Monday, July 6, 2015

The Road Less Traveled

It's been just about one year since I decided to make a huge life change.

I was traveling around Southeast Asia with my friend, Alyssa. Cambodia's brutal history was hitting me hard... I didn't understand how a country could ever come back from atrocities like that. And yet... Cambodia was, albeit slowly.

Alyssa and I in Angkor Wat

I was struck by how happy the Cambodians I met seemed to be. Less than 40 years ago an attempt at a “purification of the population” led to the deaths of an estimated 25 percent of the total population. Which meant that anyone who was over the age of 40 had lived through these monstrosities, and survived...

Bracelets in remembrance at the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh

Yet the immediate struggles were also apparent to me. It is said that Pol Pot wanted to restore the country to a agrarian society. So the Khmer Rouge arrested, tortured, and killed anyone they believed to be educated or sympathetic to Western nations. Incredibly, it is not uncommon for a child's parents to be alive today because they did not have an education 40 years ago. How do you impress the value of an education on children in these situations? I found myself once again wondering, how does a country ever come back from something like that?

Alyssa and I in the back of a Tuk Tuk

I didn't have any of the answers for Cambodia, and surprisingly I didn't want to. Instead I desperately wanted to live alongside the Cambodian people. I wanted to learn from them, I wanted to understand how these beautiful people could smile again after what had happened to them. 

Early July of 2014 I made a life changing decision while traveling around Cambodia with a great friend, I was going to join the Peace Corps.

This picture reminds me of the empowerment I've felt from working as a field instructor

As we returned to the United States Alyssa and I jumped right back into our job as field instructors working for a wilderness therapy company. A few weeks later, I found myself working with a group of adolescent girls. We were preparing to climb one of the highest peaks in our field area and decided that on the way up to the peak we would all talk about a fear that we were going to throw off the top. I talked about the decision I had made in Cambodia. I talked about the fear of filling out an application for something I really wanted, in other words the fear of setting myself up for rejection. I was afraid to take the first step in a process I knew deep down was right for me.

Staff team that supported me and the group on climbing the peak

As we reached the summit we grabbed a rock and one by one threw it from the top of the peak screaming out the fear that we were letting go of. I felt stronger and a sense of support as I threw the rock, representing my fear of starting the application, off the peak.

View from the top!

The following week, in the beginning of September, I buckled down and submitted my application. Luckily I had made it just in time to fill out the new application. I hadn't seen the previous old application but I had heard stories of how long and tedious the application process was. Other than struggling considerably to put my wilderness therapy job into my resume in an easy to understand manner, the application was a breeze! I was even able to apply for the three jobs I thought I was most qualified for and in countries I would like to serve in. I applied for jobs in Subsaharan Africa working with HIV infected populations and children.

The crowd at Hardly Strictly

One month later, while at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco with a friend, I received an email from Peace Corps requesting that we set up a time for a phone interview. I remember sitting on the floor of the apartment we were coach surfing in and reading the email over and over again. Things were in motion, moves were being made!

My wonderful friend in his festival attire

I arranged the phone interview for a few days later right before I was heading into the field for a week of work. I was heading in to work with the same adolescent girl's group that I had worked with the week we climbed the peak. They were excited to hear that I had gotten an interview and that it seemed to have gone really well! It was fitting to be able to celebrate with a group that had helped me to jump a huge hurdle and to get the ball rolling.

While waiting to hear back from the Peace Corps Alyssa and I traveled internationally again, this time to Colombia. While in the capital of Bogota we visited a home that had been set up for the city's large population of street children. Once again, I was reminded that the Peace Corps was what I truly wanted. Though it was still scary to admit it out loud because of the fear of rejection.

Alyssa and the tasty fruit that is way too easy to eat too much of

Avocado love

While working in the field Mondays were often spent getting ready for the work week ahead. This included packing my pack, grocery shopping, cleaning my room, and doing laundry. One particular Monday, on the 1st of December, I was sitting on the back porch of my house with my good friend and roommate Eric. I was checking my phone constantly hoping to get an email stating which group I would be working in that week. Instead I was shocked to see an email from Peace Corps titled Invitation! I was being officially “invited to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of Lesotho. As a Healthy Youth Advisor, departing April 22, 2015”. I was shocked, excited, and terrified all rolled into one! It was incredible to be able to spend that moment processing the news with a close friend who knew me well. Incredibly, I found out shortly after that I would be working with the adolescent girls group once again. I couldn't wait to share the news with them, as there were still a few girls that had climbed the peak with me and I felt had played a role in my journey.

Eric and I at a Real Salt Lake soccer match

In Zion hoping for good weather to do some time lapses

The next couple months were a whirlwind of doctor's visits. The medical clearance for the Peace Corps is no joke. I even needed to get one of my wisdom teeth removed prior to being cleared, which turned out to be an incredibly painful process, physically and mentally. By the beginning of February I was officially medically cleared to serve in the Peace Corps.

April 20th 2015, I arrived with my Dad and my Stepmom at a hotel in New Jersey for the Philadelphia staging. The weekend leading up to my departure had been full of family, soccer games, last minute errands, and packing. My parents helped me to move my bags into my hotel room that I would be sharing with a fellow trainee, and as we began walking down the hall to the conference room it hit me. Hard. I was getting ready to leave my Dad for 2 years. I never had any doubts about what I was doing but I hadn't expected it to be so hard to leave my parents. I'm pretty sure I was a zombie for the first hour or so of training because I was worried I would cry again if I let myself think about my Dad and Kara driving home without me. 

On April 22nd 2015, my father's birthday, I landed in Lesotho as a Peace Corps Trainee.

My Dad and I

Group of Trainees for Healthy Youth 84

On July 1st 2015, I swore in as a Peace Corps volunteer. Almost exactly 1 year from the time I was in 

Pictures from Alicia Carter... At some point I'll put a link to her blog. She's brilliant.

Sky, Alicia, Corinne, Me, and Ricki

The girls of our group

Lesotho's flag with the American Flag

Looking back on this process I realize how smoothly everything went for me. I recognize that this isn't often the case for people as they are trudging through the application and medical clearance process. I am incredibly grateful for how seamlessly everything came together.

Love You From Anywhere in the World :)

. . . And it has made all the difference.