Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I have arrived in Macedonia (or Македонија in Macedonian). It has been a great experience so far. We were the first group ever to arrive in the new Alexander the Great Airport (opened only days before we landed) in the capital of Skopje and there were lots of current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and Peace Corps Staff there to meet us. Our luggage was loaded into a semi-truck and the 36 weary travelers onto a school bus and driven to our first training site, approximately half an hour from the capital. We are staying at a hotel here in Kumanovo until Friday when we leave for our training communities and our host families.

We have had trainings on medical (same diseases as USA), safety and security (stay away from the dogs and don't pet them and stay vigilant), language (I can now introduce myself in Macedonian), and ethnically diverse Macedonia (home to Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Roma as the main groups) to name just a little of what we have learned thus far.

My fellow MAK-16ers are amazing. Everyone comes from a different background and brings lots of unique skills and experiences to the table. Our group has people from Washington, Kansas, Washington D.C., Georgia, Texas, California, Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, New York, and many other states. We collectively speak 13 different languages (or around that number). We have top business executives who quit their jobs and people fresh from college. The age of our group ranges from 21 to people in their 60s. However, we all are here with three common goals (and they happen to be the Peace Corps goals): 1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, 2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and 3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

One of the girls in our group has been creating a series of short videos about life in Macedonia so far. There is one video from the airport and one from the first few days in Kumanovo. For some of the new followers, there is an awesome YouTube video that was created by a former volunteer, but its content has excited many of us.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vienna, Austria!

A quick update from the Vienna Airport where we have access to free wireless.

I left Pine City on Friday morning around 4am. Thanks to my lovely parents for getting up early and bringing me to the airport. I flew from Minneapolis to Philadelphia to meet everyone else who is going with to Macedonia. I had planned to meet up with another girl to travel to the hotel together, however her plane was delayed. As I was attempting to find my way to the shuttle, I ran into a girl from Kansas who had lots of luggage and we figured out we were going the same place. We met two other fellow PCT (Peace Corps Trainees) on the shuttle. We had a few hours of training in the hotel (focusing mostly on the Peace Corps Goals and Expectations) before heading out in Philly for dinner and to enjoy our last night in the U.S.

We awoke early this morning to catch a bus to JFK where we sat around for 6 hours until our flight to Vienna. Very little sleep was had on the plane (it was like a sauna in there), but we were fed lots and given free wine.

Our group of 36 is currently sitting in the Vienna airport waiting for our 10am flight to Skopje. Once one person discovered the airport provided free internet, lots more computers appeared and Facebook statuses were updated immediately (gotta love technology).

We have no idea what to expect once we arrive in Skopje, other than we will be getting on a bus and heading to our hotel for the first week.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

31 Hours

First of all, after a few days of back and forth, I finally officially obtained medical clearance again. Nothing like doing things last minute!

In only 31 hours I will be leaving to start my journey. It has been a busy few days with packing, packing, and more packing. I finally got my bags to where they should be ok without any overweight charges.

My bags weigh in at:
- Large Check: 50 lbs
- Slightly Smaller Check: 48.5 lbs
- Carry-on-18 lbs
- Personal Item- 16 lbs

I will try to add pictures soon because with the MAK-16s, packing and baggage size was the most hotly talked about topic on our Facebook Group.

For anyone who would like more information on Macedonia, here is the link to the Peace Corps Macedonia Welcome Book

The next time I post, I will probably have started my adventure!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

OMS Called....

A new lady at OMS called me today around 1:30 to tell me they had received the information my doctor sent over. Here's the gist of the conversation:

OMS: The medical officer reviewing your file had a few questions he wanted me to ask.
Me: Ok
OMS: Have you ever had a prolonged reaction to any sort of allergen or viral infection in the past.
Me: No
OMS: Oh....
Me: (thinking: crap- wrong answer clearly).
OMS: Ok, well are you going to be able to go see the doctor you saw before?
Me: Probably not. He is 3 hours away.
OMS: Hmmm... Well the Medical Officer saw the numbers from the peak flow test that was performed and he wants it done again.
Me: Ok. I have the peak flow meter with me. I can do that no problem.
OMS: Well, see, the Medical Officer isn't here today, but he really wanted a doctor's follow-up and the same doctor. I mean I can check with him later to see if he will take you doing it at home. Hmmm.... Well, how about this, you give me a call back on Monday or Tuesday and let me know the numbers you got when you did it at home and I will let you know if he is ok with that or if he needs the doctor to sign off on it.
Me: Um, ok, but I leave on Friday.
OMS: Yeah, I see that. Well, let's hope we can get this squared away by then.

So, perfect. Just when I thought I had made it through all of the hoops, this comes up. However, I am choosing to just forget about it now, there is nothing I can do until Tuesday (since Monday is Labor Day), so there is no point in worrying about it. It just may mean six hours of driving for literally a 10 second test that I can do at home.

I get that they need to be thorough and are just doing their job looking out for the health and well-being of their volunteers, but that doesn't mean it is any less frustrating. I guess at least they called today rather than on Tuesday. See...a bright side can be found anywhere if you look for it.

I am going to just forget about it all as much as I can and enjoy my last weekend in Minnesota complete with trips to the Minnesota State Fair, Mall of America, Como Zoo, and a Twins Game. What an eventful weekend it is sure to be.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Finger Crossing Worked!

I finally got ahold of OMS and I think I am in the clear. I need to fax over doctor's notes and get a letter from my doctor saying he is still clearing me to go, but I was told that, providing nothing is way crazy and I don't get worse, if my doctor here gives me clearance, Peace Corps will go with what he says. Hopefully I will have full clearance to go by the end of the week, but just knowing there is a good chance is a huge relief.

Now I feel like I can move forward and start packing. That will be quite the process I'm sure: 27 months, 2 bags, 100 lbs. Doable certainly it will just take some creativity.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Keeping My Fingers Crossed!

Just over 3 weeks until I leave and I still have an absolutely horrible cough. It is now going on a month that I have had it and the doctor's don't know what is causing it. My lungs are clear. My breathing capacity is only slightly diminished. I have no fever or other symptoms of anything, except a runny nose. I am on two new meds, including a very strong antibiotic, in hopes that it will kill anything I could have.

The coughing and being sick is no fun, but what will be more than no fun will be calling OMS (Office of Medical Services) and informing them. I am required to update them on any changes to my health prior to departure. However, after some advice from a good friend, I am going to hold off telling them until Monday. By then, I will have been on the antibiotics for five days and should have an idea if its helping or not. If I am better, I call OMS and tell them I had bronchitis, but the antibiotics are clearing it up. If they aren't helping, I call and notify OMS and discuss what this means for me. Ultimately, it could mean a medical deferment (i.e. no Macedonia). I am trying not to think about that possibility, but its hard not to. Peace Corps tells you from the start, to basically not put all your eggs in one basket, but how can I not when I am leaving in 3 weeks!

All I can do now is hope that the antibiotics kill whatever is haunting me and OMS doesn't put a hold on me.

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.