Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Things to Do Before Leaving the Country for 27 Months

One thing I have noticed lacking when I have been scouring Peace Corps blogs and even PC literature is a comprehensive list of what needs to happen before I leave. While I know I am not capable of providing such a list (especially since everyone's situation is different), I am going to attempt to keep a somewhat running list of things I have come across in hopes of at least creating a list. Please leave comments with things I may not have thought of (and I know there are quite a few things I will miss)!

- Register to vote overseas (this is one PC tells you to do). I can only speak on behalf of the lovely state of Minnesota, but its a little more confusing than it should be. I went to the Overseas Vote Foundation, followed the directions, and submitted my form. A few days later I received an email from my local County Auditor's office asking for clarification because this form is only for federal elections, not state/local elections. The Auditor's Office then gave me an email like where I can fill out a form for all elections. Great. The kicker....it is the same form I already filled out. Thus, when I move back home with my parents in a couple weeks, I am going to stop in and chat with the Auditor's Office to see what I really need to do.

- Renew your driver's license. If your driver's license will expire while overseas, renew it if at all possible. In Minnesota at least you can renew up to 12 months in advance. If you are late renewing it, you are subject to extra fees and if it is over a year, you need to take the road test again. They may make special exceptions for RPCVs, but I am choosing not to chance it.

- Double check that you still have medical/dental clearance. My dental clearance expires one week before I leave. After talking with someone at PC about it today he thought I could maybe slip by without it, but after checking with the staging supervisor, I do need to submit forms and bitewings again, but not the Panorex.

- Decipher through the horrible student loans paperwork. Serving with the Peace Corps does qualify you for an Economic Hardship deferment, however, you can't submit it until you have documentation provided to you at staging. Therefore, my plan is to consult with my father (as I don't understand all of the jargon used by loan companies) and then consult with my loan provider to make sure everything is squared away.

- Figure out how to say good-bye to everyone you want to. Perhaps the hardest thing to accomplish. There is no way I will ever be able to say good-bye to everyone. Being a few years out of college, many of my friends have spread out across the country, so seeing them isn't an option, however I have great plans of Skyping.

- Buy a second pair of glasses (if you wear them). Peace Corps says you should bring two pairs with you. Because I want to save money wherever I can, I believe I am going to go with Zenni Optical, which has pairs starting at $6.95 with $4.95 shipping. You can't beat that!

- Talk to your bank. I have yet to do this, but many others on the MAK-16 Facebook site have. I am planning on upping my credit limit on my credit card, giving them a list of countries I think I might be in so not to suspect fraud, and checking on ATM fees while overseas.

- Figure out travel insurance. Through Clements's Peace Corps policy I was able to insure a good chunk of my belongings for $150 for the year. Not too shabby.

- Filled out and notarized Power of Attorney forms. I just Googled "power of attorney minnesota" and on the Minnesota Judicial Systems website they had a pdf I could download, fill out, get notarized and be done with it. You can pay to have a lawyer do it or buy a kit at office supply stores, but in my case (since I am giving power to my parents), I didn't really care too much that it was extremely formal.

- Pack, pack, pack. This has taken me days. Check out my packing list if you want to see what I packed. Double checking (who am I kidding- Octo-checking at least) your linear measurements as well as weight can be quite the challenge.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who does this?

Most of my life now is focused on Macedonia. However, in all of my thinking, I sometimes just pause, shake my head, and think, "What am I doing? Who does this? I mean really, who just packs up and leaves the country for 2 years?" I think most of that comes from the stress of trying to figure out what all I have to do in such a short amount of time and I know it will be great, but really, who does this! And then, I grab my computer, watch this video, and all of my fears/questioning disappears!

7 days until Heidi and Dale's Wedding
10 days until Washington D.C.
20 days until Anna comes home
28 days until Chris and Erin's Wedding
41 days until Staging

Friday, July 29, 2011


I finished work on Wednesday. It was definitely a bittersweet moment (I feel like that will be the theme of the next 6 weeks). It is great to be done and have some time to get everything in order before I leave, but it is also very sad. I have been at the St. Peter Recreation Department for almost 6 years. That may not seem like a long time to some, but for someone my age, thats a long time to be at one job. I have definitely done a lot of growing up there over the years. And I know I owe a lot to my coworkers there. I was helping up at football camp and when I came back down, the girls had decorated the office in streamers and had a sign up saying "Good Luck Sara" in Macedonian. It was awesome. At the end of the day Jane and Heidi brought over a card that everyone had signed. Then Annika, Emily, Liz, and I went out to Patties for happy hour and had quite an eventful time. Great night!

