The end.


Like all things beautiful, this chapter has come to an end. My dream that started five years ago as a fleeting thought to join the Peace Corps to serve a greater cause than myself has unfolded and is now being neatly tied with a bow; a gift to my life. It was never a race to the finish, rather a daily journey, sometimes because the end simply seemed impossibly far away. Throughout the rollercoaster ride of my service, I watched the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months until that magical number, 27 months, finally appeared on my calendar. As I stare at that final date marking my close of service, I realize that there is no beginning or end. This end, in fact is the start of a hopeful beginning of the next stage in my life. Everything that I struggled to learn over the past two years is what I needed to bring me to my next journey, another stepping stone across the pond. Because without the things that I’ve learned here, from the people that I’ve met, and from the places that I’ve seen, I would not be who I am today nor ready for the challenging goals that I’ve put forth for myself. My Peace Corps service has taken me on the ride of my life, through astounding highs and back-reflecting lows, of looking deep within myself to put forth the very best of who I am. My time in the Peace Corps has sparked a brilliant need for a life of constant learning and an irrevocable passion for leadership. It has entirely transformed my way of living, moving, thinking and being. Despite my numerous falls and failures, or perhaps because of them, my service has taught me to question rather than comment, to feel loneliness and cherish company, to let tears flow and to hold back judgment, to receive criticism and give love without reason. It’s difficult, nearly impossible rather, to pinpoint the moments that forced me to question what I thought to be true. Conclusively it seems to be a succession of daily choices to face my fears, accept challenges and embrace difficulty. Like chiseling away at marble with the right tools and ferocious passion, the end result is often an astounding representation of the artist herself and who she has become in the process.

Let me first be honest, though. In the vast array of emotions that I’ve felt, amazement, joy, pride, I’ve also felt greatly selfish at times. To experience and live within poverty by choice is considered noble, I’m told. But knowing that at any moment I could escape it, step outside this world if I ever felt that it were overwhelming, just didn’t seem right to me. At the slightest threat of danger or simply because I decided it wasn’t fit for me, I could have had a free plane ride back to where I came from, to a country that most people only dream of traveling to, a place that I call home. And my neighbors, my colleagues and greatest friends could not do the same. Regardless of sickness, lack of water, terrorism, threat of civil war, or any other realities, there is no quick escape to paradise for them. So as much as I wish to say that my 27 months allowed me to experience poverty and hardship first hand, I cannot. I guess I’m sharing this bitter reality with you because I’m not a hero, I’m not a savior of any sort just because I chose to make a difference, but I am an ally. I’m a compassionate friend for those who were born into poverty with no other choice but to overcome it or die trying. Because I choose not to ignore it. I choose to face the world’s poverty not with a determined solution but a helping hand. The Peace Corps has forever imprinted a deep respect for those who were born into misfortune but continue to make the best out of their situation. Living and working alongside those who find happiness despite a lack of luxury has changed me entirely. There are no gifts greater than that.

Before I left, people always asked me why I was joining the Peace Corps. When they found out that I would be gone for 27 months, they thought I was crazy but gave me a comforting pat on the back anyway. When I told them I was going to Colombia, their hearts must have sunk as their eyes widened. Their minute understanding of Colombia being the drug cartel capital of the world is often the first thought for those who have yet to see the beauty that it truly holds. To tell you the truth, I had no idea what to say to them. I myself wasn’t even sure why I was leaving to a country I knew very little about to work with people I had never met and to receive a mere $6,000 a year after indebting myself to earn a college degree. But what I did know was this; that the Peace Corps was something I needed to do. It was a warm hand pulling me in the direction that I needed to go at the time, and I couldn’t say no. There are very few things in life that you feel 100% about. Serving in the Peace Corps happened to be one of those callings that I couldn’t ignore. Even as difficult as my days were at times, I never once considered turning my back on the people I committed myself to. It’s true what they say that the Peace Corps is undoubtedly “the toughest job you will ever love.”

It has pushed me in ways to move outside of my comfort zone and into an open arena of endless possibility. My customs which fit the majority in the United States were now the minority. I was the odd ball out. I was the one who all eyes were constantly watching. With their best intentions, Colombians would always ask why I did the things that I did. Why I ate so many vegetables, why I read so many books, why I walked everywhere, why I ‘left’ my family behind, why I believed in certain things and not others, why I didn’t have any children, why I have a German last name if I’m from the United States, why I don’t wear high heels, why I like to be by myself sometimes, why I didn’t get paid, why I taught differently, why I lowered myself to my students’ level, why I didn’t shout to be heard. And the questions never ended, over two years. Which is why every moment was an opportunity to learn about those around me and especially about myself if I surrendered to look deep enough. In the United States self-reflection is often a priority at the bottom of one’s to do list, so when I found myself being constantly questioned about the most mundane tasks I couldn’t help but see my actions for what they were: different. In my own country I’ve heard people say that school often does not produce citizens who are prepared for the real world. It’s difficult not to agree after seeing where the classroom fails our students in the greatest way possible; a deficiency in time to just… think, to slow things down for a moment to consider who we are in this world if not in comparison to just one other culture. Because if we don’t know who we are, we fail to recognize the worth that we possess and the world of talent within ourselves. I believe that the Peace Corps has done that for me. It has given me lenses to see the world through a different set of glasses; to understand that I live differently than many others, and that that’s ok.

