A Year Out Reflection

I kept thinking it would be nice to come back to this and reflect back on my service and having just surpassed my year mark of being back in the States (how did that happen??), it seems like it’s time.

In addition to this, Peace Corps just had a global evacuation of all PCVs due to COVID-19. My heart goes out to all the PCVs who were pulled from their sites too early and too quickly. I wish them the best as they reflect, mend, and transition with a world that is in crisis.

Many people talk about the transition going from service to the U.S. as being more difficult than the transition from U.S. to service. The most difficult part of my transition back was feeling very disconnected from Peace Corps and Colombia very quickly. It sometimes felt like a distant dream. It can be difficult to keep up with friends, both locals and volunteers, even though we have the technology (shout out to WhatsApp!) In trying to readjust to life in the States and starting a new job and moving…it’s easy to get wrapped up in the details. It is just as easy to settle into regular life and realize it has been a month since contacting someone you used to be in touch with almost daily. This is something I had to work on.

Looking back on my service and the year I have had since then, there are so many things I miss and am glad to have experienced in my service. The chance to be a part of an amazing community and make friends who taught me many things, including dancing, weaving, and what sort of treats from the bakery were the best, is at the top of my list. I miss walking around town and chatting with people as I went and people inviting me to sit on their porch and hang out as I went by. I miss knowing I could go to a friend’s house and even if they weren’t there, there were family members and neighbors who also wanted to check in. I miss the local dishes and markets and all the fresh fruit juices. And mango verde with salt and lime. I miss the sunsets. I’m grateful I had the chance to stay for a third year and travel, experience new communities, and meet many amazing people.  Ultimately, the relationships with friends, community members, students, staff, and volunteers are what meant the most and what will stay with me.

There were many challenging things about service, from sweating profusely all the time (and having people point it out constantly), to work frustrations, to questioning what it means to be an (North) American serving in another country, and more, but those were also valuable parts of my service and it would not have been nearly as full without it all. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this adventure.

They say Peace Corps is the toughest job you’ll ever love…

and that certainly rang true for me.

Roller Coastering

I’m pretty sure this is a real word, and if not, it’s not like I teach English or anything…

Throughout Peace Corps service there are a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes to the extreme. During training, we receive an image called the vulnerability cycle, which shows, based off the experiences of many volunteers past, what you can generally expect as far as what the roller coaster of emotions will look like. For example, most people are feeling great once they arrive in country and at their one year mark hit a slump. While this isn’t true for everyone, at my Close of Service conference a couple months before my cohort wrapped up service, we tracked our own vulnerability cycles and it was fascinating to see them all.

This was mine:


Overall, reflecting back I felt the majority of my service I was feeling really good about things. During those up times, there were always things that happened that made me feel down, but I’d still say the overall was high. There were some low periods, but luckily they never persisted for too long.

Some of the things that made the high points on my list (in no order):

  • Sunsets on the hills of my pueblo and on the wall of Cartagena
  • My World Wise Schools program and Lena coming to visit to meet the students
  • Site mates and neighbors and traveling to visit other PCVs
  • My community classes – my students were awesome and even days I didn’t feel like going, once I got there, I remembered why I was there and felt a lot better
  • Having the freedom to make my schedule
  • Having students share their success stories

Some of the things that made the low points (in no order):

  • Spending hours planning and prepping for a class that only one person or no one shows up to
  • Walking while sweating profusely to get to a meeting only to find out that everyone else had something come up and couldn’t attend. Then having to walk home, getting even sweatier
  • A crazy ear infection thing that took a couple weeks to get rid of
  • Power going out in the middle of the day when it’s unbelievably hot
  • Struggles working with counterparts
  • Missing out on time with friends and family back home

This is real life after all.

As an AmeriCorps volunteer after college, we used to end the day with “something good.” This is just what it sounds like, at the end of the day you finish by reflecting on something good from the day, however small . For example, this bird on a wire. I was walking (and sweating profusely) when I saw this bird silhouetted against the sky which made me feel happy. While I’m sure stopping and taking a picture contributed to the “what’s the gringa doing now?” sentiment that happened often around town, I took the picture anyway. I am what I am!


As I continue to adjust to my third year of service, sometimes I have to stop and remind myself to consider my “something good” from the day. There will always be slumps and down moments, but if I can keep the overall feeling on the upside, I feel like I’m doing something right.