Now the realization of how much I have to do in only 6 weeks has hit. Its kind of hard to know where to even start.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Thriftiness of a Peace Corps Invitee

I have....
- 5 days until Jake and Sarah's wedding.
- 13 days left of work.
- 19 days until Heidi and Dale's wedding.
- 31 days until my sister visits.
- 52 days until I start the next 27 months of my life.

I have been spending lots of my free time figuring out what to buy/pack. There are lots of discounts available to Peace Corps Volunteers, and while there are many great ones, I have noticed sometimes the company I am looking to buy something at, isn't on the list. I have learned, it doesn't hurt to ask. SmartWool said no, unless I wanted to order like 100 pairs of their socks. However, Columbia was super generous and despite not having a deal for Peace Corps Volunteers, they offered me a one-time purchase discount at their friends/family store, which saved me over $200. Plus, Columbia has a lot of really amazing products- I've always been a fan! Other amazing companies, Teva, Eagle Creek, and Keen. And although the don't offer a discount for PCV, the staff at REI are super helpful! (Ok, enough product placement for one post!)

Since work is starting to wind down a little (side note: why can't little boys keep their hands to themselves?), I am able to start focusing more on Peace Corps and what I need to do before I leave. I am working hard on trying to figure out my insurance estimates for my travler's insurance and of course all of the paperwork that came with my invitation (never really thought at 24 I would be deciding what percentage of life insurance my dad, mom, and sister are to each receive if I die).

I also need to get dental clearance again. I still have it, however, it expires after 1 year. I gained dental clearance on September 2nd. I leave September 9th. Wah wah. I miss having clearance by one week. At least I got lucky. I called the dentist today at like 10:20 and they just had a cancellation and could get me in at 11:00 today. Plus, I actually never saw the dentist- the hygienist did all the work and the dentist just reviewed her work, so it was pretty quick and painless. The only thing I need is for the dental liaison to call me back in regards to whether I need new Panorex x-rays, since the hygienist said they are good for 5 years. She hoped Peace Corps wouldn't require them because she wanted to save me the $120 (she was so focused on saving me money that they didn't charge me for an exam, just the cost of the bitewing x-rays).

I also need to start practicing my Macedonian. On the MAK-16 Facebook site there is mixed reviews from current PCVs about whether you should start learning the language before you leave. Some say, do it now while you are excited- you won't be by your 2nd week of PST. Others say, don't bother now, spend time with friends and family as you will spend lots of time on language during PST and its easier when you have a set way of doing it instead of trying to figure it out on your own. At this point, I know how to say "hello", "I", "one", "good morning", "good afternoon", and "good night". That certainly will take me far, right?!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

And the Winner Is..


I receive a wonderful surprise at work in the mail today- my Big Blue Packet! My suspicions were correct- Macedonia. I will be a Primary School English Language Resource Teacher. So excited! One of my coworkers, Liz, took a video of me opening it up. Actually, she took two videos- the first was the real deal, however after the fact, Liz and my boss, Lance, decided I didn't act excited enough, so we staged an over-the-top-corny opening and it is incredibly fake and cheesy- like a bad sitcom.

I am happy its Friday, because that gives me all weekend to read through the information and formulate my acceptance email.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Skip the story for now, jump to the good stuff...

My invitation is in the mail! Eastern Europe leaving Early September for Primary Teacher Training. According to every anxious applicant's favourite website, Peace Corps Wiki, that means Macedonia leaving September 9th. Super excited! I had my PO change the address my invite is being mailed to my work address so I can get it sooner. Plus some of my biggest supporters have been a few of my coworkers (well besides my family of course!).

Now the longer story:

On Thursday morning I flew to California for my sister's graduation from Stanford Law (yeah, I'm pretty proud of her for that!) That morning, right after my plane left and I was without internet for the rest of the day, I received an email from my Placement Officer (PO) wanting to check in since we hadn't talked since February. He told me to call him back or email him with times he could call. I didn't get the message until Thursday night though, so I couldn't call until Friday and in negotiating the now three hour time change and not really knowing what time it was in San Francisco, I called, didn't get and answer, and left my PO an incredibly awkward message where I told him way the wrong time. Ooops! I didn't hear back from my PO on Friday. Sunday I had access to internet, so I sent him an email just letting him know that I would by flying all day Monday, so it probably wouldn't work to talk then, but Tuesday I would have my phone in hand all day.