Curiously, I wasn’t as nervous to come to Colombia as I am now to return home. There are so many opportunities open to me now, so many decisions to be made. It will be, perhaps, the only time in my life that I will have an entirely clean slate to choose where to go next, with the liberty of having nothing to prioritize my next step. And while starting from zero and having nothing seems disheartening, it’s more of a blessing to me. No children, no mortgage, no car, no pets, no furniture to haul. Those things will come in time, but for now, less just seems like so much more to me. In fact, I came to Colombia with two suitcases and I’m leaving now with just one. My things have turned into memories which I carry now in my heart, the most cherished of all necessities. It’s not about what you have, but who you are.

So to those who have helped make me who I am today, I hope that this small but sincere message is well received. To my family and friends in Wisconsin, I want to thank you for your endless support, for encouraging me to fulfill my dreams, and for all the gifts that you’ve sent my way. For those of you who came all the way here to visit me, my mom, my aunt Shelly, Laurie and Sherrill, your visit was inexplicably uplifting. It meant the world to me.

To my Peace Corps friends who have become my family, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for inspiring me, for being my cheerleader, for showing me what honest team work looks like, not only professionally but personally because some days just seemed impossible to get through without a warm hug from a friend who’s got your back. Rarely are we given opportunities to work with such successful, like-minded people who have all come together to make the world a better place to live. I have no doubt that you will all go far in whatever life brings you next. I’m unboundedly happy to see you again back home.

To my Colombian friends who have shown me how to live, you were always the anchor that held me here. Leaving now brings me a wave of sadness almost too great to overcome. I know that I’ll be back one day to find you just as happy as the day I left and we’ll pick up our friendship right where it left off. I’ll never forget all that you’ve done for me here.

And lastly, to my Colombian families, because there were so many of you who received me with open arms, I want to say thank you. Thank you for letting me into your homes and into your hearts, for laughing at my jokes (despite how not funny they were), for making me laugh in return on the days when all I wanted was to cry, for challenging me to see my true potential, for seeing me as a leader, a friend and most graciously as part of your family. You’ve shown me what it means to be Colombian, a kind-hearted, colorful, happy, hard-working, ever-laughing, ever-dancing, music-loving people. You are joy.

Advertisements

Little B


“Cheers!” he smiles with a big-cheeked grin and his arm extended out toward me. We tap drinks and laugh into our superhero cups of juice. Then he tries to coerce me into completing his homework by using his best English. “You,” he says and points to the colored pencil. “No, you,” I respond, giving him the side eye.
“You”
“You”
 “Ok, me,” he says bursting into a belly rolling laughter, prouder than ever that he had a debate with his English teacher and almost won.

He finishes only half of his homework from school before he’s sidetracked by his action figures and wants to show them to me. Instead of insisting that it isn’t time to play, I quickly turn his play into learning. He points to the superhero’s head, arms, legs, knees and feet; all with confidence as I ask him where the body parts are in English. He then learns new words like cape, fly, and fast. He loves yelling “Fast!” as he swoops the superhero through the air, until grandma walks in and gives us both the suspicious look wondering whether or not her grandson is completing his homework. He quickly puts his soaring friend down and picks up a colored pencil again. As grandma walks back out to the porch we both glance at each other and giggle.

Little B is what I like to call him. I would call him by his full name, Bernardo, but it gets quite confusing since his dad is also named Bernardo, whom I call middle B. And I rarely refer to him as Bernardo either because even his dad is named, you guessed it, Bernardo. The generational passing of names is an important and common tradition here, but as important as the name is, few people are referred to by their actual names because it leaves everyone wondering which person you’re asking for. Therefore, we’ve got Big B, Middle B and my favorite, Little B.

Once a week, Little B and I spend time learning English at the kitchen table of their house where a lazy fan circles overhead. I swat mosquitos from my ankles, listen to his adventurous six-year-old stories, and talk to him in English as much as he can possibly understand. We enjoy putting together a puzzle of the United States that I brought back for him and we read the books that were donated to us by generous friends. He understands about half of the story but loves hearing me read in English, hoping one day he will be able to read the book all by himself.

IMG_20150801_105158

I first met Little B as he came skipping across the gym in his underwear, his plump little belly and round legs making quite the entrance as he did a little shimmy shake in front of the mirror. I knew we would get along just fine. Their house, which doubles as a gym in the back, has been like my second home. I spend almost as much time there as I do my own house, so it didn’t come as a surprise when his grandpa, Big B, asked if I would help Little B with his English. I agreed happily. He’s now my little piece of joy that keeps me going on the toughest of days as well as the faint heartache that I’ll have to leave as the end of my service here is nearing.

