Liminal Zones

My friend, roommate, and co-worker passed away this weekend. We buried him yesterday in Martinsville. He was 23 years old, creative, fiercely funny, generous, kind, beautifully minded, and incredibly gifted. Emotions still come in waves; I’ll be laughing at a memory one minute and the next weeping over the incomprehensible loss we’ve experienced. I can’t stop hearing him laugh, crack jokes, sing and dance, laugh. The things I remember most clearly are mannerism and gestures, a simple hand movement or the way he walked. He saved me at a very difficult time in my life and I’ll be forever grateful to have known him the past five years. I can’t say enough though I fear saying too little; he is sorely missed, but he’s in the stars. I’m caught between understanding and acceptance, past memories and present reality, terror and tragedy.

I’m on the brink now. I’ve only a little more than a week before I go back home to Michigan and I’m sure my time spent there will be too short. I’ll be so relieved to see my mother, and the rest of my family, whom I’ve not seen since becoming an Invitee.

My affairs are not yet in order; there’s so much work to be done. I have so much reading to do (my pleasure!). I don’t know how much I can truly prepare for moving to the other side of the world, but I’m certainly having fun trying to do as much as possible. It’s been hard this week since time I had planned to have for PC preparation was spent grieving, mourning, celebrating a life and death.

My friends have been such a blessing lately, even though some of them are grieving, too. Friends who’ve fed me and hugged me are especially thanked. All of my friends keep me going these days, even as I prepare to “leave” them (we never really leave our friends behind). My biggest fear is no longer the uncertainty of my new life, but the departure from the strong support network I’ve developed here in Bloomington and maintained in Michigan. I reassure myself that everyone will still be here when I leave… continuing to support me, albeit indirectly. It will be strange to lack the common experiences I now share with my friends, the small things, the familiarities of life in the same town. Even if our paths reconnect, our lives for the next twenty-seven months will be diverged indescribably. This has great potential for beauty!

I don’t want anyone to misinterpret this as a sad posting. Though I’m busy and there aren’t enough hours in the day, this isn’t a new development. I always feel that way. This week has been long and tiring. My spirit needs a few days to recouperate… and I’m afraid I may not have that kind of free time.

In Memoriam, MTL, November 2, 1986 – February 15, 2010.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
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Aspiration Statement

How This Happened, Part II: “Heart Stuff” to follow.

Here’s what I wrote for my Aspiration Statement, which will be given to host country staff along with my updated resume. I won’t post the questions I was asked, but you can probably figure them out from the responses given.

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A. My aspirations during my Peace Corps service are both professional and personal in nature.

My professional aspirations include developing an increased awareness of student needs; further strengthening my ability to work closely with others to achieve common goals; easily maintain positive professional relationships through communication and shared long-term goals; understand my needs as a teacher and facilitator and feel comfortable requesting the assistance of experienced professionals; improve the school culture at my workplace by participating in extra-curricular activities; provide structure by scaffolding so that my community and school can achieve goals independently;  and to help teachers and students by fully utilizing the professional attributes I have gained in the States. These include dedication and organization; extensive knowledge of the construction and implementation of lesson plans; integrating available technology into teaching practices; differentiating instruction and assessment to cater to all learning types; a deep interest in cross-curricular education; creative problem solving and classroom management strategies (including participatory learning techniques); and the ability to relate instructional matters to the personal lives of students, thereby building meaningful relationships with them. I wish to help counterpart teachers develop their skills in these areas as well.

Personally, I hope to develop emotionally, spiritually, and mentally throughout the course of my Peace Corps service. I wish to see the country and people of Indonesia and to develop lasting friendships; acquire a new language; learn the nuances and viewpoints of Indonesian culture; experience the world from a non-American perspective; see the geographical and historical landmarks of Indonesia; learn about Islam and those who practice it; challenge myself to live a more modest lifestyle; and understand more deeply the essence of myself and my spirit through pursuing my artistic aspirations and building new relationships. Additionally, I seek to push myself to my limits and succeed by moving past them; gain a greater understanding of my place in the world and the web of human connectedness; develop my problem solving skills; feel the satisfaction of taking part in something larger than myself; and to experience the pride of knowing my work will help future volunteers contribute to the long-term betterment of cross-cultural relations between Americans and Indonesians. Through reflection and self-awareness, I seek to equip myself with the knowledge and sensitivity to return to the United States and teach my friends, family, and fellow citizens about the country and people of Indonesia.

B. Flexibility, creativity, and patience are the broad strategies I wish to use to increase the effectiveness of my work with host country partners. To meet expressed needs, I will draw on my experiences as both a teacher and student in numerous educational settings (particularly in the challenging arena of teaching as an outsider on the Navajo Nation). These experiences include communicating and brainstorming with counterparts and co-teachers; using direct assessment and student input to develop methods for meeting student needs; refining lesson plans through execution, reflection, and revision; and using my strong theoretical background in education originating from my university classes and personal research into best pedagogical practices. In terms of working with host country partners, I will be open-minded and flexible as well as patient with myself (and my partners) in handling communication and cultural differences. I will work towards full language development and cultural understanding through participating in and reflecting on community events, which will help me to gain the perspective and skills necessary for constructively achieving expressed goals. Because my counterparts in Indonesia are a resource that I can consult to more firmly grasp the nature of student and teacher needs, I will strive to fully understand their perspectives and to maintain a calm approach to any frustrations I or others may experience. I also wish to be as open as possible (without cultural impropriety) so that others may understand my capabilities as a teacher and human being; my intention to fully complete my term as a Volunteer; and my willingness to help those who wish for my assistance. Open communication, including professional conflict resolution strategies, is the means by which goals can be realized and achieved, so I will strive to maintain an open and non-threatening channel for communication. Finally, I will remember throughout my service that I am working with my counterparts and their students in order to help them achieve their goals, not working to propagate my own interests or beliefs; recognition and understanding of my own purpose as a volunteer will help me work effectively with counterparts to achieve expressed needs.