Today, my PO called me around noon and we chatted for a few minutes. I was hesitant about placement at first because of my dietary restrictions. He was unaware until he pulled up my file and really looked at it. He wanted to check in with Office of Medical Services (OMS) and said he would get back to me when he heard from them. I was on the phone with my parents for literally under 5 minutes and he was calling me back. He said OMS didn't think it would be an issue and I have been in the Peace Corps "playpen" waiting too long, so he was going to mail out my invitation. (I really liked his phrasing of calling it a playpen because you do feel trapped many times, just waiting for someone to rescue you and let you move on with your life).

After the phone convo, he emailed me to reiterate the info we had talked about and double check the address he should mail the invite to. I had him switch it to my work address so that I can get the coveted Big Blue Packet (BBP) as soon as it arrives.

Now it is just waiting for the BBP to come in the mail and then I have one week to accept or decline.

For those of you who are waiting for the invite/contact from Placement, hang in there. I was always happy for those who posted saying they received an invitation, but still wished it was me.

For those who received the emails about placements being tough, I talked to my PO about that today and he said, yes, placements are tough right now and Peace Corps has become even more competitive than it was even a few months ago, but he said, things are still moving along. I know the process can be long and tiring, but I really do believe it will be worth it in the end.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My newest obsession.... and the evil that is Sketchers

I don't really obsess over things ever. I maybe get excited about something, but very rarely does it reach what I would consider an obsessive level. However, I am proud to admit, I am obsessed with TOMS shoes. I have had one pair of TOMS for quite a while, but I just got a second pair and a TOMS shirt and I want to spend my entire paycheck on TOMS. I have already decided that TOMS are going to be a footwear staple wherever Peace Corps sends me. If I can't wear TOMS, I won't go!

Someone asked me what's so great about the shoes, I mean they are simple canvas shoes. I love the shoes themselves, they are very comfortable and I love the way they look, but its the mission of TOMS that I am obsessed with. I love the One for One concept. Paying $45 for a pair of shoes is no big deal for most Americans. Why not be able to help someone out while getting some retail therapy (as a side note, I really kind of hate shopping, so retail therapy isn't a big one for me). I love that there are companies out there who are so focused on social change. That is exactly the kind of company I would LOVE, and hope to someday, to work for.

So I started writing this post earlier and this past weekend my obsession has become even more clear. I was up in the cities with a friend and we went to Mall of America to look around. I was, of course, wearing my TOMS and even had one my TOMS shirt. As we are perusing the shoes, I come across a pair of Sketcher's BOBS. I look at the shoe for a moment, then drop it on the floor next to my TOMS to check it out. The shoe is identical in almost every way. The fabric is cut the same, there is the same style of tag on the side of the shoe, and even a blue and white striped label on the back of the shoe by the heal. I immediately become infuriated. Is Sketchers really that lame of a company that they can't come up with their own idea- they have to copy another company's work? My friend pulls me away trying to diffuse my anger. As we walk a littler further down the aisle, I can't get it off my mind. I keep commenting about it. I look back- stupid shoes. We walk a little further in the store and my eyes drift back to those shoes again. I give them the evil eye (for some reason I must have thought the people at Sketchers would know I was mad at them if I did that and that no one would ever buy a pair of BOBS). I see a lady approach them and is giving them serious consideration. I tell my friend that I want to go over there and tell her not to buy them. How can she even consider buying them- they are clearly a knock off? Lindsay grabs my arm and tells me we need to leave. I think she knew there would have been a fight and those shoes wouldn't have won.

There have been lots of articles about how Sketchers copied TOMS. One article sums it up nicely, saying that its great that more companies are considering the One for One model of business, but the only "why" behind this that I can think of is its a corporate gimmick; try and sucker people into believing its the real deal when really, BOBS are nothing but impostors. I doubt Sketchers has people as passionate as Blake Mycoskie and the rest of the TOMS family working for them. Look at the shoes and tell me BOBS isn't a fraud/copycat.