Perhaps I’m writing this now as a way to remember the innocence that he brought into my life, but also in hopes that he’ll one day be able to read this entry written in English and know just how important he is to me. He’s a fresh reminder to laugh in life, to constantly learn new things and to skip around in your underwear like no one’s watching. And although he’s embarrassed when I give him a big kiss on the cheek, I hope he understands that it comes with all of the love I have for him, straight from the heart that he’s stollen.

IMG_20150801_102559

Camps!


What an incredible couple of weeks in the Peace Corps I just had! We were on June break from school here, the equivalent to winter break in the United States where students have about two to three weeks off.  Last year I took this time to travel and see more of Colombia. This year, however, I dedicated my time to several camps for youth development. These two weeks were some of the most exhausting yet rewarding experiences of my service and seeing the smiles on these precious faces made all of the hard work absolutely worth it.

During the first week off from school, I invited a friend to Santa Marta to help teach a group of kids from my foundation about photography. Sarah came from Cartagena where she serves in the Peace Corps as well, about four and a half hours from Santa Marta. The children who participated in the camp, living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Santa Marta, often have little to do in their free time. With this is mind, the owner of the foundation (one of my very good friends here) and I decided to organize this camp in order to keep them busy by using their time for positive development. Although we came across some interesting challenges, the camp was a success. Losing water at my house, rearranging for Sarah to stay somewhere for four nights, finding out that there were no busses running due to a strike, and then losing electricity at the foundation were all hiccups in the process, but ones that are inevitable here. Fortunately, we’re experienced Peace Corps volunteers by now and managed all of the challenges with relative ease.

Once we got things rolling, the kids learned about different artistic elements, photography basics and then created projects based on the theme “Pieces of Me.” As a way to encourage positive self-esteem and body image, this theme allowed them to choose a body part and reflect on why it’s important or unique and then explain why. Next, they had a partner take a picture of their body part (some being simple like the arm and others being more abstract such as the heart). The children used what they learned about photography and were able to capture some pretty creative shots. I was so happy watching them explore with the camera and seeing them reflect on their own work. They were so proud of themselves by the end of the three days that I couldn’t help but feel that same sense of happiness. Working with these children makes my heart swell seeing how excited they get to learn.

Sarah on the right (our photography teacher)

Sarah on the right (our photography teacher)

DSCN4066 DSCN4005

DSCN3991

DSCN4081

DSCN4084

DSCN4091

At the end of the photography camp, I said goodbye to my friend Sarah and had the weekend to rest and collect my thoughts. I gathered my bug spray, tennis shoes, soap and toothbrush and packed my bag for a 5 day camp to the Sierra Nevada mountains. Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is an international camp within the Peace Corps that promotes girls’ youth development. Three volunteers worked vigorously for nearly 10 months to plan an incredible experience for these girls and 10 counselors (including myself) were lucky enough to get invited to participate. 35 girls were chosen from different schools along the coast based on essays and an application they submitted. It was an honor for all of us to be a part of such a positive step forward for Colombia’s future.

Just an hour away from Santa Marta, we headed up the hillside with the bags strapped over the roof and a bit of nervousness for what we were getting ourselves into with 35 teenage girls. We arrived to the local school where we would be staying for the week which graciously provided rooms lined with bunk beds, a kitchen with cooking staff and the most amazing views of luscious mountains. I immediately felt at ease. We arranged our bags and then teams were announced for the groups that we would be working with. The seven girls in my group were timid at first but showed kind smiles to one another as they introduced themselves. For these ten whole minutes, this would be the quietest moment of the entire week. They immediately found common interests and shared jokes with their newest friends who would support them throughout the week in ways that they had no idea. It was beautiful to watch complete strangers quickly become very close friends over the course of the week. They listened to each other’s intimate stories and personal experiences. They shared moments that brought them to tears and they laughed perhaps harder than they had in a while over the silliest things. Throughout the five days at camp, we sang songs, made s’mores over the camp fire, went on a hike at sunset, did a garbage cleanup of the city, and closed the week with an impressive talent show.

11698503_1068312509863783_1808330436371686148_n

Garbage clean up

11046343_1068313616530339_6042876786178038169_n

Garbage clean up

DSCN4098

10995882_1068204233207944_4901774984098339916_n

1510508_1068313629863671_5218606515599554663_n

11666241_10155721496095184_7685305943724401477_n 11693816_1068313839863650_9209997063672084615_n

11018190_1068312579863776_1250559911759014564_n

Zumba!

11012565_10101468854326171_7591948778735791562_n

11705168_1068312446530456_6130732291522665543_n

Morning yoga

DSCN4103

Cake fight!

DSCN4095 DSCN4106

11693966_10101468858462881_8099574885590440668_n

As counselors of an exciting week filled with trips to the waterfall and the local coffee farm, we also wanted to challenge their thinking and push the girls to question society’s norms; to think about things that they had otherwise not considered. We gave talks on leadership, community service, gender, self-esteem, nutritional health and sexual health; all topics critical to the stage at which these teenage girls are living. Growing up in a world that encourages men to become leaders but is passive in doing the same for women, our biggest goal was to show them that they too can take on this world.

