Saturday, January 19, 2008

Peace Corps Training

August - October 2007

Training, ah yes, what did Brian always tell me: Just get through training!
My introduction to the Peace Corps began on campus at Michigan Tech, but the real-life experience of it began with several days of staging in Washington, DC. After introductions and many reviews of the Peace Corps goals, challenges, and nuts-n-bolts, our group of 42 aspirantes flew to Panama. I suspect that, country to country the 3 months of training are similar in design but likely wildly different in the ways that the aspiring volunteers are challenged. My days were filled with language classes, tech training (big focus on aqueducts, latrines, and health education), official "Chorrera Meetings," and lots of host family interaction. Toward the end of the 3 months there were several visits to Volunteer sites (definitely high points of the experience). As for adjusting to culture shock and self-assessment/self-doubt, I wasn´t surprised by these challenges but my, they are sneaky mindgames!

The following are some images from the Tech and Cultural Weeks. Both were a good mix of hands-on work and cultural challenges. The EH group visited two different volunteer sites in the Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle and stayed with host families. For some of us, it was a tough challenge to reencounter host family introductions and adjustment issues. Having already lived with a family in our Training Community, it wasn´t so easy to go through the social awkwardness of: hi, my name is... and reexperience the newness of idioms, personal habits, and idiosyncrasies of a new household.

The Tech-Week experience was also great bonding time for us in Group 60. After a long day´s work, we could rely on a gathering at the Co-op. Cookies and sodas and then the pivotal discovery that we could order hojaldres... these were the golden hours.

I´ll be honest here and say that these last 2 photos are not from anywhere near the Comarca. They were taken from an area close to Volcan Baru - from the lower, forested flanks of the volcano. Why was I there during training? Well, there just happened to be a little extra time after Culture Week ended and enough time for a quick run (literally a run) up to Boquete for an afternoon; this proved to be a wondrous vacation for me. The cool climate, the high altitude fresh air, the somehow denser forests, the rugged terrain, the fresh coffee, and the moments of contemplative solitude were very satisfying. Some would complain that Boquete is not what it once was, that it is now a place quite overrun by external influence - this may be true, but up until that visit, I had not known any other place that would serve me a bowl-like mug of cafe con leche. Without shame, I will admit that a you can "supersize" me a latte any day (but I don´t want fries with that, please).

Also, a quick addition. Rebecca was savvy with her camera and documented one of the crazier ¨dynamicas¨ we encountered in Training. Here´s all of us Environmental Health aspirantes doing acrobatics.

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