What’s your something good from the day?


Peace Corps: Chapter 1

Wow…it’s amazing how fast time goes by in blog-world. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I was offered the opportunity to stay on for a third year as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL), which is a special third year position. Myself and one other volunteer in my group, Maya, will be taking on this position. Originally, it was going to start in April, but things shifted and I officially started the new position on about two weeks ago! This is very exciting but it did mean I had to close out of my Peace Corps Volunteer service. As a PCVL, I will be living in a different pueblo and focusing solely on the volunteers, assisting with training, visiting sites, and supporting volunteers.

With only a few weeks left in my beloved pueblo, I wrapped up in-school classes (it coincided nicely with the end of the school year), my community classes, finalized the grant for the GLOW project, visited as many people and places as I could, and had a few small despedidas (farewell parties), including one my host family so wonderfully organized.

I knew closing out site would be difficult, but it was great to have some time to say farewell. While I’ll be able to visit, I know that it will never be the same as living there. I wanted to give myself time to say hasta luego to my wonderful people and pueblo and close out with respect for the time and experiences I had there. I’ll always have a place in my heart for this community.

My service was full of love, excitement, tears, frustrations, friendships, oddball moments,  successes, failures, and more. They give us a graphic at the start of service that shows the “roller coaster” of ups and downs of service over two years. At times I felt like I was going through it over the course of one day, but through it all, it was definitely vale la pena (worth it)!

Some things I’ll miss about my service and mi querido pueblo (in no particular order) include:

  • The amazing cafe in town with the best milkshakes and friendly faces
  • My host family for their check in’s, questions, cooking tips, and their amusement at my battles with cockroaches.
  • My community class students and their willingness to learn and participate, even when I ask them to do things such as using a fake microphone made of a toilet paper roll and a styrofoam ball to MC a fashion show to practice talking about clothing.
  • My dedicated teachers who pushed themselves to practice their English and step out of their comfort zone to teach their students in a language they weren’t very comfortable with themselves.
  • My students who yell good morning at all times of the day and keep me on my toes.
  • The Club that JoAnne brought together and our adventures around the pueblo.
  • Playing games or just chatting with Carmen and Luis Felipe with Luli, the most loving pup, on my lap.
  • Yadezi’s artistic talents and delicious cooking.
  • Waving as my name was called out while walking around town.
  • Sunrises and sunset on the hills.
  • Meeting up with friends in the centro to catch up, wether by plan or by chance.
  • My GLOW girls asking about and reminiscing about GLOW and all of the other participants.
  • The family that owns the old panaderia, which includes a persistent and dedicated young woman determined the practice her English, and lovely parents that would check in with me, always let me hang up posters about my community classes next to the register, and occasionally offer me treats.
  • The cats in SENA that would run away from me as I tried to shower them with attention every class.
  • Weaving a small faja with the artists working on beautiful hammocks and products around me.
  • Seeing the artisanal products and sharing them with other volunteers.
  • Walking delicately after the rain to not lose my shoes in the mud.
  • Arriving to school sweaty after walking there to have every teacher point out how sweaty I was.
  • Playing cards with my host cousin.
  • Making cookies and mote de queso, along with other treats, with Sam.
  • Dancing / attempting to dance with friends
  • Random conversations in plastic chairs while walking around town.

And so, here are just some images of the wrapping up of my service.

Here’s to year 3 (chapter 2)!

Laundry Day

One of my least favorite chores while in process: laundry.

One of my most favorite chores once complete: laundry.

Here in Colombia doing laundry takes on a whole different meaning. Some volunteers wash everything by hand. My host family has a washing machine, which is a huge help, though still takes fair amount of manual labor. I have gotten into a good rhythm with my laundry, figuring out a system of timing to ensure a few loads takes about 1.5 hours. My host family remarks on how quick it is every time, though they are comparing it to when they do laundry for everyone in the house. Not a very fair comparison to make. I don’t have THAT much laundry.

Step one is to separate the laundry into what will be washed together so I can put my laundry bag on a chair and pull out each part as needed without digging around. Then I lug it downstairs to the back patio where the water tanks and washing machine is. This time around I got to use the new machine (how fancy!), which was great as the last one was sputtering out of life and I occasionally had to half-handwash a load or three.