Saying goodbye to them, especially to my group of seven girls, at the end of the five days was much more difficult than I had imagined. I may have cried once or twice but my heart was truly happy to see them go back home as an educated young leader ready to make a difference. As my good friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer Shanna told the girls at the closing ceremony,

“Many people will ask me what I thought about Colombia when I go home. They’ll ask what I did and what I saw when I was there. And you know what I’ll tell them? I’ll tell them that I saw the future of Colombia. And the future is bright, bold, brave and absolutely beautiful.”

I couldn’t agree more.

11222012_1634260173454700_5346936490154300802_n

Vulnerability is Not Weakness


The water went out again at my house for the second time this week, however not something new to me. For months last year it would go out for a whole week at a time, and yet I survived, as do millions of others around the world with no running water. So why was I panicking? Is it true in this case that ignorance is indeed bliss? I didn’t know what I had coming for me last year. Perhaps understanding the unique challenges of living without running water to cook, clean, wash clothes, or to shower are now clear to me. It’s not easy. But I don’t think the burden of it alone was the culprit to my deep sense of discomfort. Over the past few days, I’ve realized something. In my 23 years before the Peace Corps, never have I faced such consistent uncertainty. I’d like to speak from an individual perspective but can’t help to mention that we as Americans are a culture obsessed with certainty and guarantee. Products are marked with a stamped guarantee or your money back, public transportation arrives at designated stops at marked times, stores post their hours and assure they will be open, quiet hours are abided by if not reinforced to guarantee a good nights sleep at your hotel, dentists rarely make you wait longer than your exact scheduled time, and as long as you pay the bill, the water is guaranteed to be running. As Brene Brown, renowned TEDTalk spokeswoman, puts it, “There’s never enough certainty. People want guarantees.” But there I was, with zero guarantee of if or when the water would be running again, and I despised it. But more so I despised my reaction and feelings toward the situation. Instead of being grateful for the 23 years of running water in the comfort of my home, I was pissed to be deprived of it for one whole day.

In that moment I recognized how much certainty I was used to having. And the feeling of being stripped of it? I couldn’t pinpoint it. At first it felt like fear, then frustration, which eventually turned into a shameful anger knowing that I was not the first nor would I be the last to go without water. But none of them felt like the precise word as to what my mind was searching for. Then, after a few days of pondering, I found it. Vulnerable. Vulnerability is exactly what I was going through, and the precise emotion that I have felt for the last 19 months of my service; yet, I was unable to recognize it through all of the dust, tucked away in the basement of my emotions. A sudden loss of control with no immediate solutions, coupled with the prior knowledge of negative outcomes from last year’s drought, really seemed to be the pushing factor to put a name to this foreign feeling.

19 months of vulnerability feels like a long time. 19 months of putting yourself out there willingly or unwillingly feels like a lifetime. 19 months, however, is how long it took for me to truly find comfort in the uncomfortable seat of vulnerability. To truly live in this state and come out on the other end is to reap the benefits of self growth and learning, to become a little more brave, to accept and incorporate feedback, and to feel absolute joy. Oppositely, Brene Brown explains that ignoring feelings of vulnerability are detrimental to a wholehearted life. When we throw ourselves into work, distract ourselves by flipping through channels for hours, or mindlessly scroll through Facebook in an attempt to avoid eye contact with the beast of vulnerability, we essentially do more damage than we realize.

“Numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light.” But when you let go of control and allow yourself to recline into the prickly seat of vulnerability, something incredible happens, as many other Peace Corps Volunteers would agree. Facing difficult situations and allowing yourself to truly feel what it is you’re going through allows you to also feel the elated highs. Knowing that I am not alone in this is comforting which is why I’ve asked other Peace Corps volunteers to share their own experiences with vulnerability during service. Here are the responses and what they had to say:

“To describe vulnerability in the Peace Corps I might say that it feels like…

…starting a new project, after failing numerous times.”

…feeling alone.”

…being the face of a change that nobody is really certain they believe in.”

…being a gringo (white person) wedged in a crowded bus of colombian strangers in 115 degree heat with a final destination in mind but no idea how the ride will actually turn out, who will sell you what, who will stand next to you, how much the ride will cost you, how long it will take, or how close to the window you will actually get.”

…paper beating rock.”

…asking someone to define a word or repeat themselves knowing it will most likely lead to them asking you where you are from, verifying that you are indeed far from home.”

…saying “I don’t know why” about questions regarding my own culture, language, and personal habits.”

…having to put your own independence aside for the sake of saving face in front of strangers.”

…asking for help at the age of 25, 35 or even 55.”

…accepting help when it’s unneeded.”

…letting go of what I know and opening my mind and heart to something new, knowing that I may be disappointed or hurt along the way.”

