How This Happened, Part 1: Logistics

It is unfathomable to me that I will soon be leaving my friends and family behind to begin my tenure in the Peace Corps. Though I am just a little more than a month away from reaching my goal and starting my service, it seems as if I just began the application process. In reality, I started the first stage of joining the PC– completing the online application and obtaining my three recommendation letters– one year ago. Now, I’ll be leaving in a month… for two years!!

I interviewed for the PC in April 2009. I was then required to do another packet’s worth of work, including fingerprint charts and essays about my vegetarianism, among other things. It wasn’t until June 2009 that I was nominated, just after hearing that my recruiter thought he had lost my interview and that I might have had to travel to Chicago to re-do it, but luckily he’d found it again. I received my nomination after annoying the Chicago office with a couple of phone calls trying to find out the status of the application (perseverance!). I was a little disheartened as I sat in my car after school one day and learned that I wouldn’t be leaving until June 2010, and to Asia, not Africa, as I had hoped.

The next step was the medical clearance. A huge packet came in the mail and I frantically made my doctor’s appointments; they say that hang-ups during the medical clearance process are the leading cause of delayed invitation. I was lucky enough to find an eye doctor and dentist who would do my PC work pro bono, and had my physical and shots at a doctor in Bloomington. As I was preparing to send my packet, I decided to preemptively include my entire medical record so that the PC nurse could find answers to any questions about my history without the delay of having to call me to get my records (and the increased delay of me having to wait for the records). So, during the summer, between doctor’s visits, I got comprehensive records from my childhood pediatrician, my doctors at IU, the quick-care clinics in Bloomington, and the random doctors I visited in Flagstaff while living on the Rez (I was a little discouraged to hear from my pediatrician that their office had burned down and that many records had been lost, but after a week of nervous waiting I was told my records were safely in storage… and I’d have to pay $40 to get them out). I ended up with nearly 100 pages of extra medical information to photocopy and send to my PC nurse, but it was the best decision I made during the application process. It was extremely helpful to my nurse (plus, she was impressed) and gave me peace of mind because I knew they probably wouldn’t call and request further information and thereby delay my clearance.

After I was cleared, I waited until about three weeks ago, which ended up being about 3-4 months, to hear as much as a peep from the PC office. I anticipated a long wait since I knew there was no reason for PC to be in contact with me until invitation time, which I figured would more than likely be June. I didn’t anticipate to be invited until April or May.

Last month, however, I discovered that PC was reinstating volunteers in Indonesia. I learned that the program hadn’t been open since 1963, and that the only volunteers who went there at that time were athletic trainers. I also learned that this year, only teachers would be sent. I had a feeling, as did one of my close friends, that I might be placed in Indonesia, but I had no idea I’d be going so soon. I still thought I would leave in June.

I got a phone call from a placement officer last week, while I was staying at an acquaintance’s cousin’s house in New Jersey. I was en route to NYC with six other travelers. My housemate was playing a show on Friday, and her band, myself, and two other friends were all driving east in an enormous 12-person van. We had stopped in New Jersey for rehearsal and a break from the driving. I saw I had missed a call, checked my voicemail, and promptly returned the call from Washington DC concerning my PC application.

Then I was invited to serve in Indonesia and given one night to decide.

The invitation I received was atypical. Rarely are volunteers told in less than six weeks they will be leaving; I was told that my group would be going to Indonesia on March 15. I was also told that this was an “NCE” program: New Country Entry. The challenge of being a PCV would be significantly greater since I would be paving the way for future volunteers… and not following in anyone else’s footsteps. Nothing has been established there. Nothing has been prepared for us, no programs designed. It has only been known since December that PCVs would go there this year. We’re all going to be flying by the seats of our pants… which I’m thrilled about!!

So, I read my extremely parsed down “invitation” which was more like a briefing on what my job would be in Indonesia. My placement officer had sent me this two or three page document via email, and this document was the only information I had from PC to use in making the decision to accept or decline my invitation. I called my family members (mom, dad, aunt) and told them the news; after my initial conversation with my placement officer and some quick reflection with family and self, I decided that I would call PC the next day and accept my invitation. That’s what I did.

Now, I’m still waiting for my official blue invitation packet, that revered light at the end of the tunnel of the application process. Washington DC and the eastern part of the country has had tremendous amounts of snow and ice over the past week or so, and my officer said she’d try to FedEx the documents to me on Monday. I haven’t seen them yet, but I am happy to practice my patience. And drink coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Here’s some of what I’m reading right now:

Culture Smart! Indonesia
An Empire of the East by Norman Lewis
Distand Islands by Charles Corn

The Other Wind by Ursula K. LeGuin (Not PC related)

I ordered my mom of Culture Smart! Indonesia and myself a copy of Lonely Planet Indonesia. I’ve been reading The Jakarta Post here and there, too.

In exciting footwear news… I bought these!!!! On sale at the wonderful JL Waters in Bloomington. Thanks for the prowess, mom.

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