So, here we go. Using two buckets I fill up from the large water tank and pour the water into the washing machine. I fill one as I walk over and dump the water from the other then keep switching them. t’s all about efficiency people. I need about 6 buckets to fill the machine to the level it should be at.


Next I grate up the soap and dissolve it a little in the water before putting in my clothes. I use bar soap for no really good reason. Someone mentioned I should and I’ve been buying this one type since then. I’m a creature of habit. I generally use half a bar every time I do laundry, not because that’s suggested, it’s just what I started doing. Things seem to be clean, however, so I stick with it.

Next the clothes go in for “15,” which doesn’t equal 15 minutes, nor 15 seconds, so I’m not sure what the number actually relates to. I’ve never timed it. Usually around this time I am picking limes off the tree, lesson planning, texting, or hanging out with the dogs, all while avoiding the parrot, who walks sideways to always have an eye on me and bites. Most of the time he settles into his spot on the chair and we’re good.

When the cycle finishes, it’s time for the dual bucket rinse system. Into the grey bucket for an initial rinse and then into the blue bucket (which used to be a large red bucket but it cracked so I just make the small one work).


Once the soap is (mostly, let’s be honest) out, The clothes go into the spinner to get out some of the excess water. All the excess water comes out of a hose on the side and goes towards a drain we have near one of the water tanks.

Usually at this point I put another load into the washer. The spinner finishes (after 5 – not 5 minutes nor 5 seconds, and it seems to be different amount of time than the 5 on the washer…it’s a mystery) and I start hanging up the clothes, pausing when the cycle is done to repeat until everything is washed and hung up to dry.

And, ya! Laundry sits out for anywhere from a few hours to a day depending on the weather. I’ll be good for two weeks before the whole process starts over again.





Photo credit for all photos in this post goes to my friend Audrey!

Today is a PSA about a great band called Bomba Estereo. They are from Santa Marta, one of the cities on the coast. Some of their classics are “Soy Yo,” “Internacionales”, and “Somos Dos”. Look them up! You won’t regret it (most likely – who am I to declare if your taste is the same as mine?)!

They came to Cartagena for a concert. We were not disappointed.

Want to make PCVs happy? Host a fun concert in a beautiful city with decent beer (and sparkly capes).


Hamacas y más hamacas

As most of you know, I live in an artisanal pueblo, which is something I love dearly. One of the major products are hammocks. So as we head into the weekend, I thought I’d leave you with some relaxing thoughts brought to you by some of the beautiful hammocks I’ve been able to see from start to finish to everywhere in between.

La Guajira or Bust

WhatsApp Image 2017-10-14 at 9.50.24 PM

This witty title was actually our “hashtag” for our trip. Not that I’m really into hashtags, but trips with Natalie always include one, and that I can totally get behind (revisit #puenteenelparque for Tayrona.)

Even though there was a 5-week paro and many schools had class during Semana Uribe, as PC education volunteers, this week is an important travel week, as we generally avoid travel during school. Natalie, Audrey, Alyssa, and I decided to explore La Guajira, a departamento (state) on the coast. La Guajira is beautiful, full of mountains, ocean, and a rich indigenous culture.

We started our journey in Palomino, a popular tourist town, known best for going tubing down the river. Unfortunately, I was really sick the week before the trip and it spilled over into the trip. But I heard it was great! Very sunny, but relaxing and fun. Note for future travelers: do the tubing part, don’t be sick.

We traveled on to Dibulla, a small beach town. It had some hidden gems, including a yummy restaurant owned by a very friendly woman who lived in the US for many years. We got to enjoy arepas and lasagna to 80’s and 90’s classics. We also got to watch part of a local dance class one of our friends put on. A few weeks later the class had an amazing performance in their pueblo.

We took one day to hop over to Camarones, a pueblo with a national park in it, protecting groups of flamingos and their home. Our guide took us to the office, a short boat ride from the mainland, and then we went into the lagoon to see some flamingos. He would get the boat close(ish) to the flamingos and they would fly off a little bit and we’d get close(ish) and they’d fly off to another close spot…repetitive but still cool. We were told around December and January the migrating flamingos come back, so you can see hundreds of flamingos at one time.

After playing with the flamingos we headed back to the mainland for lunch and had the BEST arroz de coco I’ve had. It’s rice cooked with coconut, something I intend to learn how to make. While waiting, a group of young kids came over. They chatted, played with Audrey’s umbrella and our cameras, and did all of our hair.