…going back to the U.S. after months or years away.”

…meeting new volunteers at staging and accepting that some/most will have more experience than you.”

…opening your whole heart to a new community as you integrate fully, knowing it will break when you inevitably have to leave.”

…having to pass a group of men on the streets knowing they will eye ball me from head to toe, and make remarks as if I am an object and not a person. And I have to continue looking straight, holding in my heated frustration.”

…hearing how students wish to go to the United States and encouraging them that they too will have the opportunity if they work hard, knowing that it’s probably not in their future.”

…giving up pieces of yourself for the sake of integration.”

…being the only one in the room who doesn’t understand the joke.”

…giving a speech to a crowd of 800 students, in a second language.”

…sharing a food from your culture knowing that some people will likely be unaccepting to try.”

…comforting a friend who’s struggling without the right words to say.”

…standing up for yourself when someone’s offended you.”

…living with a host family and sharing close spaces.”

…saying yes.”

Vulnerability is a willingness to share a part of who you are, to let go of the reins, to accept others’ opinions, to apologize sincerely, to listen deeply, to truly be there for someone when it would be much easier to just walk away. Vulnerability allows us to be seen, to practice empathy, to be able to say “Yeah, me too.” All of these experiences from the volunteers above are small acts of bravery that, when put together over the course of a 27 month service, make for an incredible journey of growth.

None of these are moments of cowardice.

Vulnerability is not weakness.

**Thank you to all of the volunteers that helped me write this blog! You are the change that moves this world, one courageous moment at a time.

Keep updated by clicking the ‘Follow’ button on the Home Page. ❤ Much love.  

The Good Old Days


I read a quote on Facebook the other day that said something like, “I wish we knew that we were among the Good Old Days before they passed us by.” And I thought, amen! Suddenly I felt nostalgic for the one-line family telephones, overalls, light up shoes and Silly Putty; dial-up internet, white washed jeans, Superstars and Ferbies. I then looked around at my current state and thought that maybe I could have a second chance, realizing that my living situation was like rewinding the clocks of time a bit. Here they are! The Good Old Days are among me in the cart vendors that roll down the street, in the children that run barefooted in the soccer fields, in the middle aged men still confident in their thick curly mullets. Ahhh… these are the days. Thank you, Colombia. It’s different though, because I’ve seen the “future” so to speak and to erase it seems impossible, but I’m trying to wrap myself in it. I embrace the buses that still have money collectors and vendors selling small candies. I appreciate the snow cone man who manually shaves the ice by wheel. I nod in recognition to the mule carts and the elderly men who yell from house to house. I do a happy dance for the people who make home deliveries and rent washing machines by the hour. I salute the men who still attend the gas pumps. I relish in the “phone booths” to buy calls by the minute. I applaud the outdoor barbershops with hung-up mirrors. I smile to the sporting of butterfly hair clips and scrunchies. The street sweepers, the front porch sitters, the car window washers, the corner coffee sellers; they’re all ok to me because I know that they won’t be around forever. Life passes us by a little too quickly sometimes so to slow things down a bit isn’t so bad. Although there is a great majority of Colombia that strives for development, there continues to exist its counterpart who refuses to or is unable to move forward, both parts being attached by the hip in a dance to the inevitable future; a unique place to be, crystallized in a spectrum of 40 years, not knowing which end to grab hold of. And I don’t blame them. The future is tempting but the past will always be the Good Old Days; the comforts of what we grew up with. So consider me lucky, because here I am, floating along nicely in the Good Old Days.

Dating the World: On Cross-Cultural Relationships


p18560dmk1170m54o14iumnb1lj75-detailsHere comes a long awaited post, one that could have been written even before my blog existed but has waited for me patiently to collect my thoughts over the years. Nonetheless a fun one to write, I must admit. But first a brief explanation as to what has sparked this entry. It first occurred to me to write about dating after a long discussion on the beach with the girls about our non-existent loves lives, which tends to be a common topic of conversation for lonely 20-somethings in the Peace Corps. And it got me thinking back on my past relationships, a great way to ruin a perfectly great beach day, if you ask me. I realized though that the majority of the men I’ve dated were from cultures apart from my own. Well, all of them except high school because, growing up in a white suburb of Northeastern Wisconsin, the only thing cultured was the cheese. But by the time I started studying in Madison, however, a jump start to my (healthy) obsession with cultures took off. Admittedly I was that girl in college who joined the International Student program so I could kindly “show them around campus”. Who was I kidding? They were the ones clearly doing me the favor seeing as I had little idea yet where I was going. But I did get invited to some pretty cool jovial international festivities. It’s been over 7 years since then which not only makes me sound older than I am but also happens to be just enough time to get perfectly wrapped up, mixed up and shook up in a number of relationships to feel the urge to now write about them. In my years of dating across cultures, whether those dates be casual or more formal, there are some common themes (might I call them challenges?) that have come about. One being that the relationships have all dissipated. Just kidding….but, really. So to try to make sense of it all, these thoughts are the product of many successful, not so successful, embarrassing, frustrating, heart-warming and hysterical moments shared between cultures including Peru, Venezuela, Malaysia, Guatemala, Spain, the Caribbean, Mexico, Colombia, India and the Dominican Republic, all whom have created the tapestry of my love life that has brought me to where I sit today, typing away trying to make polysyllabic sense of life between two people. Although these reasonings of my solo status are purely individual, you may relate to them in one way or another. So without further ado…

