Monday, March 2, 2009

Preparing to Serve

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from a prospective Az7 that blew my socks off. Why you ask? Because it’s February! I just got here and Az7 is already starting to coalesce...whew, time flies.

At any rate, this ALASKAN had a dozen or so questions about living in Az. As I know how scary it is to take the leap of faith that is PC living, I answered his questions to the best of my ability.

So - for those of you who are researching the options for your service, here are excerpts from my response:

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I do want to note that before you read my responses, please keep in mind that every Volunteer’s experience is completely different. 

Each program (YD, CED, and TEFL) has multiple sites. Organizations apply for a Volunteer. What sites get PCVs are not announced until late in PST (Pre-Service Training - the 2-3 months you spend learning the language and about the culture).

(Un-requested piece of advice: If you want something specific, a small town, site mates, moderate weather - request it at your site placement interview. Do not be afraid to be specific. The happier you are with your site, the more productive you will be as a Volunteer.)

The easiest way to integrate into a community is to do things called conversation clubs. Basically, you get a group of youth together to practice English and from there you learn what the youth want in the community. Volunteers do conversation clubs with any population, not just youth.

Almost every PCV has a computer. This is for several reasons: 1. Music, 2. Movies, 3. A lot of our work is through email or writing reports - easier done when you have computer access and 4. Your host organization probably does not have one. 

Most internet access for Volunteers is through internet cafes. These are not like internet cafes at home, but instead are rooms stock full of computers with bootlegged programs. Most internet clubs women cannot go to.

Most places have fast enough connections that you can interact pretty easily if you bring a flash drive with your material.

Az has frequent black outs and brown outs (some places are on a rotating schedule where they have power every other day), but we still have electricity on a somewhat regular basis. We have access to water and there are petches (stoves for heat). Do bare in mind that sometimes there is no gas (for petches or cooking) and most often, the gas turns off at night.

The language is easy to learn. Do not worry about it (hard to do, I know), but really, do not worry about.

Remember that thing I said about petches? Well, a petch is like a big stove (sometimes wood, often gas) that is located in the kitchen or in the middle of the house. It is the ONLY thing heating the house in the winter. Thus, if it is 20 degrees outside, it is 20 degrees inside.

Houses are also built without insulation.

People make fun of me all the time regarding the heat as I requested the coldest place in Azerbaijan (Zaqatala) and then I complained about the cold. They say an Alaskan should be used to the cold. My answer: we have central heating and I left the polypropylene and Smart Wool at home.

Peace Corps gives you a huge sleeping bag we call the Brown Monster. It is toasty.