Our last stop was Rioacha, a great little city on the beach (seeing a theme in La Guajira yet?) There was good food, lots of beautiful artisanal goods, and nice beaches nearby. We shopped, laid on the beach, swam, met up with some nearby friends, took pictures, and enjoyed some good food and drinks around town.

All in all, a successful week!


IMG_3295Time for another adventure into the world of fruit! This is an anon (annona or sugar-apple according to the Internet.) Damaris, a friend and one of the artists in town, saw  one that was almost ripe as we were walking one day. She promised she’d let me know when it was ready and we would give it a try. It came from a tree near her neighbor’s house.

I went back a few days later when I got the call.

IMG_3296You pull open the anon and inside is a whitish pulp that you suck off black seeds. It tastes similar to a guayaba, another popular fruit here. It was also the Damaris’ grandson’s first time eating anon. It was a hit!

I’m still finding interesting fruits even after a year and a half. Who knows what’ll be next…

The Cherry on Top


A few months ago I posted about my World Wise Schools project (aren’t familiar with WWS? If you’re a teacher, check it out! Connect with a volunteer! https://www.peacecorps.gov/educators/ ) At the end of last year I was matched with Lena, an energetic, awesome high school Spanish teacher in Colorado. We decided to take the plunge and try to connect our students. For eight weeks 20-25 of the eleventh graders at my high school met after school to write a letter to their partner, alternating English and Spanish each week. Lena’s students were completing their assignments in their personal time. We faced many challenges, from attendance to lack of internet to changing locations to bad weather…the list goes on. Each week 1-3 of the English teachers would assist the program. However, we made it through!

The last day was put on hold for a looooooooong time due to the teacher strike. However, this meant we were able to culminate with a visit from Lena!! That’s right, straight from Colorado, the teacher herself with tidings from her students.

Our last meeting started with the students writing final letters to their partners that Lena could take home. Some even brought small gifts. Each student was introduced to Lena as they entered, but then generally went about their business and freaked out if I asked them to interact with her. We all sat together after they had time to talk about Lena, the program, and have time for any questions. It took almost an hour before the students really warmed up and started asking lots of questions…as we were getting close to the time we had to leave. Classic! But we stayed and they wanted to know about the school system in the U.S., information about their individual partner, and more. It was an amazing exchange and we’re so lucky Lena was willing and able to make the trip!

The rest of the week Lena came to all of my classes and planning sessions, visited Cartagena, ate lots of Colombian food, and did whatever else came up. Talk about flexibility. She even learned to weave and took home her own faja (strap). Lena got a very unique perspective of small town Colombia and we all had an opportunity to get to know someone new and learn more about American culture. I’d say it was a success all around!

Thanks Lena!

Jurassic Park


Did I say Jurassic Park? I meant Parque Tayrona. I don’t necessarily see them as different things. I mean, look at this!

Natalie, a fellow volunteer and I decided to make Tayrona one of our puente destinations. A puente is a three day weekend due to a holiday on a Monday. Natalie punningly called it #puenteenelparque. She’s genius with a sense of humor I really appreciate. The first day we arrived late in the afternoon and stayed in Castillo, the first camping spot. There are three major camping spots, with plenty of smaller ones about. The main ones are right on the water with places to get food and water. We rented a tent with a double mattress inside that was sitting right on the beach. We explored our area and woke up early the next morning to go to the main camp site furthest from the entrance. We walked about a half hour and then opted to ride the rest of the way. It took almost two hours on rocky and muddy trails. Definitely an experience.

We arrived and enjoyed the clear blue waters, sun, and sand. That evening we slept in hammocks surrounded by what seemed like millions of hammocks and tents. There were plenty of people but in the early morning it was nice and quiet. We even followed the coastal route to check out some of the other beaches. One of which was a nudist beach…which we found out after. At the time we were just confused about why there were a few men sitting in random parts of the beach with their birthday suits.

The last day we hiked out, which took about 1.5 hours and loads of sweat. I only gave up at one point, when we saw a sign after walking for at least 10 hours saying we were 40% to our destination. Don’t worry, I made it through. There were stairs and pathways through the woods, scenic outlooks, and other hikers to discuss the multitude of stairs and the beauty of the views. Even with the one moment of weakness, totally worth it!

If you’re in the Santa Marta area, definitely a place to see! Be sure to bring plenty of pb&j and water!