  1. Love in a hopeless place, that is the Peace Corps
    Dating in the Peace Corps is grounds for an inter-cultural exchange, and it isn’t impossible. Two of my very good friends found love (created love, rather) and will soon be getting married to their fiancées who they met during service. But clearly, this is not my case. The other 90% of us who continue to drift along do so with good reasoning. Let’s just say, the Peace Corps does not place us in viable dating zones with hot singles waiting for our arrival. Rather, most of the areas we work in are a strictly 27 month commitment, no short vacation. There’s a reason the entire United States population isn’t jumping out of their seats to travel to these places. Now I’m not saying I don’t love what I do and the people who I work with, but to put it lightly, let me just mention that I do love my options after the Peace Corps that involve traveling to a new land, of my choice, which brings me to my next point…
  1. I’m on the move, and he’s out the door
    For years now I’ve either been traveling or planning to travel and my busy body has been on the move, which doesn’t create fertile territory for a serious relationship to bloom. I’m here, I’m there, I’m back again! So when I meet someone and he asks what I have planned for the future, I don’t blame him for thinking, “And where would I fit into that exactly?” Or, just the opposite; him being from another country tends to put a time stamp on his stay before he’s whisked back to his beautiful land. But we secretly play Fantasy Futures anyway and imagine how our lives would be if he came with me everywhere I went, or I where he would go, and we travelled the world together, which always ends in a light hearted chuckle and me looking into the bottom of my wine glass.
  1. Dating in another culture, and on their playing field
    Dating across cultures can be quite challenging: accepting that there’s more than one way to do things, explaining jokes which don’t seem as funny after having to talk them through, trying to justify certain mannerisms which I wasn’t even aware of. But at least I could look around and say, “Look, I’m not the weird one, they’re all doing the same thing.” That is until I was in another playing field, in their country. Then, all of a sudden, I became the minority and I had to find a way to kindly explain that walking-hugs don’t work for me and I just needed personal space. Call me crazy, but does literally nobody else see what’s wrong with sitting on the same side of the table during dinner? This is not conducive to conversation… and elbow room, people!
  1. About that conversation thing…
    Delving into cultures often brings about a variety of foreign languages which can either come together like a beautiful dance or leave you high steppin’ on the dance floor trying not step on your partner’s toes. They say that communication is key which means that when it’s lost, you’re on the outside of a locked door while it’s most likely raining. The difference between “Doce lados” and “Doce helados” is phonetically minimal, however comes to mean two very distinct things. So while I thought we were searching for the biggest ice cream stand where we could promptly eat 12 ice creams, my ex-boyfriend was trying to point out the most historical indigenous rock Peru had to offer, that which was made up of 12 sides. We could say that I lost the ‘key’ that day and it might as well have rained on me because my hopes were dashed. There would be no ice cream, just a really.big.rock. I snapped  picture out of respect.

But despite these hiccups and all of the other embarrassing yet eventful moments over the past few years, I tend to laugh, and I do so because I know that it’s just the beginning of a life filled with relationships rich in culture. There’s something frustratingly fantastic and unnervingly renewing to be constantly learning something about others, and especially myself, that makes it all worth it. This whole dating thing is tough, and adding another culture to the mix doesn’t make it much easier. But it does make things more interesting. Although I’m very much still single, I’m also in the Peace Corps, stationary but on the verge of traveling soon, always in a new place and confronted with cultural differences that which I can only attempt to explain in a second language. Although this is a brief rendition of my frivolous thoughts, it’s a glimpse into my world on dating the world, an attempt to make sense of something that makes no sense at all.

Top 5 Reasons I’ll Be Ok in 2015


Year two and I can’t believe that the first has already passed. I’m no longer the new face in town, and dang does that feel good! I’m a local…kind of. Besides the fact that I look, walk, dress and talk differently… but I’d like to think I blend in. The school year will be starting tomorrow, and just like that it’ll be back to the classroom and the beloved chaos that I’ve secretly missed while away traveling on summer break. I can now count how many months I have left in the Peace Corps on my own two hands and for the first time, that has actually scared me. I’ve reached a high and a comfortable point in my service, which only means that I’ll have to soon move on to the next challenge. But in the meantime, the next ten months will be filled with daily routines similar to the previous year, however it’ll look and feel completely different. I really can’t tell you how I made it through the first year with only a few bruises, but I can say confidently that this year will be different. I’m going to be just fine. And this is how I know that I’ll be ok in 2015:

  1. I’m smarter this year… or at least my phone is.

I‘m now the proud owner of a half functioning smart phone with no data or front camera for selfies, but hey this girl’s got a colored screen, Whatsapp and Wi-fi!… most of the time. Because after all, I am still in the Peace Corps. My communication skills have just skyrocketed. It’s a start to something good, I just know it.

