Tuesday, August 11, 2009

So, this is how it ends

It's been a very long time since I sent out anything or even posted on my blog, and I hesitate to even write this, uncomfortable and pressed for time as I am in an internet cafe in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, Philippines. But seeing as my 27 month Peace Corps service has come to an end, thus marking a major transition in my life, I should probably write something (also, my mother won't stop harrassing me to do so.)

When I applied for the Peace Corps, I wanted to use my skills to help people, to fully experience a new culture, learn a new language, travel, and have unforgettable experiences. It hasn't always materialized as I imagined, but reflecting on my experiences, I think I have achieved all of these things. Since the last time you may have heard from me, I've written and not published, I've photographed and not posted. Someday I'll synthesize all of this coherently, I hope. For now, here's a quick update.

I left my town of Amlan, Negros Oriental one week ago after a busy time wrapping up projects, saying goodbye to my new family and friends, attending despedidas thrown in my honor, and trying to get some alone time to make sense of it all. The end came quickly and felt rather abritrary, being based on 2 years in town rather than any seasonal, cultural, or work-related event. Leaving my town was harder than leaving Seattle, because I don't know if I'll ever be back in the same capacity, though I do hope to return to visit multiple times.

I spent the bulk of my time over the past few months setting up a public library, working with high school students to design and (begin to) paint a huge mural, helping the municipality get a new speedboat for the volunteer coast guard, marketing and developing products made of recycled plastic for a supplemental livelihood project with fisherfolk, and a bunch of other stuff. (I'll post my official Description of Service when I get a chance.)

I've also had the chance to see a lot of the Philippines and have some amazing experiences -- caving among mummies in Sagada, climbing the tallest mountain in my province, swimming with whale sharks in Sorsogon, and enjoying simple things like mountain biking, snorkeling, soccer, and tennis in my town.

For the past week I've been in the forbidden province of Mindanao (there are rebel activities and violence that plague much of the province) but the places I have been are totally safe and absolutely beautiful. We've been whitewater rafting, hiking up volcanoes, relaxing on white sandbars, riding motorcycles, scuba diving, and indulging in great food. I'm soaking in the best of the Philippines for one last time before I move on to travel for a few more weeks. With some Peace Corps buddies, I'll be flying to Thailand tomorrow and spending about a month traveling through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, before heading to Korea for a week+. I arrive home on September 24 and will be promptly kidnapped by my parents and whisked away to Lake Chelan for some quality family time before returning to Seattle to hopefully attend every remaining Mariners game of the season.

I'm not totally sure on my future plans, but here is what I have for now: I'm studying right now for the GRE and plan to take it in October, then spend the first couple months back in the US visiting people, attending copious amounts of sporting events, enjoying the northwest life, and applying to graduate schools for a Master's in Public Affairs/Public Policy to start in 2010. I'm only about 65% sure of this plan right now, it will depend on doing more research into schooling options, where I get in, and how much money is bestowed on me. After the application process is done, I may look for work in the Seattle area or consider a short-term international assignment.

When I was last in the United States, the economy was humming along, Obama was a junior senator, the Sonics were stil in Seattle, the Sounders weren't in the MLS, nobody had ever heard of Sarah Palin, T-Pain, Soulja Boy, or Autotune, iPhones did not yet exist, streetcars had not yet returned to Seattle, and I don't remember texting being very popular. Obviously all of these things have changed, and I am very interested to see what else has changed. For example, I can't recall offhand how many new cousins I have that I haven't yet been able to meet.

Although I have had a fantastic experience in the Peace Corps, with all the ups and downs, I am looking forward to being back home and getting to see everybody. I'm sure it will be an overwhelming experience with some reverse culture shock, but I'm hoping my long road home will help with that and that I'll return to the US a couple years older, a little bit wiser, and ready to start the next step. I'll send out my contact info in the US once I get everything figured out. Thanks for reading this and for all your interest and support over the last two years!