C. There are several strategies that I hope will successfully aid me in adapting to a new culture with respect to my own cultural background. Though I am a guest in Indonesia, I will be unique because of the planned length of my tenure there and my intention to embrace Indonesian culture through language acquisition and cultural adaptation. I view myself as a constant learner, despite my purpose as an educator; the learning/teaching exchange will, I hope, be mutual. Being open-minded and emotionally and mentally prepared to move beyond my traditional comfort zones are two qualities I hope to employ as I venture into Indonesian culture. I am an extremely flexible, level-headed, highly sensitive, and understanding person. All of these qualities will help me adapt to Indonesian culture with greater ease. I am not afraid to ask questions, seek clarification, or display my cultural and linguistic vulnerability if it means I will gain knowledge and respect. Furthermore, I am not afraid to make sacrifices or uphold cultural mores or requirements in order to maintain a respectful relationship with Indonesian community members, even if I disagree with them (for example, I will wear a headscarf to an event if someone suggests it to be more proper. Of course, this statement does not apply to dangerous or illegal situations). I also intend to maintain a high level of self-reflection and intellectual rigor with respect to decoding and analyzing cultural situations. This will help me more deeply understand Indonesian culture. Gaining experiential knowledge by simply living and being in Indonesia is something to which I greatly look forward, as is teaching Indonesian friends about my culture and self.

D. During my pre-service training I will acquire new skills and gain knowledge that will help me best to serve my future community and the projects I will begin therein. I hope to be provided with basic tools that will ease my efforts to assimilate or adapt to Indonesian culture. Though I believe I will learn an enormous amount of information about a wide range of subjects, including Bahasa Indonesia, I do not view pre-service training as an all-encompassing course in culture or language. Pre-service training will be a foundation for my future learning and development; without a strong foundation manifest in a basic understanding of language and culture, efforts to serve a community would be inefficient and their results temporary. I hope to learn just enough– just enough Bahasa Indonesia; just enough about Islam; just enough about local customs and etiquettes; just enough about current events; just enough about history and politics; just enough about food, dance, and entertainment– to feel comfortable to enter my community prepared to continue learning about all of these topics (and more) at the rigorous pace demanded by complete cultural immersion. My goal is to leave pre-service training minimally competent in the basics of culture and language. This will ensure that my transition into my new community is a smooth one. If I can successfully transition, I can begin to make an impact more quickly and with more lasting results. Additionally, during pre-service training I hope to begin to build relationships with colleagues and fellow volunteers so that I have a support network to help me more effectively serve my community. By the time I leave training and depart for my individual assignment site, I hope to have met some new Indonesian friends and colleagues as well, which will help me feel grounded in a time of extreme change and adjustment.

E. After my service ends, my personal and professional aspirations will, I hope, be positively altered and influenced.

If I succeed in realizing the personal aspirations described above (Section A), I will be positively self-actualized and able to feel confident in setting challenging goals for myself and working toward achieving them. Though I have set and achieved goals throughout my life, the self-reflection and intention-setting am experiencing as I prepare for service are deeper than I have ever encountered. I feel that my Indonesian Peace Corps service will help me understand this level of depth of spirit and purpose and how to continue using it to my advantage after I return to the States and continue to travel and work. I believe that my service will strongly influence my personal aspirations at a foundational level because of the wealth of experience I will gain; the ways I will learn to share and grow with others; the many and varied personal friendships and professional relationships I will develop; and the inner challenges and struggles I will overcome.

There is the potential, I believe, for complete change in my professional aspirations as well. Because I am a young professional and have not yet decided my ultimate career path or field of further academic pursuit, the Peace Corps has great potential to heavily influence my future. Serving in Indonesia will be the most significant undertaking of my life thus far and could help me realize my true goals and how to achieve them. Certainly, the Peace Corps (and Indonesia) will make me a stronger teacher and human being, which will benefit me in any professional realm. Though I have always felt the need to serve through direct action and education, I hope the Peace Corps will give me a greater skill set for achieving my goals in these areas. Learning how to develop programs and strategies to assist others instead of following directions or an already established path will give me great satisfaction, pride, and confidence. Completing my term of service will be the realization of a long-term goal to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer.

***

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.

Peace Corps Invitation

While I was in New Jersey en route to New York City during my vacation last week, I received via telephone my official invitation to serve in the Peace Corps. My placement officer offered me a position teaching in Indonesia, on the south-central island of Java. I was told that this placement would be unique in its challenges because 2010 is the first year the United States will be sending volunteers to Indonesia since 1963, so the program is completely unestablished. After reviewing a brief description of the program, I accepted my invitation the following day. My placement officer said “Congratulations, and welcome to the Peace Corps!” and that was that. After a year’s worth of communications, applications, interviews, doctor’s appointments, waiting, and uncertainty, I have received and accepted my invitation… and it seems surreal, after all this waiting.

I don’t think it’s truly set in yet. I had an anxious couple of days in NYC where I had no internet or library access, but feel better after being home in Bloomington and able to begin researching my new home. It’s difficult, though, not being with my relatives now. I have a great family here in Bloomington, but I’ll be happy to be with my Michigan family in a few weeks. I’m experiencing so many emotions, from terror to elation to sorrow and everything in between. Peace Corps usually gives at least six weeks notice before you leave the country; I have five weeks to wrap up my life here and say goodbye.

I’ll be flying to Java in 35 days.

Sam's Adventures in Indonesia

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