  1. Familiar faces!

After 17 months of stickin’ it out alone, the first people to visit me in Colombia will be coming this year, and that alone is something to keep me jumping for joy. Four of the best ladies are braving the trip to unknown lands and I couldn’t be more excited to show them my life and what I live here. I’ll be greeting my mom, my aunt and two family friends at the airport in just a few weeks from now. Marked on my calendar and ready to roll with great company.

  1. I can hang, in all the senses

I’ve learned to take a chill pill and hang with the homies, that is the Colombians who wear watches solely to keep their wrists warm. Time and hurry have been lost to me and my walking pace has matched the speed of dial-up internet. But what’s the rush really?

I’ve also been hanging in the literal sense due to the brilliant installation of the hammock in my room. Why this hasn’t happened before now, I have no idea. It’s life altering and it’s about to rock my world. (Aren’t puns the best?) I’ve been investing more in my room and making it my own which has helped me feel at home rather than just a visitor. Amazing what a few plants and colorful rug can do to a room.

photo

  1. My calendar’s marked

I did the very tedious task of marking all events that occurred last year, including semester beginnings and endings, official and unofficial Colombian holidays, school celebrations, Carnaval dates, and all other unexpected happenings that constantly kept me asking, “And what are we celebrating today?” while getting responses like “Oh, today is Day of the Water, so no classes.” Noted. And every week went something like this. So this year, I will be able to take my blinders off and hopefully get a better sense of what should be expected from the confusion of last year’s school calendar:

IMG_20150112_101659

  1. Seasons do exist!

It took only a year to notice, but the perpetual summer is actually marked by variations of summer within itself, which might be enough to say that seasons do exist here, or at least enough to curb my appetite for change. It’s not just summer, it’s summer with windy season, or summer with rainy season. And then there’s the summer with dry season, which is perhaps one of my least favorites. But now that I know things will change, if ever in the slightest, I’ll eventually be ok. I’ve also learned to appreciate certain times of the year, not because it’s cool (that will never be a reality, I’ve accepted that) but because the wind takes away the mosquitoes or because the rain keeps down the blowing dust. It all depends on how you look at things I suppose. I’ve also realized that my comfortable temperature is now around 85-90 degrees, which should scare the crap out of any Wisconsonite. I might never be able to go back home again…

A Caribbean Thanksgiving


I was perhaps the most content that I have been since the beginning of my service, and on the one day that I thought I would be most saddened. I smiled to myself as I heard a low whispered “I told you so” from the depth of my conscious. Things will always work out, as exactly they should. These are the moments when I realize that you never know what life will bring, and alas that is the very beauty of it. So as I stood there, I paused for a moment with my hand on my hips and really took in everything around me; the waves pushing onto the shore, the fresh palm trees hanging low overhead, the rhythm of reggae filling the open air, the moon glowing over the ocean and the smooth sand under my toes. The turkey on the table was the only thing reminding me that it was late November and Thanksgiving Day. This was my second Thanksgiving away from home since being in Colombia, and one that will be forever in my memory.

DSCN3768

The restaurant where we celebrated Thanksgiving at Southwest beach

The night before, I had been dreaming about cool fall days and watching football after devouring platefuls of food and pumpkin pie topped with whip cream. I wished for just a moment that I could put my favorite sweatshirt on and wrap up in a blanket on the couch; be with my family and catch up on a year’s worth of events that I had missed. But it didn’t turn out that way. I finally snapped out of it and shook my head as I realized that I was in the middle of the Caribbean surrounded by an endless supply of coconuts. As I fell asleep to visions of mitten-covered hands, my family was most likely dreaming of the exact opposite. Isn’t that always the case? We want what we can’t have and the things at our finger tips are lost to day dreams and fantastical wishes. Knowing that my time was limited on the island, I quickly lifted the last remaining pieces of disappointment from my chest and hung them neatly for the breeze to carry them away. They would not weigh me down today. With time, great things will come and what we don’t have today will only serve for a greater appreciation upon their arrival tomorrow.

This Thanksgiving Day was something unique. Like listening to a cover band, it’s not exactly as the original but you might just gain a new perspective on a creative interpretation. Instead of candles, napkin rings and placemats decorating the table, we sat in beach chairs and were surrounded by the sound of an acoustic guitar while string lights glittered imitating the stars between the palms. It was an exciting day teaching about our traditions. And, since this Thanksgiving was up for interpretation, we had to add some extra fun. Relay races and Tug-o-War were as exhausting as they were entertaining to watch, which were then followed by presentations of Thanksgiving from the Colombian teachers (our students). They proudly talked about what they had learned in class and how Thanksgiving was celebrated in the United States. Food, family and history were creatively presented by each group through skits and decorated posters. Afterward we enjoyed live music by a teacher who sponaneously picked up the guitar and entertained us until it was finally time to eat our hearts out on turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, beans and an array of desserts… and of course the Colombian touch of rice was also added to the mix.

