. So how do you celebrate your birthday in a strange, exotic country like Kyrgyzstan? Well, on my birthday, I slaved all day long to make 8 homemade pizzas, 2 salads, and my own birthday cake to feed my local friends who would be coming to celebrate with me. It was not fun. I was so tired by the end of the day with a million dishes to wash I just figured it would be far better not to ever celebrate getting old again. However, the next day, my spirits were lifted by the other female PC volunteers who gathered to celebrate with me the more American way by going to a café for dinner and then going out dancing a local disco-tech. I think I much prefer being served on my birthday than serving others – I mean, it’s my day right?