I am officially a Peace Corps Trainee. :D
Today was a pretty full day. I met an army of Peace Corps Volunteers (irony intended), and they're as awesome as you might expect. As a wise friend pointed out recently, anyone joining the Peace Corps is a pretty awesome person. I tried to challenge the statement, because after all, *I'm* joining, but apparently, that aside, this really is an amazing group of people. I've had short conversations with a few dozen, and longer conversations with about 10, and they're all great people. Most are fresh out of college, which makes me feel slightly out of step, but I'm not the oldest person in the room, either.
Registration started at 1pm, and Staging at 3pm. I figured I'd head down fashionably late, drop off my paperwork at registration, come back up to my room, and hang out till 3. Everything started according to plan. Around 1:30, I headed down. There was a long line of PCVs, finishing their paperwork, witnessing each other's signatures, etc. I made my way through the line (and got two signatures from strangers, and witnessed two other people's - talk about highspeed karma), turned in my paperwork, and went directly into the staging icebreaker. Good thing I'd changed from my plane jeans into my Staging business-casual wear before heading to registration! I chatted with dozens of Volunteers, and laid the groundwork for who-knows-how-many new friendships. :) Shortly after 3, Staging actually began.
I learned a mountain of factoids, including why they call it Staging - because we're in the "staging area" between the past we've said au revoir to and the future that we're about to begin "at post", aka in Morocco. Lots of great statistics, too, like the fact that over 183,000 people have served as PCVs, and in 138 different countries. (We're in 77 countries now.) Also, the Peace Corps was born in a 2am speech on the campaign trail (which I'd heard before, but I hadn't known it was in Ann Arbor, near UMich), and was signed into existence on March 1, 1961 - less than two months after JFK took office. Which makes today the Peace Corps' 47th anniversary. Happy Anniversary, Peace Corps!
We also talked about expectations, safety, Pre-Service Training, anxieties, aspirations, etc. There was lots of community-building among the Volunteers, nearly all deliberately engendered by the Peace Corps. (Not that I mind - as they point out, we are going to be each other's primary support network. Teach for America did something similar with us at our site cities in the weekend before Institute, and it paid off - I can't even count the number of times I leaned on my TFA friends to get me through the challenges of those two years, and I'm still in touch with many of them.)
When we finished, around 6:30, some folks made plans to meet up for dinner at 7. When my roommie and I came down to the lobby, "some folks" had mushroomed to about 20 people. We picked up our per diem money (generous in the extreme!) and headed out into the city. I couldn't imagine where we'd find a restaurant that would seat 20 for dinner at 7:15 on a Saturday night without a reservation. Fortunately, as we wandered the streets of the Historic District, Volunteers began splitting off as they came to likely-looking restaurants. (About 10 of us were on a quest for sushi, and we kept thinking we were within a couple blocks of it, but we eventually surrendered the search.) Six of us ended up at The Plough & The Stars, an upscale Irish restaurant. It was on the noisy side, and incredibly slow (an hour wait for the food after we ordered!), but worth the wait. Mmm, seafood risotto...
What am I grateful for today? So much... Just being here...meeting all these great people...making new friends...the friends and family who are keeping up with me through this blog and email (yes, I mean you)...
What have I learned today? Besides the Peace Corps factoids? Hmm...that I can start a whole new chapter in my life, more or less from scratch, and be happy in it...that Peace Corps selects interesting, thoughtful, selfless, adventurous people to be Volunteers (and somehow they let me in, too)...
Current mood? Eager. Excited. Happy. This adventure is beginning, and I can't wait to see the next development. :D
9 months ago