DSCN3706

The Tug-o-War match

DSCN3788

Carving the turkey

There was no room for disappointment, which was happily left behind before I left the house that day. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for so many things, but for most of which I was grateful to have celebrated in the company of wonderful friends while always remembering my family back at home. It’s a comforting feeling to know that love travels so far and even with great distances true ties never seem to fade.

DSCN3683

Marleny making a turkey hand-drawing

DSCN3686

Israel’s turkey hand

DSCN3694

Relay races on the beach

DSCN3724

Reinacting Squanto’s arrival to the New World

DSCN3745

Presentations about Thanksgiving

DSCN3762

The “wish bone”

DSCN3673

Our wonderful group of teachers

DSCN3778

Relaxing a bit after an exhausting Thanksgiving

Tiny Tap Dancer


The sun’s gone down now, replaced by a heavy moon that hangs in the sky. A quick breeze moves swiftly across the water, just footsteps off the front porch from where I sit. With it comes a salty freshness that floats in the air. The wind sways and pushes its shoulders this way and that, imitating the Rasta man who moves to the smooth Reggae beats. My feet flatten against the tiled patio, still warm from the day’s love. Something catches my eye and I lean forward to see what’s poking its way through the blowing grass. The large glowing back of a crab pushes through the dense forest and across the cobblestone path that leads to the ocean. “Tic-tic-tap-tap-tic-tic” My six-legged friend tap dances over the smooth stones. Sliding in an unhurried shuffle, he continueshis dance toward the palm tree that stands swaying in the sea breeze. An auspicious offering to hold hands, he motions his claws out in front of him, snapping to the beat of his tap dancing feet. And as I lean closer with too quick of a motion to hear his music, he scurries under the patio, gone like the waves that reach the shore. Everywhere to go and nowhere to be.

DSCN3165

An Island Over


(This was a post written a few days prior to posting which I haven’t been able to upload until now. Still alive and well in paradise, just an island over from where I was in San Andres, this time on Providence.)

The two islands are pictured closer together on the map than they actually are geographically.

The two islands are pictured closer together on the map than they actually are geographically.

How interesting a concept to have traveled within the same country and to find people speaking a different language. Their primary language nor their secondary language match the Spanish spoken on the main land. Creole, then English, are widely spoken on a daily basis and then Spanish seems to be intermixed for occasional circumstances. Am I still in Colombia? It’s been four days already and I still can’t seem to wrap my head around it. I’m befuddled in amazement and I think I’m in love with the rainstorm of languages that I hear all around me.

Although I’m on an island, it’s much larger than I had imagined. The government estimates the population to be about 80,000 in San Andres but the people say it’s more like 100,000. Growing up on this small patch of paradise in the middle of the Caribbean, locals seem to know just about everyone they pass. Motorcycles buzz through the streets with smiling passengers waving to their friends and neighbors that they pass, giving fist bumps and the reassuring thumbs up that life is good. I jog along the ocean as the sun peaks its nose over the horizon telling me that it’s going to be another great day. Those who have risen before the sun sit out on their porches and greet me with a “Good morning” in English followed by an encouraging “Corre, corre!” to run faster.  The breezes come from one side of the island and smoothly pass over to the next giving the land a refreshing warmth with comfortable nights to sleep under a light sheet. After a run to the tip of the island and a cold shower, mornings have been my favorite part of the day on San Andres.

DSCN3060 DSCN3072

Providence, where I will soon be headed, is only a fraction of the size. It’s home to just 6,000 people who live amongst natural vegetation and endless white sanded shores. There too, they speak Creole, English and Spanish. I will have three weeks to explore the island and enjoy the crystalline waters that hug the island. So I’ve been told, internet connection is limited. As my coordinator explains, “On the mainland you might have 4G’s of network. In Providence we have more like 0G’s which leaves us all going ‘Oh geez.'” But for a month in heaven, I will happily surrender my social media intake.

DSCN3145

A hop, skip and a jump to Providence from San Andres.

DSCN3171

Sun set over Providence

During the week, I will be working closely with the Providence teachers to support them in their classes by giving lessons on pronunciation and speaking practice. Also, I’ll be giving seminars on methodology to help better Colombian’s English education programs on the mainland for public teachers. I’m very excited to meet the ambitious students (the Colombian teachers here to learn from us) and even more thrilled to be teaching them in the most beautiful place in the world. I feel so wonderfully lucky to have been given this opportunity and I will be forever grateful to have learned and worked with such passionate individuals.

Update: Since writing this post, here are a few pictures that I’ve taken since my arrival to Providence.

DSCN3161

The bridge that I take every morning from Santa Catalina to Providence to teach class.

DSCN3163

DSCN3182

Giving a seminar on methodology to Colombian teachers

DSCN3177

My group of Colombian teachers during small group discussion.